Just because you’ve left college once doesn’t mean you can’t ever go back. Many of the people with college degrees got them not on their first try. Even if they faced setbacks, they weren’t so great that they couldn’t come out having eventually accomplished what they set out to.
People leave college for many reasons. Some have to withdraw due to health issues. Others have trouble covering the costs. Others realize that they don’t feel comfortable in a college environment and they aren’t sure exactly what they want out of life yet.
Whatever the reasons for leaving are, the reasons for coming back can be pretty strong. They can see how not having a college degree can greatly limit their career options. They can also feel ready to come back to school, knowing that they’re finally in a place where they’ll be able to do well in school. While many adapt to college right after high school and finish in four consecutive years, others find the change to be very jarring. This is the first experience that many have with adulthood, but just because you’re legally an adult, it doesn’t mean you’re mentally one.
However, there’s no need to dwell on the past. Coming back to college can be viewed as a fresh start. You can remember the struggles of before while not letting them keep you from believing in yourself. Any excuse that you’re trying to make for why you can’t come back to college, from it being too expensive to your age being too great, falls apart when you see how much schools help with those issues and more.
Should I Go Back to College?
Even though we encourage returning to school, it’s not a decision that should be made casually. It’s probably something you’ve thought about from time to time ever since you first left college, but is it the right decision? You’ll need to do some self-evaluation before it’s time to start getting those applications started.
If your only reason to go back to school is that you feel bad about not having a degree, you’re not doing it for a good reason. Appearances are important, but just going back to college because you want to feel like you have a good social standing can make you feel more insecure. Do things for yourself, not because they’ll make you look better in the eyes of others.
You also need to be realistic about whether you can make the proper commitment and juggle time. Since you’re returning to college, you probably have a full-time job that you need to attend to. Will you be able to make time for both? It might be best if you are only a part-time student, so you aren’t having to balance a full course load and other obligations.
Going back to college doesn’t mean you have to move back into dorms or even go back on campus. There are many degree programs that take place entirely online. Set yourself up for success by taking the route that works for you, not the one everyone else does.
I Wanna Go Back to School. Where do I Start?
Once you’re sure that returning to college is right for you, it’s time to figure out what to do first. A good place to start is working out the logistics. Create an outline of a plan for your goal with returning to school and how you’ll be able to accomplish it.
If your goal is to complete a four-year degree program in that many years, try to estimate how many classes you’ll need to take per semester and how you’ll need to adjust your work schedule to make this possible. You should also research the financial aspect. Since you’re likely looking for schools that are online or in your area, you won’t have to worry about paying for out-of-state tuition. That said, college can still be quite the expense, and you’ll want to make sure you have a way to pay for it. We’ll tell you more about various scholarships to help you better afford college.
Having clear goals with going back to school is important because it helps you to make the best decisions when it comes to choosing your school. If you know exactly what you want to do with your professional life, you can focus on schools that help with that. For instance, if you want to become an engineer, look into schools with esteemed engineering programs.
Starting Over in College
If at first, you don’t succeed, go back to college. The saying might not go like that exactly, but it’s definitely true. College is a fresh start for many people, and returning can be a fresh start for you. Any worry about being “noticed” for being older than the average student will be unneeded. You’ll be among many returning students, some who, depending on your age, could be old enough to be your parents.
Another advantage you’ll have is maturity. This doesn’t just come with age. It also comes with reflection. Coming back to college isn’t an easy decision, and some opt to just stay in the comfort of wondering “what if?” This might not get them anywhere, but at least they don’t have to deal with the possibility of trying again and not succeeding.
Lots of important decisions are ones that are hard to make because you don’t want to see what happens if things don’t go right. However, not doing anything just guarantees failure via inaction. You have an advantage over many first-time college students because you have a better idea of what to expect. Some people take a couple tries to get their driver’s license, but they’re able to pass the test after more tries because they know what to expect and what to focus on. When you’re in those classes you won’t be “the person who’s returning to college.” You’ll just be another student, in classrooms full of others who are working towards the same goal.
Going Back to College After Dropping Out
If you’ve branded yourself as a “dropout” because you didn’t get through college on your first try, realize that you’re just putting yourself through a hell of your own creation. Poor academic performance or other factors might’ve forced you to withdraw at one time, but the past is the past. Life gives you more chances than you realize.
