ith more and more jobs requiring the minimum of a bachelor’s degree, it is unsurprising that many people want to go back to college. Although this may seem daunting for those who are no longer traditional students, the number of available resources is astonishing and making a plan has never been easier with everything from grants for nontraditional students, to what your plan should contain, this is your adult-oriented guide on how to return to college as an adult.

Find Your Funding to Go Back to School

If you're thinking of going back to school, one of your biggest concerns is probably finding a way to finance your continuing education.

Although college can be expensive, there are many options that can help you finance your degree at any age. While many options include repayment, things like awards and grants are given to you with no expectation of repayment.

Loans for Adults Returning to College

There are many options for loans that are available for adults who want to go back to college. The most popular and well-known resource for student loans is Sallie Mae. A Sallie Mae loan is a loan specifically for college students to be used for education-related costs. Of course, you do have to eventually pay these loans back, most repayment plans begin six months after you are no longer a full-time student. Unfortunately, the catch with loans like the Sallie Mae loans is that the interest often makes it so that you are paying more than you borrowed.

Loans can also be obtained through banks. The difference between a student-specific loan and a bank loan is that money does not have to strictly be spent on educational costs, which means you could use it to cover things like rent or groceries or whatever you may need at the time. Like student loans, most bank loans also have incredibly high-interest rates. It's always a good idea to research your options when it comes to loans and make an educated decision.

Financial Aid for Going Back to School

Something that is available to all students both freshly out of high school and non-traditional students is something called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Every year starting in October you can fill it out, and once completed you may be awarded an amount of aid that goes to your university to cover your tuition. Most of this you do not have to repay as they are federally funded grants.

Unlike loans, FAFSA does not require a credit check, nor can you be rejected. And the FAFSA operates off of your income and uses this to compute how much aid you are eligible for. Every college accepts FAFSA financial aid and it is not exclusive to private schools or state schools.

One thing to note about FAFSA is that while you cannot be rejected from receiving it, there is no guarantee that the amount will be the same consistently through the entirety of your college career.

Loans, grants, and financial aid are all ways to help finance your degree, but navigating them may be confusing.

Grants for Non-Traditional Students

It’s no secret that one of the main things stopping most adults from going back to college is the cost of attendance. Many universities, including Ivy League schools, accept outside grants for nontraditional students. Whether you’re a parent, a full-time employee somewhere, someone who travels, or just need a little bit of extra help paying for your classes, these grants are specifically for those who want to come back to college to further their career choices in life. On average $5,179 is given away each year to nontraditional students. This can be used for everything from tuition to box to a stipend for paying your apartment rent while you’re in college.

Unlike loans, grants are given to you by the state or an organization, meaning you do not have to pay them back and they do not add to your total amount of debt racked up in college. Here’s a list of unexpected grants that have been given out in the past. Applying for them can be as easy as filling out a questionnaire or as complicated as submitting an essay and writing samples, the only thing they can do is say no.

Online Courses Can Offset the Cost of College

Along with grants for nontraditional students, another perk that adults going back to college might find themselves with is the advantage of taking college courses online with universities like the University of Phoenix and the new University of Southern New Hampshire offering courses online with no in-person instruction required, it allows adults who may have a full-time job already or a family to support by working full-time to take classes that are more suited to their schedule. The idea of college courses is more and more accessible to them. With a 12% of adults going back to school online, the idea of cyberlearning is one that has expanded indefinitely and will continue to do so in the future.

Of course, there are multiple advantages to classes taken online, specifically for adults going back to college. For example, it isn’t always possible to be either away from work or to find childcare for five days out of the week. With online classes, you have the freedom to do the classes on a relatively lax schedule. This, along with the ability to do class virtually anywhere, makes going back to college something that is more easily obtainable than ever.

With technology like Zoom and Skype, online learning has never been more accessible.

Consider Your Goals Before You Commit

To fully take advantage of the concept of going back to school, having your goals and priorities in order is something that it’s not only required to make the transition easier, but will help down the road when it comes time to decide what job you would like to go into.

Whether it’s a new career or simply furthering your education in your current field, goals can involve anything from where you’d like to work in the future, to how long you’re going to be in school, to how your family is going to function while you are in school. It's best to go into a college setting already having an idea of what you’d like to do with your degree when you finish. This goes not only for recent high school graduates but returning nontraditional students as well.

Make a Plan to Make it Happen

Like most things, having a plan going forward to work out exactly what you plan to do with your degree, as well as what you plan to do while you obtain it, is one of the most important parts of going back to school. No matter if it involves how you get your grant or what college you attend there is always a way to plan out how you intend to follow this through.

Plans involving going back to school can be made with your family yourself or even your financial advisor if finances are something that becomes an issue for you. Many adults who go back to school are cognizant of the idea that loans are the most popular way to pay through college. According to the most recent education loan data, students owe an average of $39,351 after graduating.

Another thing to plan for is how you will balance work and college. Many non-traditional college students have the unique issue of having to balance classes as well as a full-time job. While the expectation of balancing a traditional 40 hour work week as well as classes that oftentimes require 15 hours a week in study and out-of-class engagement is one that is difficult, university resources like writing centers and online and in-person tutoring sessions are all ways to help stay ahead of the curve.

Going Back to School: A Fresh Start At Any Age

Many people go back to college for a fresh start. A majority of universities have something of a contingency plan for students who discontinue their education but have the intention of coming back. As returning adult student, this can be taken advantage of to boost a GPA that might need help, or offer a backup if your first year in college doesn’t go as planned. Not only that, but it can be an opportunity to advance whatever post-high school education you already have.

Many adults use the opportunity of furthering their education to change their careers. On average, 70% of Americans are considering changing their occupation–and with 39% of those motivated by a higher salary–pursuing higher education seems to be the next logical step. While the average age of those looking to change their career is 31, many non-traditional students who go back to college are 36.

It’s never too late to have a fresh start, and a degree is a great way to jumpstart that.

Whether you are changing your career, looking for a change of pace, or intending to finish a degree you started, it is never a bad time to go back to college. The resources available are abundant, and universities offer flexible classes, as well as online classes that can work with your home, family, and work schedule.

As you prepare to go back to college, the choices that present themselves to you may seem daunting, but the opportunity to grow is a journey that is never regretted.

Mar 18, 2022