Info for going Back to School at an Older Age

Going Back

I had started college over fifteen years ago. It was time to go back and finish. The thought struck me one evening off the coast of Guatemala on a sailboat. It was calm, the stars were out and you could smell the jungle from 7 or 8 miles away. Strange that a classroom with its four walls and a ceiling would be on my mind at all.

I spent the next five months researching schools and courses offered. The Internet is very useful for this. All the major universities are online and most have virtual tours. The Internet can also provide information helpful in choosing a major and finding internships. FastWeb.com is an excellent site for finding scholarships and grants.

Once you decide on a school, it’s very important to have all your transcripts from other institutions sent directly to that school. It’s best to call your old school and find out if you can fax your written request to speed things up a bit. Also, find out from your new school which specific department or person the letter containing the transcripts should be made attention to. It can take up to six weeks for your transcripts to be sent and then another six weeks for them to be reviewed by your new school. That’s why it is important to take care of this well in advance of registration deadlines.

Another issue concerning transcripts is that there are no clean slates. You are required to submit any and all transcripts from all institutions you’ve ever been enrolled in, regardless of how long ago, or for how short a time. If you choose not to disclose information about attending another institution, you could lose any financial aid and become ineligible to attend the school. Hopefully the old grades won’t wreck your GPA. If they do, all it takes is a year of straight A’s and your GPA will be back to an acceptable level.

So now you’ve chosen a school, looked at your transcripts and maybe have a major in mind. Most institutions require your attendance to an Orientation prior to registration and placement tests in English and Math. Take the Math and English placement exams even if they aren’t required. It will help you find out just how much you’ve managed to remember and how much you’ve forgotten.

Do yourself a big favor and begin at the Math level recommended. Don’t try to save yourself time by beginning at the next level up. Math builds on itself. For example, once you have a firm grasp of Elementary Algebra, then it’s safe to move on to Trigonometry.

For the first full semester, my advice is to forget about the electives and get down to brass tacks. Get started on your Math, English and Foreign Language requirements. One of each course will give you a full semester. Focus on the minimum General Education requirements for any Associates Degree if you haven’t already taken the courses previously.

Read the course catalog and pay close attention to the Prerequisites. If you have firmly decided on your major, you can pencil in your semesters for the next couple of years. This will give you a good overview of what’s ahead.

If you plan to go to school during the summer, remember that the course material is the same, but it is accelerated into fit into a shorter term, usually eight weeks. That is very intense and can be overwhelming for students. Avoid taking more than one course during the summer. They can be brutal depending on the course. I personally would never take a Biology or Chemistry course during the summer. Most universities will advise against more than 6 units during the summer.

Some institutions operate on a quarterly system, others on the semester. Whatever the arrangement, try to keep the number of units in the full-time range. Part-time seems to drag school on forever, and trying to graduate in record time by overloading your class schedule can be detrimental to your GPA. Of course there are always exceptions and unique circumstances. But for most of us, full-time is plenty.

Registration sets up your future for the next 3 or 4 months. Make out a sample schedule and be sure you don’t have overlapping classes. It’s a good idea to have a second alternative schedule in case some classes are full or canceled. At my particular college, registration is automated on a touch tone phone or available on the website. It isn’t necessary to go to campus and stand in line, which is really nice. I receive a card in the mail about 5 weeks prior to the registration date. I can call to register anytime after the date and time indicated on the card. I have always gotten my first choice schedule because I call on the first day to register within minutes of the time listed on the card. it takes about ten minutes to register from home with this system.

Careful planning of your class schedule can help make college life a bit easier. When are you the most productive? Schedule your classes accordingly if possible. Scheduling an hour between one or two of your courses can also be beneficial. It gives you a chance to catch up on homework, a chance for one last review before an exam or time for a coffee break and a brain rest. Stick to your schedule like a job, try to avoid leaving campus and returning. If possible, stay for all your classes and complete as much of your assignments while still on campus at the library or other area conducive to working without interruptions. Then you can go home, forget about the books for awhile and maybe even relax.

Starting out at a community college can save you thousands of dollars in tuition. You’ll find that many of the other students are adults returning to school after years in the work force or parenting. Be sure to take advantage of the career workshops and transfer programs offered by many community colleges.

Keys to getting straight A’s:

~ Don’t skip class! Being there makes all the difference in the world.
~ Use the library. A quiet place to study is essential.
~ Take advantage of tutors if necessary. They can help get “the lightbulb on”.

By the end of the semester,a solid A in the course can really payoff. You won’t be frantically submitting extra credit or taking an optional final to bring up your grade.

College has been much more rewarding the second time around. I think age has improved my focus. It certainly goes by much faster at thirty or forty something that it did at nineteen.