You’ve decided to take the plunge and head back to school. Although this journey may seem a bit overwhelming at first, the good news is that you are probably more prepared than you think. “When adults return to college, they bring with them wisdom, experience, maturity, skills and knowledge that informs and enhances their educational experience,” says Karen Stevens, chief academic advisor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. With some research, planning and evaluation of your career goals, you will be ready for the first day back to school.
Find a School
Adults looking to return to school should first and foremost find a school that meets their needs. “Your local community college is a great place to start,” says Stevens. “They are flexible, geared toward adults and often have online options.” When researching a school, it’s also important to investigate the college programs, course offerings and accreditation, she says.
Cost is a huge consideration when returning to school. Shop around and compare costs, says Stevens. “Remember to look at both the cost of tuition and fees,” she says. “Find out how much financial aid students typically receive and what kind of aid – grants or loans – is available.” Investigate the tuition assistance options available through your current employer, too, to help with school fees.
Analyze Your Schedule
As a parent, you will want to consider the balancing act of raising a family while returning to school. Check with potential colleges to see if they offer childcare or flexible course scheduling, suggests Stevens. Do they have evening and weekend courses to fit your schedule? Does the school have online offerings? “You want to know that the school you are attending understands adult learners and understands that adult students are juggling multiple responsibilities,” says Stevens.
Research Degree Programs
If you are seeking a degree, researching the program will prove to be advantageous, says Maribeth Gunner Pulliam, Career Services Coordinator at Excelsior College in Albany, New York. “Once you have an idea of the educational path that matches your interests and abilities, you can navigate with confidence and research plausible options,” she says. Programs range from Communications and English to Information Technology and Business Administration. Discuss the possibilities with an advisor or counselor at the college of your choice.
Evaluate Non-Degree Programs
Many colleges offer classes for non-degree seeking students looking to improve skills. Check with colleagues in your field or professional associations to determine what current skills and certifications employers are seeking, recommends Peter Del Monico, director of the Center for Professional Development at Excelsior College. “The health care industry continues to grow and programs such as pharmacy technician and administrative medical specialist are some of our more popular programs,” he says. “Skills learned in programs such as project management can be applied to virtually any industry.”
Assess Career Options
If you are considering a career change, Del Monico recommends evaluating all of your options. “Many students do not have a clear idea career wise,” he says. “We suggest students view the Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor statistics where it houses information such as median salary, scope of various jobs and the work environment.” Find the best career fit for you, then choose classes that will help you prepare for the industry.
Take Continuing Education Courses
Many times, a refresher course can give you the skill boost you need. “Courses for credit are great after you ascertained your education,” says Dr. Michael Provitera, Florida-based former professor and author of “Mastering Self-Motivation.” “The rationale here is that you are building your resume and preparing for a promotion.” He recommends courses in project management, financial planning, website design and total quality management to hone leadership skills. Marketing and general business classes will also help leaders learn new strategies while managing a staff.
Learn a New Skill
Continuing education courses can also help you learn a new skill. Take an introductory computer class to learn how to formulate spreadsheets, edit photos or create slideshows. Many colleges also offer CPR and first aid workshops so you can renew certifications. “Learning is a lifelong pursuit and adults must make continuous investments in their own learning,” says Lynette Hazelton of the District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund in Philadelphia. “If they don’t, one serious problem is that their skill set will quickly age.”
Taking a class for fun is also a viable option to enhance your creative side. “Going back to school is beneficial to the working adult as it adds skills, allows students to try something new and refreshes your memory,” says Kira Shuman, a graduate student at Bellevue University in Nebraska. Language courses, art classes in photography, drawing and ceramics, and writing workshops may be just what you need. Write the next great American novel or create a vivid masterpiece with your newfound skills.