We all have different reasons for wanting to return to college. Perhaps it is a personal fulfillment, a message of resilience and determination, or a means to reach that illustrious promotion. Regardless of the purpose, the end goal is the same: you want to earn your degree. You want to finish what you started or take your achievement to the next level.
When it comes to going back to school, you’ve already leaped over the first hurdle. Motivation. That driving force will take you far. Yet, like any significant milestone in your life, you may have a few questions and concerns about returning to college. You have a busy life balancing personal and professional commitments, and we understand this need better than any other institution of higher learning in the world. So if you are thinking of returning to college, ask yourself these questions to assess and prepare for the commitment that will take you to the next level.
What should I expect? With flexible options, you can work towards your degree at your own pace. Depending on your work and personal commitments, you can slow the pace down or accelerate the amount of courses you take in your degree program. The length of time also varies and there are a few factors that can impact how many courses you need to take to complete your degree. One is how many credits you are able to transfer to your new school. Depending on the institution you select, you may also be able to earn credit for professional or military training, professional licenses and certifications that have been assessed for college credit, credit-by-exam programs (such as the College-Level Exam Program (CLEP)) or through portfolio assessment.
Many schools offer programs where there are no time limits on completing a degree and no classroom attendance is required, so pursuing a degree fits in with your life. Of course, taking courses online does not mean the degree program will be easy; the same expectations apply to online courses as they do in a traditional classroom setting. Remember that life does not stop because you are attending college. You must still meet the expectations of work, life and school, and understand any sacrifices you may need to take to meet your goals.
How much time and commitment must I devote? The length of time it takes you to complete your degree depends on the number of credits you bring to your degree program. These issues are determined during the evaluation that takes place after a prospective student applies to college. However many credits you choose to take in a year, recognize that your goals must be realistic. With certain professional and personal commitments, you may not be able to complete your degree in a year. Assess the amount of courses you can reasonably manage in your schedule and progressively move forward.
How can I best balance my school, professional and personal commitments? It all comes down to time management and creating a plan. Develop a routine in a structured environment by setting up certain dates and times to accomplish whatever you need to do. Once you find your niche – maybe an hour after the kids are in bed or a few hours on a Sunday morning – stick to it. Finding the balance between life, work and school will be your key to success.
What will I study? While you cannot choose ‘undecided’ during the application process, you can switch into any program. You are not married to the program noted on your application. Once you receive your academic evaluation, your academic advisor can discuss with you the requirements and help map out any degree program that interests you. Also, if you started a program 30 years ago, we can help you cultivate the same program regardless of our degree offerings.
What do I need to do to prepare? To familiarize yourself with the distance-learning format, you can take an entry-level online course at any community college for a similar experience. As you map out a degree plan, look at a variety of credit options that you feel comfortable with; maybe you prefer to learn in a discussion format rather than on your own, or taking tests comes easily to you. Research what materials you will need to go back to college. Most importantly, discuss with your family the type of commitment you are making – it will affect them all. An understanding, supportive family atmosphere will help you achieve your goal; a spouse helping with the dishes so you can finish writing a paper can feel like a miracle.
Recognizing the expectations required for going back to college will only help you as you navigate the tricky balance of work, school and life. Since no one is telling you to go do your homework, creating a structured environment and routine will help you cultivate the self-discipline necessary to achieve your goals. As you drive your own educational success, remember that, in all efforts “there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.” A very true quote, stated by our namesake, Thomas Edison.