The first step to going back to college is to have a desire to do so. Without this desire, a return to college will not materialize. Going back to college for most of us is nothing more than a pipe dream. Working 40 to 60 hours a week, children, volunteer hours at the local rotary club, and life may keep many from even the investigatory stage of going back to college. If you have a desire, there is nothing that can stand in your way.
Step two involves looking at your current schedule and determining what your priorities are. Most of us work for a living so that is usually the first area of our life we look at. Can I take off time from work? What will work say? Will work help pay the bills? These are all great questions. Start by writing a schedule of your week on a piece of paper or an Excel spreadsheet. Mark the times you go to work and come home. Mark down all of your vacation time and the holiday’s you receive. Once you have a working weekly schedule, try and separate it into quarters or semesters. This will be a baseline for the collegiate schedule you will put together later on. You will be able to compare the two. You will be extremely surprised on how many days of vacation and natural times like lunch and evenings fit into both your work and school schedule.
Step three is finding out what you want to go to college for. There are several ways to determine this and there is no right answer. Junior colleges can provide a perfect segway back into major universities or colleges. There are a plethora of classes you may take and the quality of junior college teachers can be very high. Many classes might just awaken the engineer, geologist or nurse in you. In addition, the classes you take at a junior college can be used in your application to a college or university. Other ways of deciding are looking at college catalogs either by going to the college book store and buying one; they are usually available for around $15.00. Or, you may go online and buy the electronic version. Some universities provide them for free in PDF format. These are excellent resources for looking at majors, the classes that are offered and the work necessary to achieve a particular degree. The school websites are an excellent resource to find out what are the schools and the specialties of the institution. Once you have a direction you want to proceed in, it is time to pick a place to go.
Step four is finding the right school for you. As mentioned before, going to a junior college to acclimate yourself to college again is not a bad idea. However, if it is your desire to jump right in with a quality college or university, looking in your own back yard is the best start. Many cities have excellent institutions looking for students with a desire to learn and grow. In my area, the San Francisco Bay, there are more colleges than I care to pen to paper. Some of them top schools in the country. Even if you live in remote areas of the country, you can still find a school to attend. Many colleges and universities have taken their curriculum online. There are countless online schools to research also. Finding a school may depend on your geography, work schedule, financial resources, and areas of academic interest. Developing a matrix with all of your criteria may help you narrow the field of choices.
Step five is getting into the school of your choice. Many schools have requirements that can take the wind right out of your sails. Don’t waiver! Go to a school advisor and talk to them about your specific situation. Take your old transcripts and a generous allowance of patience. Many schools are on a schedule, so make sure you check their admissions schedules online before trouncing to the student services center for an appointment. Math, reading, writing and English are important in American universities as many of the writing skills, math and English entrance tests will testify. Make sure you ask the advisor and check the school websites for such requirements. This will save you hours and many a head-ache when trying to register for classes.
Step six is registering for classes. Registering for classes can be a little challenging and depressing if you let it. Continuing students usually have priority. If you have to take writing or math tests as prerequisites, you may lose an entire quarter or semester. Do not give up; this is where the rubber meets the road. Your desire will be fully tested in this stage of the journey. If you are coming back from years of educational inactivity, I advise a light load with classes you will enjoy and do well in. Put the ego away for a few semesters and take classes that you can score and A in. Once you are acclimated to school again, dive into the more demanding courses.
Step seven requires you to use your hard-earned wisdom and life experience to excel in your classes and your relationships with your professors and fellow students. It does help to sit in the front, ask questions, talk to your professors and visit during office hours. It does help to email them and let them know you won’t be able to make class but want to get the lecture notes. Think of this as work when it comes to attending class. Do not miss class; do not be late; and do not fool around in front of your teacher. You are here to achieve something special and that demands a clear mind and focus.
Step eight is very simple. Use the institutions resources! I do not know how else to say this without yelling it out. The institution has numerous resources to help you excel in your academic pursuit. Many institutions of higher learning, if not all, offer tutoring, counseling, financial aid, and advising to name a few. If you don’t use the resources, you are losing out on much of what you are paying your tuition for. There were many times in my early college life that I struggled with math and English classes. I barely passed them with C’s and D’s. Later in life I found out that there were countless tutors waiting to teach me algebra, geometry, calculus and writing skills. There was free counseling and advising to keep me on track. There were financial services I never dreamed existed. I was a fool not to use them and so are you if you do not take full advantage of these resources. Here is a great tip for finding these resources; walk into a new building every time you are on campus. Eventually, you will walk through every building and by sheer persistence and dumb luck; you will find all of the resources that the campus has to offer.
Step nine: You should have a plan every semester for what you will be taking and how it fits in your schedule. You should know approximately when you will be graduating with your desired degree. Never lose site of this goal. If you lose site of it, you can spend entire semesters of aimless wondering and eventually you may just quit. Don’t let this happen to you! Plan your year and follow that plan. As the old proverb goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
Step ten: By now, you will be finishing up your degree. Maybe it was a career change or career enhancement, or maybe, it was just self improvement for improvements sake. Whatever the reason, you are nearing the end of your journey. Maybe there is an advanced degree in your future or maybe you are happy with what you have accomplished and now it is time for something else. You did it! Yes, you accomplished something that not many people accomplish. You should be proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you have done.