Adult Learners Going Back to College: 5 Signs You're Ready to Enroll
You’ve always wanted to go back to school, but the timing has never seemed right. First there was a household to care for, then new babies and then grown children—not to mention all the laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning responsibilities in between.
You’re finally at a place where going back to college is starting to sound more and more manageable. But how will you be able to juggle everything? Is it financially feasible? Do you still have what it takes to succeed in school?
Rest assured that you’re not alone in asking these questions! There are plenty of adult learners out there who have been in your shoes.
“Going back to school as an adult is a major commitment and a life-changing event, like a new relationship, having children or buying a house,” says Karen Gorback, a recently retired community college dean who worked with adult students for more than 30 years. “Stress is part of the package, but so is the joy of learning.”
If you’re worried about the ins and outs of heading back to school as an adult, keep reading. We connected with adult learners who’ve been there and collected their helpful wisdom on how to know if you’re truly ready to head back to college.
5 signs you’re ready to go back to college
1. You’re ready to commit
“As much as one commits to raising a child, one must commit to education,” says Brian Massie, communications consultant at Taylor Business Solutions and former adult student. “Like a marathon, no prizes are awarded for almost finishing.”
While the joy of learning, earning your degree and getting the job of your dreams is worth it all in the end, it’s important to recognize that heading back to college is a commitment. It’s not just about time spent in class. You’ll also need to allot time for studying, research, writing, group work and other learning activities.
Devoting this much time to your studies is going to mean making some sacrifices, so it’s important to communicate clearly with significant others, employers and even your children, according to Gorback. While things may be stressful for a while, advancing your education can open a multitude of doors that you wouldn’t be able to knock on otherwise. If you understand the commitment and are dedicated to earning your degree, this is a clear sign you’re ready to enroll.
2. You’ve considered the financial requirements
College can be expensive, but there is quite the array of financial aid options for adult learners. First things first: connect with the financial aid office at the school you’re hoping to attend. They’ll be able to explain the resources available to you, which will make the whole process less stressful.
Gorback also recommends checking with your employer to see if they offer assistance toward continuing education. Some companies have reimbursement programs if your education is related to your career. This means a portion (or sometimes all) of your tuition could be covered by your employer.
If you’ve assessed the financial ramifications for heading back to school, met with a financial aid officer and considered other options for attending school, you’re headed in the right direction. As with anything you purchase, you don’t want to buy blind—it’s important to know the cost and understand the ROI of your degree.
3. You have a sturdy support system
School can be stressful at times. The transitional period that takes place when an adult learner reenters the education system can feel rocky and uncertain. Make sure you have a network of people who you will support you and cheer you on as you work toward earning your degree.
"Older adults are often the most motivated, engaged students in the class."
“Ideally, the student’s family and friends understand and support reentry students,” Gorback says. Having everyone on board from the start will make things a lot less stressful when the going gets tough. For many adult learners with families at home, going back to college really is a team effort.
You can also reach out to other adult learners in your program once you get started. They can be a great support to you and vice versa. Most schools also have a host of campus resources to help you throughout your educational journey.
4. You believe you can do it
Self-efficacy plays a big role in knowing if you’re ready to go back to college as an adult. It’s an age-old lesson, but having the belief that you can and will succeed is incredibly valuable.
In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!” Gorback says learners who believe they will succeed generally follow the path to success. It’s normal for adult learners to feel unequipped going back to college, but you may actually be more capable than you thought!
Having a support system at home is important, but at the end of the day you have to believe in yourself to get to the finish line.
5. You’re excited to learn
More than anything, it’s important to be interested in and excited about the subject you intend to study. When you enjoy a topic and are passionate about turning it into a career someday, being in school will be engaging and fulfilling.
“Older adults are often the most motivated, engaged students in the class, determined to succeed,” Gorback says. “They return to college with a fire in their bellies and the resolve to suck the system dry.”
You know what’s at stake as you go back to college, so you’ll be that much more determined to succeed. Understanding the sacrifices you’ll be making means you’ll never take your education for granted.
Take the next step
Do these words of advice ring true? If you’ve read through this list and can nod your head in agreement with most of these points, then you’re more prepared than you thought to head back to college!
Many adult learners have gone before you, and they faced (and overcame!) the same struggles as you. Get more advice on taking on this challenge by reading our article: 12 Tips to Balance Working Full-Time and Going to College.