A Guide for Adults Returning to School After Treatment

The decision to return to school is a daunting one. If circumstances have interrupted your education—such as military service, pregnancy, substance abuse or other health issues—you’ll often face unique barriers to going back to school.

You may be thinking, “How can I possibly get a degree while raising a family and working full time? And how can I afford college when I’m living paycheck to paycheck?” You’re not the first person to ask these questions.

Common challenges for adult students include:

  • Educational expenses
  • Making time in an already busy schedule
  • Fear of being too old
  • Fear that a degree won’t actually help their career

These fears are not unusual for adults returning to school. But the good news is that these barriers are not insurmountable.

Get Smart About Money

Adult students are likely to have high living expenses like housing, bills and health care. They are also more likely to support dependents and have debt. These factors make it difficult to fork over thousands of dollars for an education. However, there are ways to make it work.

  • Know what you can and can’t afford. Compare the tuition and enrollment fees of different schools and degrees. Don’t forget to factor in miscellaneous expenses like textbooks and transportation. Take stock of your current spending and see whether there are any expenses that you could reallocate toward school. If you need to take out a loan, do you research so that you know how long you have to pay it back and how much interest you’ll owe.
  • Consider the type of school and degree. While it’s tempting to think that a bigger price tag means a better education, this is not necessarily true. There are many high quality community colleges and online universities that are relatively inexpensive to attend. Also consider that not all degrees have the same return on investment, as some skills are more professionally desirable than others.
  • Apply for lots of scholarships. It’s more difficult to obtain financial aid as an adult student than as a recent high school graduate. You’ll want to search for specialized scholarships that target adult students. For example, the Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards help women finish school after they’ve overcome obstacles like poverty, domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol abuse. To maximize the financial aid you receive, apply to as many scholarships as you’re eligible for. Be sure to reach out to your school’s financial aid office and don’t forget about the FAFSA.
  • See if you’re eligible for employer tuition assistance. Some employers opt to help pay for employees’ tuition, usually when an employee seeks training that would directly benefit their job. You can receive up to $5,250 in tax-free benefits for graduate or undergraduate courses. Ask your Human Resources department if this is an option for you.
  • Look at college as an investment. If there’s anything worth going into debt for, it’s an investment in your future success. A better education improves your salary prospects and will help you achieve your professional goals.

To Make Time You Have to Take Time

Adult students are more likely to be working and to have responsibilities related to family and household. You may be concerned that if you return to school, you’ll have less time and energy to devote to your job and family. It can feel overwhelming.

  • Consider night school or online degrees. If you work full-time, the flexibility of an online degree or night school may be ideal for you. Online degree programs often let you complete projects and exams on your own deadline.
  • It’s likely that if you return to school, you’ll need to let go of certain leisurely activities. No more Netflix binging on the couch every weeknight! Of course, you’ll want to keep some enjoyable activities because a self-care routine is vital to sustaining your energy over the long haul.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A support network includes your partner, friends, parents, coworkers and fellow students. When you need someone to babysit the kids, when you need someone to cover your shift, when you need help studying… they’re who you call. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—we all need help sometimes.
  • Keep your goal in mind. If you’re not excited about your goal, it’s hard to motivate yourself to reach it. When the going gets tough, take time to visualize yourself on graduation day, or five years down the line at your dream job. Knowing your goal and holding it close is key.

You’re Never Too Old to Go Back to College

Adult students are often anxious about reentering the classroom when they may be the only mid-life person in a room of “kids.” They may also lack the confidence to succeed in school because of their age.

  • Adult students are more common than you think. About 40% of college students in 2014 were over the age of 25. In some colleges, adults over 25 actually make up the majority of enrolled students.
  • Being with younger students isn’t so bad. There are benefits to sharing the classroom, such as diversity of perspectives. Some adults enjoy learning alongside younger, more enthusiastic students.
  • There are always online degrees. You can opt for the virtual classroom instead. This removes the pressure of fitting in and lets you focus on your studies without distraction.
  • You’re not too old. It’s unfortunately true that older students may experience greater difficulty learning and retaining new material. However, with discipline, a commitment to studying and an awareness of one’s limitations, you can succeed at college too.

There Are Many Benefits to a Degree

Adult students may wonder whether employers really care about degrees, particularly degrees from schools that aren’t perceived as “high caliber.” They may also doubt whether they’ll gain any useful skills. But in fact, college degrees offer many benefits.

  • Learn new skills. Particularly if the degree you pursue is in the same field as your career, you will pick up new skills at school that can be applied at work. College also teaches you valuable skills like writing, speaking, teamwork, research and time management that are applicable in any setting.
  • More job opportunities. By 2022, it’s estimated that 65% of new job openings will require some postsecondary education. By having a degree, you position yourself for greater access to job opportunities and greater odds of being hired.
  • Better pay. In their lifetime, college graduates earn about $1 million more than high school graduates. The average weekly earnings for college graduates are 80% higher than that of high school graduates. Employees with postsecondary education or training are more to obtain higher paying jobs and to be promoted.
  • Lower risk of unemployment. Having a postsecondary degree lessens your odds or being unemployed. The unemployment rate for high school graduates is 5.6%, versus 2.5% for college graduates.

The choice to return to school as an adult is one that only you can make. There are risks and sacrifices involved, but there are great rewards if you succeed. Not only do you improve your job prospects and standard of living, you also get the satisfaction of new knowledge, a new experience and a new life milestone!


live-your-dreamArticle written by LiveYourDream.org.

LiveYourDream.org is a movement fiercely dedicated to ensuring every woman and girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential, live free from violence, and of course, live her dreams. Our online  community of nearly 100,000 volunteers and activists participate in actions to address some of the most serious challenges women and girls face today, such as lack of access to quality education and gender-based violence. This action network is powered by Soroptimist, a global nonprofit committed to economically improving the lives of disadvantaged women and girls.