How to prepare for going back to college as an adult

Going back to school… again?

Fellow grown-ups—are you thinking about diving back into the wild world of education? Whether it's to kick your career up a notch or finally tackle that dream of becoming a master chef, going back to school as an adult is a whole new ballgame. But fear not—this guide is here to help catch you up so you can make the most of your new academic adventure. 

Strategies for success 

Get your goals in order. First things first, figure out why you're trading in your “briefcase” for a backpack. What's the endgame? A career boost? Unleashing your inner artist? Jot down your goals and don't lose sight of that vision. If it's climbing the corporate ladder or mastering the art of interpretive dance, knowing why you're doing this will keep the energy flowing.

Find the right school. Now that you're clear on your mission, it's time to choose where you want to go. Do your research to find a program that aligns with both your academic needs and personal preferences. Do you need a certification or a bachelor's degree? Are you looking for campus classes or online options? Consider the blend of flexibility and vibes that suit you and your lifestyle best. Check out student reviews, talk to alumni, and get a feel for the school's culture, too. This is your academic future, so make sure it's one where you can thrive.

Research your financial options. Money talk—it's not always fun, but it's a must. If you’re not paying out of pocket, there’s options for financial aidscholarships (yes, there are scholarships for adults!), and student loans that can help you fund your education. Going back to school doesn't have to break the bank. Make sure to research and explore all avenues to keep the cash flow as stress-free as possible.

Hot tip: Adults going back to school and opting for federal aid may encounter issues related to lifetime lending limits. If you've pursued education multiple times or obtained multiple degrees at the same level, such as earning two bachelor's degrees, you could be approaching or have reached your lending limit.

Tackle time management. Balancing work, family, and now school will take some adjusting. By prioritizing tasks, creating a schedule, and setting realistic goals, you can strike a balance between academic and personal commitments. Effective time management not only ensures that you meet deadlines and perform well in your classes, but also helps reduce stress and allows for a more fulfilling experience.

Make some connections. School is (still) way more fun with people to talk to. Find a way to connect with fellow students. Join online forums, create a study group, or hit up social media. Discuss classes, swap study tips, and talk about your experiences. You may be a bit older, but students of all ages can share some of the same sentiments and challenges.

Check in with yourself. Remember the importance of a good self-care routine. Adulting plus schooling can be intense, so don’t forget to treat yourself kindly. Whether it's a spa day, a Netflix binge, or a good venting session, find what refuels your tank and keeps you ready to keep on keeping on.

Celebrate YOU. Finally, celebrate every victory, big or small. Finished that tough assignment? Treat yourself. Nailed a presentation? Pat yourself on the back. Remember, you’ve got a full plate, so every step forward is worth recognizing. You're not just adulting; you're adulting with a degree on the horizon.

The best part of returning to school as an adult 

While you might be hitting the books again, don't underestimate the power of leveraging your real-world know-how. Your job stories and day-to-day battles? That's your edge. Bring all that into class discussions, connect the dots between theories and your "been there, done that" moments. This not only enhances your learning but also positions you as a valuable contributor.

Things you might want to avoid

Don't isolate yourself. It may be tempting, but engaging with classmates, participating in group activities, and forming study groups not only enhances your learning, but also sets you up with a valuable support system.

Don’t get stuck in the past. Instead of dwelling on nostalgia or the differences from when you went to school, welcome the present opportunities for growth and learning. Embrace the tech and enjoy the new ride.

Don’t hesitate to seek support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Going back to school as an adult isn’t without its challenges. So if you need clarification on course material or the new ways of doing things—just ask! 

Give yourself grace

There you have it—your crash course in going back to school as an adult. It might not be all smooth sailing, but if you want to advance your degree, learn something new, or make a career change, it’s absolutely worth it. And remember you’re not the only one to ever do this! Plenty of adults head back to school and truly enjoy their experience.

So, rock that backpack and don’t forget it's never too late to go back to school—even for us adults. 

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

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