Guide for Adults Returning to School
By M. A. Gallant
You love your job, right? You are making a ton of money and your days are filled with endless joy and happiness. If this sounds like your life, then read no further.
Ok, so your life isn’t all peaches and cream. Maybe you need to get a better education. Are you stuck in a dead end job? Do you have to drag yourself to work every day with dread? What ever the reason, you are ready to go back to school and find a new career.
At first, the idea of hitting the books after fifteen or twenty years may be a little intimidating, especially if you have never been to college. The good news is you won’t be alone. Adults are returning to school now more than ever before. Most middle aged people with only a high school diploma realize that it just isn’t enough.
The process of applying, being accepted and getting financial aid can be a daunting process, but there are a few steps that can make it easier and less confusing. You just need to know where to look for help and what questions to ask.
Start by considering what career you want when you graduate. Think about how much time you want to spend in school. Decide if you want to take day or night classes and if you will attend full or part time.
Start with FAFSA:
Finding the answers to these questions may take a little time. While you are trying to sort those things out, you can go ahead and begin the process of getting financial aid. The best place to start is FAFSA.com. FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid.“ This website is packed full of information. Read everything carefully. When you are ready, submit your application. The form takes about an hour to complete. This is your key to getting a Pell Grant, many other state and federal grants, and student loans. You will need your most recent tax forms and basic information such as your driver‘s license and social security numbers.
At the end of the application you have the option of sending your information to several schools of your choice. It is not necessary to provide this information in order to apply. You can go back later to update this section.
With your FAFSA forms submitted, it is time to decide which school you want to attend. Make a list of every school in your area. Visit their websites. Find out which ones offer the degree that you want. Once your list is narrowed down, the next step is to visit schools. Call to make appointments with the admittance counselors. Take a list of questions with you so that you don’t forget any and take notes during your conversations. Your education is an important investment. You owe it to yourself to make sure that you get all of your questions answered.
There are many things to consider when choosing a school. One of the most important things to think about is the amount of time that you will have to devote in order to get your degree. For example: one school’s nursing program may take a full-time student four years to complete, while another school may only require twenty-six months. Do the math and find out the over-all cost between the two programs. This will help you to decide what will work better for your situation.
Another important thing to think about is the class schedule offered by each school. As an adult, you will most likely have to work while you are in school. If you have a child, then you will have to consider their schedule as well. It is a good idea to make a schedule of your current obligations. This will help you to figure out when you will be available to take classes.
Finally, it is time to apply. Most schools allow you to submit your application online. The cost is usually $25 – $50. If you are applying to a community college, you can expect a letter of acceptance within four to six weeks. At this point, you will be asked to provide proof of your high school diploma or GED and proof of your residency. You will also be asked to take a placement test. This will determine whether you can start with college level classes or if you will be required to take some refresher courses.
The next step is meeting with the financial aid counselor. They will tell you what you qualify for. You may find that all of your expenses are covered by grants. You will also find out if you are being offered any federally funded student loans.
You may want to apply to several schools. The level of grants and loans that you are offered can differ from school to school based on the cost of attendance. This should give you all of the information to finalize your choice.
You have a lot to think about. Go slow, ask all of the questions you may have, and give yourself time to investigate all of your possibilities. If you are diligent and do your homework, you will walk into the first day of school full of confidence and ready to change your life.