If you have been out of college for a while, or if you never attended college, the idea of going back to school may seem daunting. Women have a wide variety of reasons for taking on this challenge, including a desire to change or advance in their careers, return to the workforce after raising a family, or a need to improve their economic situation after a spouse’s death or divorce.
If you’re thinking of returning to college, here are 10 tips to help you get moving!
- Start with a Goal
It sounds ridiculously simple, but have a specific goal to focus on and work toward. Whatever your goal: know the end game. Keeping a laser focus on your objective will help keep you motivated when things get tough—and they will!
- Pick the Right School
Whether you choose to attend a public, private nonprofit or private for-profit college or university, do your homework ahead of time and make sure you choose one that fits your needs, particularly if you are planning to attend classes on campus. Consider factors like size, curricula, accreditation, online program availability and cost.
- Figure Out How to Pay for College
There are more ways than ever to pay for college, ranging from work-study programs to financial aid (loans, scholarships and grants), offered by the schools themselves, or by state and federal government and even local community groups. Start with the college’s financial aid office; an adviser can help you sort out available options.
For more on school funding sources, see our separate post, “Top Funding Sources for Women Returning to College.”
- Don’t try to figure this all out alone! Have a live conversation with an Admissions Adviser.
Guidance counselors aren’t just for high school! Make a call to the Admissions Office at the school(s) you’re considering and they will get you connected with an admissions adviser in your degree program or field of study. An adviser can guide you about course loads, electives, school support services, and other aspects of your academic journey.
- Start with a Smaller Course Load
Be honest about what kind of schedule you can take on--how many classes you’re taking, what’s realistic in terms of having to do the work for each of the courses that you’re taking, how that’s going to impact you at home, and what kind of support you have. If you’re a mom, you’ll need to be strategic about time management: when to engage in an online forum, when to set aside time for study, and what times work best for attending a face-to-face class.
- Identify your Top Priorities: What Can You Say “No” to So You Can Say “Yes” to School?
The reality is that you have 100% of your time committed to something, so adding school to the mix means you’ll have to let something else go. For some women, it means stepping down from a leadership role in a community organization, church, etc. For others, it means replacing some TV time with studying. What can you consider saying “no” to so that you can say “yes” to going back to school? Revisiting the reason you decided to go back to school—your “why”—will help you prioritize.
- Work With a Mentor
Do you work with or know a woman whose accomplishments you really admire? Seek out that woman and ask her if she will be your mentor as you take on the challenge of continuing your education. Many employers, professional associations and even colleges themselves offer mentoring programs.
- Share Your Experiences—and Difficulties—with Your Children
If you have children, let them know why you decided to return to school and what you hope to accomplish for yourself and for them. Your experience can help them learn valuable life lessons, including the importance of overcoming obstacles, meeting challenges head-on and sacrificing short-term needs for long-term accomplishments.
- Go Public With Your Goal and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
It’s important to build a network of support resources among family and friends. This starts with going public with your goal—inviting friends and family in to help you stay accountable toward your goal of becoming a college graduate. It also involves being courageous enough to reach out and build a support system of advocates who can offer help when needed. Start thinking about your backup plan in case class runs over its normal time or for those stressful exam periods when extra study time is needed. Most women have found that when they ask, people are happy to assist, especially when they understand that they are helping you reach an important goal.
- Reward Yourself for Small Victories
It’s important to reward yourself for each accomplishment, no matter how small. Avoid the urge to beat yourself up if you don’t get an “A” on every test or if you have to interrupt your studies or if you don’t complete the program when you initially planned. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remind yourself of the end game. Get a massage, take a walk, call a friend, go to a movie, read a good book or just take a nap. It seems counterproductive but the hour or two you’ll spend taking care of yourself will clear your head and give you renewed energy to pick up where you left off.
The process can seem daunting but as any graduate will tell you, the outcomes are worth the effort. Furthering your education is as valuable in a professional setting as it is personally. As Dr. Carol A. Leary, president of Bay Path University states, “…women learn as much about themselves as they do about their world when pursuing education.” You can read more from Dr. Leary on education for adult women in her new book, “Achieving the Dream: A How-To Guide for Adult Women Seeking a College Degree.”
Interested in learning more about going back to school and earning your degree on your time? You can request more information about online degree programs available from the American Women’s College at Bay Path University here.