Going Back to School? 5 Tips Nontraditional Students Can Use for Success


It’s a fact that students who begin college shortly after they leave high school tend to have an easier time assimilating to college life. It’s different than what they’re used to, but they still have fresh study habits and a grasp on school life. Nontraditional students, or those who haven’t been to school in several years, often struggle and need a little extra help to handle the change. If you find yourself in the latter category, you need a plan to make the transition back to school as seamless as possible.

5 Tips to Help You Go Back to School

Going back to school is challenging. Whether you earned an undergraduate degree years ago, or you have no college education whatsoever, going from work life to school life can be a major transition. 

Here are some practical ways you can simplify the process and reduce friction:

  • Prepare Your Finances

Don’t underestimate the financial ramifications of returning to school. Not only does it cost money to enroll in a degree program, but you’ll also have cut back on hours at your current job (or even resign). Preparing your finances ahead of time will make this transition a bit smoother.

In terms of paying for your education, look around for free money. (Seriously – it exists!) Tax credits for education are a great place to start.

“For example, the Lifetime Learning Credit is worth as much as $2,000 per tax return and the American Opportunity Tax Credit is worth as much as $2,500 per year,” Tamara Holmes writes for USAToday. “There are also grants and scholarships for people going back to school later in life. Check with professional organizations in your field of study, as well as your state’s department of education.”

Once you have an idea of how much it’ll cost you to obtain your diploma or certificate, begin budgeting for this added expense.

  • Try Online Learning

In many cases, online learning is the most convenient option for adults going back to school. While it can be daunting at first, you’ll find that it makes more sense than classroom-based learning.

“You need to study independently, and have good self-discipline to get your work done,” mentions a blog post from the Institute of Medical & Business Careers (IMBC). “Fortunately, you get plenty of support when you take an online course. Your online instructor and your online classmates can help you to study successfully. Instructors typically offer online office hours where you can call or email them for help; and most online schools include computer support and tutoring remotely.”

When choosing an online learning program, read reviews and testimonials from current students and past graduates. This will give you an unpolished view of what it’s like to be a student and whether the experience matches up with the claims the school makes on their website.

  • Start Slow

If this is your first time in school in a few years, you don’t want to rush back into things too quickly. It’s best if you start slow and give yourself time to adjust. Instead of starting with a full course load, try cutting it in half. Once you get the hang of things, you can bump up to a full schedule (or even take an extra class or two to speed the process along).

  • Utilize Support Services

“One of the biggest support systems for non-traditional students is other non-traditional students,” NerdWallet advises. “Connecting with students who have shared experiences will offer solutions and mutual empathy.”

In addition to the support your peers can offer you, it’s also helpful to take advantage of the support services offered by your school. Most online programs offer career services, tutoring, and study resources.

  • Find Balance

You can’t let school consume you. While it’s certainly one of the biggest priorities during this season of life, you can’t put everything else on hold. Make sure you’re spending time with your family, taking care of your personal health, and managing your finances. Balance is a key component of being successful in the classroom.

Adding it All Up

The benefits of going back to school far outweigh the upfront costs. While you’ll have to make some key sacrifices, you’ll find that an investment in education produces significant long-term gains for both your career and personal life. Push yourself, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s all about identifying small ways to set yourself up for success.