By Daniel Gerger, President, Adult Education Advocates
Over the past 15 years, I have worked with hundreds of adult students during the application and admissions process, and I have advised many adult students once they were enrolled. Based on this experience, here are my key factors for success for an adult returning to college.
- Believe in yourself. When an adult student decides to go back to college, they aren’t sure if they will make it through the first term let alone succeed for two or three years. I can’t tell you how many times an adult student sat in my office before taking their first class, afraid they won’t be able to make it. A year or two later, that same individual is taking classes three nights a week and has a 3.7 GPA. The difference between when they first start and when they finish is confidence. This confidence is derived from success. As one adult student said to me, “If I had not gone back to school, I would not be the person I am today. I really believe that my confidence, my forthrightness, everything about me, it’s from finishing school.”
- Find the program and the college that is right for you. There are so many colleges and universities developing programs for adult students that the choices can seem overwhelming. Public universities, for-profit institutions, and private colleges are all marketing themselves to the adult student population. Enrolling in the program that suits you best will help guarantee your success. The question is how to choose the best program. Study after study has shown that finding someone to act as an adviser is key. This person could be from a specific college or university, or a friend or family member. Also, independent educational advisers can help adult students examine all of their options in an unbiased manner and make recommendations based on the students' goals and needs.
- Use your experience. See if you can take a course in an area you already excel in — whether that is math, music, or yoga. Electives can be a great way to bring your expertise to play in your coursework, and help guarantee success, which can build your confidence. Also, examine the prior learning policies of the college you want to attend. You may be able to finish your degree more quickly if you can gain college credit through programs like CLEP or classes that test the knowledge you’ve gained in life or on the job.
- Have fun. Going back to college for an adult student can be challenging, but it is also rewarding and fun. Most adult programs are structured so that individuals are taking classes with their peers and the classes are being taught by experts in the field. At one of the colleges I worked at, we offered a course in “The Biology of Health and Illness.” The course was taught by an M.D. who had 30 years of private practice. Rather than dry academic coursework, it covered many real life experiences from a doctor in the trenches. Many adult students told me later that this was the best course they had ever taken.
Daniel Gerger is the President of Adult Education Advocates, an organization that helps adults make the transition back to college. Dan lives in Maplewood, N.J., with his wife and three children.