So, you want to go back to college and get your degree, but you’re probably thinking you don’t have the time or money. How would you manage it on such a tight budget and with work and family commitments?
It’s not always easy, but people in similar situations do it, and are often glad for it when they finally attain their degree.
While every person’s experience is different, there are habits you can adopt that will improve your chances of finally getting that college degree you wish you had finished or didn’t pursue out of high school.
Understand your motivation. Why do you want your degree? To advance at work? To change or accelerate your career? As an act of self-fulfillment or to set an example for your family? Any one or combination of these reasons is fine. But the more you know about why you’re going back, the more tailored your approach can be in terms of what degree you’ll go after and the timetable for doing so.
Get organized. Juggling school and a busy life can be a challenge. Which is why you’re going to need a plan. How will you work classes into your schedule? What portions of the day can you set aside for homework? Are there any people or resources you can turn to for help—with chores around the house, with attaining a flexible work schedule (if it can be managed), with childcare (if you need it), or with stress reduction?
Manage your time and budget. Related to the above, you may need to rethink your relationship with time and money. Those hours you spend binge watching, or on social media might be better spent on schoolwork or taking care of chores. Also, take a closer look at your monthly budget. Are there any costs you can weed out or cut back on that will help you save for tuition or daily living expenses? A high-priced data plan. Eating out too frequently. A daily stop at the premium coffee shop. Your monthly clothing allowance. Some of these changes can be made without much sacrifice at all.
Look for a university that has a flexible program. Some universities make it easier for adult students by offering classes at convenient times and online. But that’s not all you should consider. Talk to people at the universities you’re considering to get a better feel for how the professors interact with students, the leeway they provide, how frequently and quickly they communicate and any other accommodations they make for students who are often pressed for time and need flexibility. Ask yourself: do they seem to have a culture that understands the needs of a student like me?
Set up a chat with the professors overseeing your program. You can get a better sense of whether the professors at a particular university are a match for you by picking up the phone and talking to them about your needs and concerns. Or, better yet, schedule a meeting. Explain your situation and what you’re worried about, and ask them to explain how they work with students like you. If you don’t get the answers you’re looking for, it may not be a good match, and you can move on to your next prospect.
Investigate credit-for-work experience. If you have a job, you have knowledge and skills—and sometimes that can translate into earned college credits. Some schools will award you college credits for your work experience, which could lower your costs and accelerate how quickly you finish your degree.
Take the plunge and stay committed. You can plan as well as possible, but you’re not going to fully know how it’s going to feel to be an adult student until you do it. And once you do, cut yourself some slack. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes you may even wonder if you made the right decision. But if you can persevere, a college degree can be a worthwhile investment that could bring greater opportunity into your life.