Use your time to come back to school as a chance to lift yourself up. You should be feeling pride for having the determination to see something through, especially when it’s as important as this. You belong in college, and that should mean a lot more to you than any “dropout” status.
Things will be different, and they should be. If you returned to college with the exact same mindset as when you first started, you might be looking at dropping out again. That’s less likely to happen if there’s been more time between your leaving and your returning, but you should make sure you’re cognizant of who you are and what could threaten your college success this time around. These shouldn’t be excuses for why you shouldn’t return or why you shouldn’t try. They can just be good ways to keep yourself protected in case you need to adjust your plan.
Give yourself a break by remembering that a college is a place for learning and growth, no matter what your age is or if this is your first, second, or fifth attempt. You have a right to education. Don’t become your own personal naysayer just because you dropped out before.
Going Back to School at 20
If you’re returning to college at age 20, you’ll be close to many of your fellow students in age. This can be a little weird, because you might have to explain that, despite your youth, you’re actually giving this a second try. Lots of the older students will likely think that you’re fresh out of high school.
Since it’s probably only been about a year or two since you first left college, it shouldn’t terribly difficult for you to get back into the college mode. If you’re returning to the same school as before, you might encounter friends. Feel free to socialize with them, but make sure you’re not associating with people who led you down a bad path previously.
Going back at 20 can come with the advantage of having fewer responsibilities, such as not having a family or a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take this as seriously as possible. You need to prove to yourself that you can make it back to college after the initial hiccups that initially forced you to leave.
Going Back to School at 25
You’ll fit right in if you’re returning at 25, because there will be many students, returning or first-time, who are that old. You might be around five or seven years removed from when you last came to college, but trust us when we tell you that you’ll fit right in.
Interacting with other students can be interesting, because while the 18-and-19-year old freshmen might be part of the same generation as you, the age differences, as well as the differences in recent experiences, can be a little jarring. There might be some talk about new trends among teens that make you feel a bit out-of-place.
The person you need to be most concerned about is yourself. Don’t let yourself being some years older than your peers result in you becoming arrogant. Some people will be immature, but that’s something everyone has to go through on the road to maturity. You’ll probably be viewing your 25-year-old self as being immature in another 10 years.
Bring yourself into the mind of the best college student you can possibly be at 25. There are things that you’ll still be unsure of, but you can seek help, through other students, your professors, and on-campus resources. If you’re getting your degree before age 30, you’ll still have plenty of time to have a fantastic career doing what you want.
Going Back to School at 35
A lot can change when you reach your mid-30s. This might be the first time you start to really feel like an adult. However, you can avoid the counterintuitive belief that you’re “too old” to go back to college. It’s just one of several excuses that you shouldn’t listen to.
To be sure, it’s not going to be a complete cakewalk, especially because going back at 35 can be a major disruption to your routine. Even with amazing time management skills, it would be very hard to manage a full-time job, a relationship, parenting, and even a part-time class schedule. If you know that you can’t focus on school as much as you need to at this time, you may choose to delay returning to college until you can.
But if you see any kind of parameters you can work within, do so. A sound plan for returning students ages 35 and older is to select an online degree program. These let you view lectures remotely and based on your schedule. They also implement important aspects of the classroom experience, such as group discussions. How well you do in an online class environment can depend on just how much personal responsibility you have.
Keeping track of assignments can be a bit tougher when you’re mainly relying on emails and the like. Because you’re not seeing your professor face-to-face, it can feel a little weird at first. However, you can keep yourself accountable by logging assignments and their due dates, as well as showing all the proper courtesy in how you interact with your instructors and fellow classmates.
At 35 years old, you’ll be close to twice as old as many college freshmen. However, you can view this positively as having close to twice as much experience. This experience can help you through the challenges because you can remember other obstacles you’ve faced and conquered, even ones outside of college.
Going Back to School at 40
Keep your spirits up if you’re coming back past age 40, because you’re still not too old to come back to school. This age can be advantageous because your kids might be in their teenage years and are more able to take care of themselves. Depending on what sort of career you’re in, your company might have a program in place that helps employees who are returning to school.
Look at going back to school like starting a new job or being given a promotion at work. Yes, there’ll be new things to learn and new people to speak with, but as long as you’re able to concentrate on the fundamentals of goal-setting, you’ll be good. The best plan of action, no matter what the class is, is to keep up.
