Non Traditional Student Returning to School

Preparing for College

Going to college when you have been out in the workforce for a while can be a little challenging, maybe even intimidating.  Even more so if you’ve never attended college before.  There are certain skills that are vital if you truly want to succeed in college, and being better prepared for the college experience can also make it a lot less intimidating.  The most basic skills are reading, writing, and math, just as they have always been, but the emphasis is a bit different when you go to college.  Computer skills and time management skills are also very important.

To start with, I would recommend taking a skills assessment, even if it’s not required for you to begin classes.  Many colleges offer classes that are not eligible for credit towards your degree but will help you to be better prepared for the classes that will allow you to earn credits.  These classes cover basic reading, writing, and mathematics, as well as computer skills and organizational skills, including time management.  A skills assessment would give you a basis to determine if you would benefit from any of these classes.  If you aren’t familiar with today’s learning environment, such classes can be instrumental in your endeavor to obtain a degree.

Nearly everyone who is planning on attending college can read, but college textbooks and lectures assume that you can read at a particular level, with a rather large working vocabulary.  Most commonly published materials, like newspaper and magazine articles, are actually written at a fifth or sixth grade level, not college level.  If you aren’t familiar with words like “elucidate” and “pervasive” then you may have problems understanding your textbooks. 

An expansive vocabulary would make it easier for you to succeed in your classes, but you can still succeed without it.  You may need to work a little harder in order to understand the material you are studying, though, and if you start having trouble, most colleges provide tutors to assist you, often free of charge.  A good dictionary, and the knowledge of how to use it, is also a very useful tool for college classes, regardless of your reading level. 

Writing is equally important, due to the assignments that you are required to submit to your professors.  If you are writing for anything other than an English class, the professors will usually assume that you already know how to write and will only give you instructions regarding the length, format and subject of the assignment.  They will occasionally provide examples of the type of work that they want you to produce, which will help make the writing easier for you.  Again, there are resources available to you, such as tutors, teaching assistants, and your professor, in order to help you succeed.  If you feel that your reading or writing level may not be sufficient, then you might want to attend some of the basic reading and writing classes before you start your college level work.

Math would normally be a subject that people would either be fairly good at or have some difficulty with.  Either way, you have no choice but to take college level algebra since it is required for any kind of degree.  It is also a prerequisite for many other courses that you may need to take for your degree.  For college algebra, you are required to know things like how to solve quadratic equations and how to graph equations.  Most people who have been out of school for a while are not going to remember these things, so it may be necessary to take a refresher math course before you take the college level algebra course.  The class is meant to teach you enough for you to be able to pass a standardized college algebra test.  The real difficulty with the test, other than knowing formulas, is that you can not use a calculator when you take it.  Many people have become so accustomed to using a calculator that they have forgotten how to do basic multiplication and division without one, making a refresher math course even more advisable.

Computer skills are absolutely necessary and ties in to the reading and writing skills.  Knowing how to use a search engine and how to navigate various websites are essential for many class assignments.  Some classes are “hybrid” classes, with a portion of the class material on the internet and some classes are taught entirely online.  You will probably need to know how to use Microsoft Word, and possibly Microsoft PowerPoint, in order to complete your assignments.  A lot of the source materials for research papers and other writing assignments are only accessible online, so being comfortable with a computer and the internet will make it much easier for you to complete your course tasks.  You may also need to communicate with your professor via e-mail, so familiarity with sending and receiving e-mails can also be important.

With regards to the hybrid and online courses, such classes can be a lot easier and more convenient than traditional classes in some ways.  The professor of a hybrid class will often make lecture notes and class reviews available online, so you do not have to be quite as concerned with taking notes during the class.  With online classes, everything is in writing, either on the course website or in your textbook, so you need to have excellent reading and comprehension skills in order to do well in an online class.  Online classes provide the benefit of attending classes at a time that is most convenient for you, rather than a set schedule, so if you are comfortable with so much reading, then you may enjoy that type of class.

Time management skills are also extremely important, usually more so for the non-traditional student than someone who is just out of high school.  Most non-traditional students are juggling a job and family with their college career, making time management vitally important.  With college there are always deadlines to meet and you have to be able to devote the necessary time to accomplish the tasks you’ve been given.  This includes time to simply review and study your course materials, rather than just time to complete a specific assignment.  The amount of time necessary can vary, depending on the course you are taking.  A language course, for example, would require much more time to study and memorize the material than a math course.  A summer course would also require more study time than a regular semester course, since the class is shorter but covers just as much material.

Organizational skills come in to play when you are studying and working out your assignments in addition to trying to live your life outside of school.  If you are well organized and do not procrastinate when doing your coursework, it is a lot easier to manage your classes and combine the work you need to do for them with the other aspects of your life.  Many schools have classes for the non-traditional student to help them learn good study habits and how to better integrate college into their regular lives.  If you have a full-time job or a family, or both, such a class may be of good benefit to you.  These classes also teach people about various resources and programs the college has available to assist students with different situations and needs that may come up while attending college.

Going back to school can be a little daunting, but there are thousands of people doing it and the colleges are making a concerted effort to make the experience a positive one for the non-traditional student.  The schools want their students to succeed and will work with someone to help them achieve their goals, regardless of what stage of life they are in when they first start taking classes.  By preparing yourself before you start taking the classes that will apply towards your degree, you can ensure that your college experience will be both rewarding and enjoyable.