Returning to College as an Adult: A Resource Guide

So, you’re thinking about returning to college? According to a recent nationwide survey, adults without college degrees expressed an overwhelming desire to go back to school and earn their degree.

Have you personally considered going back to school?
  • 60.3% Yes
  • 32% No
  • 7.8 % Don't Know

1,004 adults, ages 23 to 55 were surveyed, see full survey here.

Results from Champlain College Online’s survey, administered by Full Circle Research, showed that 6 out of 10 respondents had considered returning to school to obtain a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. The individuals surveyed believed that more college education would offer more job opportunities.

This belief is borne out by the current number of adult students in the United States. This figure has grown to 13.3 million, or 60 percent of all undergraduates, according to the American Council on Education.

Adults decide to return to school for many reasons, but it’s clear that more and more are returning for additional schooling, or attending for the first time. Additional degrees can increase your job prospects, give you leverage in pay negotiations, or just give you more options. Here we will discuss what resources that are available to you and what you should keep in mind as you consider going back to school.

Why Adults Want to Return to College % Agree
I want to increase my earning potential. 73%
I will feel better about myself for having completed a degree. 59%
I want to be an inspiration for my children or other family members. 54%
I want the opportunity to demonstrate what I know and fulfill my dream of earning a degree. 52%
There are limited options for me without a degree. 51%

See Full Survey 

10 Tips for Going back to School

If you’re an adult who’s considering going back to school, here are 10 tips to help you succeed.

  • Take care of yourself. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise. Investing in your own well-being will pay off when handling new and stressful situations.
  • Recognize the importance of networking. Getting to know your fellow students is important, even in an online environment. Call, email, or text classmates to keep in touch about assignments and to commiserate.
    • Create a routine and stick to it. The demands of classes and homework will tax your already tight schedule, so make sure to set aside a certain amount of time every day for reading and assignments. Studying will become a habit, like brushing your teeth.
  • Figure out your goals. If it’s a new degree you want or additional professional certification, be clear about what you’re going for. Write down and remember what you hope to gain.
  • Know that your life experience can give you a head start. Many colleges offer credit to adult learnings through Prior-Learning Assessment (PLA) or Competency-Based Education (CBE). (
  • Ensure a positive attitude. Remember why you’re coming back and never lose sight of your goal. College at any age is a chance to learn new things, meet interesting people and have new adventures.
  • Understand that help is available. Your instructor, the library, and the tutoring / advising center are all there to support and assist you. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something and know that you’re not alone.
  • Do everything early. Life happens, and you never know what might prevent you from completing a project. When you receive your syllabus, compare it with your other responsibilities and complete any assignments or readings that you can ahead of time. This will give you a little bit of a cushion should any unexpected obligations come up.
  • Take small steps. Going back to school is challenging, so it’s best to start out with one or two classes rather than a full load at first.

Paying for School: A Resource Guide

Now that you’re excited about going back to school, how to pay for it? Here are some resources that can help:

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Resource Description Type
College Prep Checklist A helpful checklist from the U.S. Department of Education, specifically geared for people returning to college. Loan
Federal Aid for Adult Students Info Sheet A guide put together by the U.S. Department of Education for adult students. Includes myths and facts about the process. Loan
Adventures in Education Scholarship Database Use this quick search engine to learn about 15,000 scholarships available to a wide variety of students and college needs.
Careers & Colleges You can register for free to search through over seven billion dollars in college scholarships and grants at this online search engine. Careers and Colleges also offers a $2,000 monthly scholarship give-away.
CareerOneStop This career site provides a search engine that links to more than 5,000 scholarships, fellowships, loans and other financial aid opportunities. The search is divided by award type, residence preference, study level and affiliation restrictions.
The College Board Scholarship Search  Locate scholarships, loans, internships, and other financial aid programs from non-college sources that match your education level, talents, and background.
FinAid Use this quick search engine to learn about 15,000 scholarships available to a wide variety of students and college needs.
Scholarships and Grants Provides essential scholarship and financial aid resources to students preparing for all types of careers.

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