Returning to college as an adult means having a more complex life and increased responsibilities, but neither of these preclude college. I tell my middle school students, “I did the twelve-year undergraduate program, nights.” It’s true. Although I hope they will take the simpler path of going directly to college after high school, it should be known that adult students are an increasing part of a college’s enrollment, and that options are offered specifically for adult students.
As a nontraditional student in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had several options available to me, but far fewer than are offered today. Some of my most enjoyable classes were taken through Harvard University’s Extension School where my classmates’ ages ranged from those still in high school to those well into retirement. I can recall one class with a classmate who was 16 and another was over 80. Although many of the courses were large lectures-always interesting, but devoid of much discussion-writing workshops and conversational language classes allowed for ongoing student interaction. Both the course and the school will determine the level of student interaction.
Steps to take if you’re planning to return include the following:
(1) Select a school convenient to your home or place of work, that offers courses in which you would be interested at times you could attend.
(2) Allow travel time when planning your schedule. If you’ll be arriving at class directly after flying out of your day job, will you have enough time to commute, park, and get to class?
(3) Check with the Human Resources department at work. Does your employer offer any kind of tuition reimbursement? (Note that at some schools, fees are even higher than tuition. Figure the fees into your education budget allocation.) What requirements must you meet in order to qualify for tuition reimbursement? Meet them.
(4) Obtain a catalog. Determine registration deadlines and class dates. Pore over the listings to find the best choices for you. Then register for a class or two (depending on how much time you can spare from the life you’ve carved for yourself).
(5) Unless it’s available sooner, obtain a course syllabus at the first class. Go to the bookstore and purchase the required textbooks. (If money is an issue, university-affiliated book stores usually carry used editions of many texts. Also, many online book services deal in textbooks.)
(6) Use the first class meeting to shop. Does this class still appeal to you, now that you’ve heard the professor’s introduction? If not, change classes immediately. There’s no better way to sabotage your back-to-school efforts than by picking a class that you won’t be eager to attend.
(7) Attend every class. Listen and take notes. Do the assigned readings. Participate in class, if it’s possible. Raise your hand and ask questions. Pay attention to course requirements and turn in any assigned papers or projects on time.
(8) Do your best. Finish a course (or two), breathe a sigh of relief, then return to the Registrar’s office to enroll in your next course(s).
Good luck! Remember that you have more world knowledge than many of your younger classmates. Exploit your life experience, share it, and the class will be richer for having your voice. Finally, enjoy learning.