A lot of people drop out of college not because they’re not smart enough, but because they just have trouble keeping themselves on-course. You’ve hopefully learned a lot about personal responsibility since you first left college, but you’ll still need to adhere to a focused schedule. If you’re having any trouble, let your professors know. They’re humans, after all.
Going Back to School at 50
So, what age is too old to go back to college? There isn’t one. You can be 100 years old and you can go after your degree. If you think that 50 is the cutoff for how old a college student can be, you’re really liming just how far you can go.
Seeing how much college campuses have changed since you were last in school some 30-plus years ago can certainly be jarring, and you might be a little daunted by how much older you feel and look compared to the more fresh-faced students. But your age is only a liability if you make it one. Remember too that just because someone is younger than you, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them.
You may decide that an online college is your best option. Even if you don’t have a lot of computer experience, these courses are easy to adapt to. Still, it can be good to get some help so that you aren’t spending too much time floundering with your keyboard and mouse.
Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College
Adults going back to college need to have a good idea about what degree they want. A good strategy is to choose one that includes aspects of your current work. For instance, you might work as a paralegal and seek a pre-law degree.
Two important factors in choosing a degree program are demand and pay scale. Since college is an investment, make sure the degree you choose provides you a higher standard of living. Some of the best are business degrees, which help you understand the ins and outs of running a company, computer science degrees, which help you to be part of the technological innovations that are all around us, and accounting/finance degrees, which help you play a part in the always-important role of money management.
There are also medical degrees that don’t require going to medical school, such as medical coding and billing programs. Before you select any program, make sure it’s one you feel at least some enthusiasm for. Should you not be sure which one to choose, compare degrees against each other to help you make your decision.
Best Colleges for Adults Returning to School
Some colleges do a better job of catering to older, returning students than others. While there are great schools to be found around the country, these are the ones that we’d most recommend if you’re making your college comeback. Any of these top 10 schools should be considered for enrollment.
1. Excelsior College – With a name that should excite any comic book fan, Excelsior College is great if you feel more comfortable around older students, as the average age is above 35.
2. Peirce College – This school was established shortly after the Civil War. It includes a completely internet-based degree path.
3. Thomas Edison State College – Named for the renowned inventor, most of the students of this New Jersey-based school attend online.
4. Granite State College – You don’t have to be in New Hampshire to attend this school. There are plenty of online options available, from associates to Masters.
5. Charter Oak State College – A great part of coming to Charter Oak State College is that previously earned credits carry over to your degree here, meaning you don’t have to start completely from scratch.
6. Walden University – Henry David Thoreau didn’t live to see this school founded, but he would certainly admire it. Students around the world take online classes here.
7. Northcentral University – While Northcentral University is an online college, it provides a level of mentorship between professors and students that even many traditional schools aren’t able to provide.
8. University of Maryland – University College – UMUC reaches far and wide. Not only can you take classes remotely, but there are campuses throughout the world, including Asia.
9. Post University – Post University offers great options for students who want to attend online or on-campus. You can also easily transfer your credits here, helping you to get your degree even faster.
10. Brandman University – If you’re in the military, Brandman University can be an excellent school. It was originally established for Marines. However, you don’t military experience to enroll. There are more than two dozen campuses, and you can take your classes online.
Scholarships and Grants for Adults Return to College
1. CollegeAmerica Adult Student Scholarships
2. Imagine America Adult College Grants
3. Unigo $10K Scholarship
4. PEO Program for Continuing Education Scholarship
5. Society of Women Engineers Scholarship
6. Span Plan – Purdue University
Scholarships and Grants for Moms Returning to College
1. Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
2. PEO Program for Continuing Education Grant
3. Society of Women Engineers Scholarship
4. Women’s Independence Scholarship Program
5. BK Krenzer Reentry Scholarship
6. Executive Women International Scholarship
7. AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship
8. Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize
9. The Illinois Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc. Scholarship
10. Irene K. Woodruff Program
Scholarships and Grants for Senior Citizens Returning to College
1. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
2. Return2College scholarship
3. Imagine America
4. Senior Citizens Scholarship – Methodist University
5. Newcombe Scholarships for Mature Women Students
6. The Pell Grant
7. The Avon Foundation for Women
8. American Association of University Women
9. Senior Citizen’s Scholarship – Western Kentucky University
10. Senior Citizen Scholarship – Northern Michigan University