Adults Returning To School--Things You Need To Know and Where To Begin

Making the decision to return to school after so many years can be a difficult decision for many Adults. However, with the ever changing job market along with the constant development and deployment of new technology, many jobs require skills that were not needed 20 years ago.
More jobs require at least one degree and many jobs are looking for new employees that have essential qualifications for dual jobs. For example, accountant/database administrator, engineer/computer programmer, help desk support technician/website designer, medical receptionist/medical coding and billing.
Returning to school can give you the upper edge for a promotion at your current job or mold you into a prime candidate at a new job. In this article, I hope to give you some of the information you need to start your education as an Adult student, along with a few tips to get your started on your new pathway.
Do Your Research and Find Your Passion
If you love your job and are looking for a job promotion in your current company, check the job description to find out the qualifications you need. Even if you don't have the qualifications at that time, you will know what you need to have for the next time the job opens up. Take classes working towards a degree that will help you become a better candidate
However, if you are looking to change your career, or looking for a new job, ask yourself a few questions:
• What do you love doing?
• How can you make money doing what you love?
Once you have the answer to those questions, search websites like Monster and CareerBuilder to read through job qualifications and job descriptions in the field of your choice. What job qualifications do you need to do what you love? Once you have a better idea of what you need to know and learn, now is the time to find a College/University that has the custom coursework program/degree of study you will need to fit those qualifications.
As I have been often told, do what you love and you will never have to work another day.
Affording College
There are many programs available to help you obtain your education. This section will cover some of the programs that may be available to you and including Pell Grants. Remember that you are investing in your future while acquiring the skills you need for a decent paying job.
The cost of Education/earning a degree can become very expensive and especially at Universities. Community Colleges are the least expensive option and often offer guaranteed transfer to a State University as a Junior towards your Bachelor's Degree. Many students elect this option to save money on core classes and once they transfer to a University they are half-way through earning their Bachelor's Degree. Check with your local Community College to see the programs they offer.
*Note: If earning a degree is not for you, Community Colleges often offer Career Diplomas/Certificate Programs in various fields.
If you are currently working, many companies offer Tuition Reimbursement and will reimburse you for the full amount of your tuition while other companies may reimburse you if you have met the requirements; be sure to check with your companies policies--some may require that you maintain a GPA (Grade Point Average) of 2.5, while others may require a GPA of 3.0.
Companies like General Dynamics/Electric Boat offer apprenticeship programs that will pay for your education (as long as you meet the requirements) while providing you with on the job training. Be sure to check your local companies for similar programs.
Check with your local Lion's Club, Women's Club, and other clubs in your area. Some are willing to offer some scholarship money towards your education. Every bit helps!
Check with the College/University that you plan on attending--many offer private scholarships/donations from alumni or from local businesses for students that meet a certain criteria for that scholarship. Apply for any of the scholarships that you feel you meet the criteria.

Pell Grants
A Pell Grant is a federally funded grant that you do NOT have to pay back. If you have decided to earn a degree, believe it or not, you may qualify for Financial Aid. In some cases Financial Aid will entirely cover both your Tuition and books, and in other cases will help with some of the Tuition. FAFSA is a free federal application to see if you qualify. Regardless of your income status, definitely apply.
To Apply:
• Go to the FAFSA website
• Apply for a PIN (You will need your Social Security Number)
• Once you have a PIN, Fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (You will need your Social Security number, your recently filed tax return, as well as your PIN)
• If you have filed your taxes more than a month ago, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This pulls all the information from your tax return into the FAFSA form and makes the process easier.
• * Note: if you have problems filling out the application or are confused, save your application and consult your tax advisor. You will be able to log back in to continue the application process.
• The FAFSA includes the option of choosing the Colleges/Universities that you want the report sent.
• Once you have completed the form, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which will include EFC (Expected Family Contribution). This is the information the College/University will use to determine your eligibility. (Many Colleges/University offer Work Study Programs as well).
There are many other programs available, be sure to do your research. Be careful of scams on the internet that charge fees for applying for scholarships and/ or grants. Before filing out any forms on the web, check legitimacy.
Applying for College--The Process
In this section, I hope to give you a general idea of what to expect and some general requirements.
Depending on the College/University, you may need to provide several documents.
Although requirements vary from school to school, here is a general list to give you an idea of what you may need:
• Proof of High School Diploma or GED
• High School Transcripts
• Immunization Records
• If you applied for Financial Aid, you may need to check with the Financial Aid Department to see if they need further documents from you in regards to income. Example W-2, bank records etc.
• Proof of Residency (often in-state student receive a discount on costs in comparison to an out-of-state student)
• Proof of Citizenship, or Green Card, or Student Visa
• Application Fee (varies $20 and up)
Often, the next step is to take a Placement Test. A Placement Test evaluates several aspects of what you know or don't know including reading comprehension as well as math. The average Placement Test takes less than an hour and helps the College determine where you place and need to begin your educational journey-- example: Elementary Math versus Calculus.
If you have some experience in your field and you may want participate in APL (Assessment of Prior Learning) program. With this program, you can earn college credits for experience and some of your required courses may be waived. This can save you money and help you earn your degree faster. Check with your College/University for further information.
The next step is speaking with an Academic Adviser which your school will assign to you. They will help you plan out your educational goals, go through your Plan of Study, and help you register for classes.
If this is your first semester back to school, don't rush yourself or bite off more than you can chew. Start off by registering for just one or two classes. After your first semester you will have a better idea of what to expect from your Professors and a better understanding of what you can actually handle.

Free Online Classes
If you are unsure of whether or not you are ready to go back to school, you might want to consider taking a free online class from reputable Colleges and Universities. On the right are links to absolutely free online classes from extremely reputable schools.
• edX started classes Fall 2012 and is a joint partnership with Harvard and MIT
• Coursera is partnered with Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania
• Udacity has classes taught buy world renowned Instructors from reputable Universities
Many offer a certificate after the successful completion of the class. Be sure to check out those websites for more information.
Final Thoughts
Balancing a family, job, and other obligations, as well as going back to school can be a huge challenge. But you can do this!! You are investing in your / your family's future.
While in school, here are a few tips to help you succeed:
• DO NOT overwhelm yourself and take things slow in the beginning.
• DO NOT Procrastinate (try to get assignments done when they are assigned, just in case something comes up later in week at least you won't fall behind)
• DO NOT Give Up (everything worth having takes time and patience)
• DO practice/study lessons a little each day. (It will help you from becoming overwhelmed and stressed, and you won't have to CRAM so hard before tests, midterms, and finals)
• DO use all resources available you. Example: Tutoring Centers, Internet, School Forums and/or Discussion Boards, your Professors, Advisers, and Fellow Classmates to help you succeed. You are not alone.
• DO make time to relax, have fun, and be sure to get plenty of rest when you can. You don't want to burn yourself out!!!