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Going Back To School as An Adult? Tips to Help You Thrive

WVU Online | Wednesday, May 1, 2024

In recent years, the number of adults returning to school has risen, with data showing that 37% of college students are now 25 years of age or older. Whether students want to stay competitive in their field or pursue a new career that better aligns with their passions, there is a place for everyone in the classroom.

Older college students can face challenges that are different from those of their younger classmates, and colleges and universities have started offering services to support adult learners. By understanding your journey back to school, you can better prepare, find programs that meet your unique needs, and make your way toward higher education and career advancement.

Understanding Why You Want To Go Back To School

Before you make the decision to go back to school, take time to think about the reasons you want to go, what you can gain from it, and if it’s the right choice for what you’re looking to gain. Ask yourself some questions, like:

What are your motivations for returning to school?

  • Career advancement or change
  • Personal fulfillment and intellectual growth
  • Keeping up with industry advancements

What type of program do I need to achieve my goals?

What is my preferred learning style?

  • Hands-on experience
  • Lectures and group discussion
  • Self-directed study

Am I prepared for the time commitment?

  • Attending classes
  • Studying and completing assignments
  • Balancing work and family with school

What are the Benefits of Going Back to School?

Returning to school as an adult can feel like taking a leap of faith with your eyes closed, but there is plenty of potential and opportunity waiting on the other side.

  • Career advancement opportunities: With your new skills and knowledge, you may be able to achieve promotions, salary increases, or higher-level positions within your field.
  • Expand your professional network: Going back to school gives you the chance to network and build relationships with students, professors, and mentors. You can gain real-world insights and diverse thinking that you can take with you as you grow in your field.
  • Pursue a new career: If you’re interested in changing your career to explore a lifelong passion or pursue a path that better aligns with your interests, going back to school gives you the tools and credentials to be successful when making the switch.
  • Update skills and knowledge: As industries evolve, your skills can evolve with them. You can gain new technical skills, industry-specific knowledge, and more that will give you the tools you need to succeed.
  • Flexibility: When you get your degree online, you can adapt your study schedule to fit your lifestyle. Online programs offer flexibility that makes balancing school, full-time work, and family commitments more manageable.

What are the Challenges of Going Back to School as an Adult?

When you go back to school as an adult, you may be faced with challenges that can feel daunting at the start. By understanding these common challenges, you can better prepare for them and find the routine and support to help you succeed.

1. Balancing Multiple Responsibilities

When returning to school as an adult, students often have to juggle full-time jobs, family commitments, and more, along with their studies. When your plate is full, time management skills will become a necessary part of your journey toward a degree.

Creating a structured schedule with time-blocking techniques that assign time slots for studying, completing assignments, and enjoying family time can create a routine of balance and productivity.

2. Juggling Financial Responsibilities

The cost of education can give pause to adult learners when they consider the financial burden of tuition, textbooks, and the additional expenses needed to care for home and family.

However, there are options available, like scholarships, grants, and loans, to help ease the burden. And don’t worry—students can apply for FAFSA even when they get their degree online.

It’s also important to remember to weigh the financial cost of going back to school with the long-term financial benefits, such as increased earning potential and career advancement opportunities.

3: Continuing Your Education After a Break

Returning to the classroom after a long hiatus can prompt imposter syndrome and uncertainty.

Adult learners may think they cannot keep up with the work or connect with people in their new community, or they may just forget what it’s like to be a student and wonder if they can recall their skills and strategies from the past.

By adopting a growth mindset and utilizing the academic resources provided for extra support, students can overcome challenges and become more confident in their abilities.

Exploring Your Options

When choosing how you would like to earn your credentials, make sure you do your research into the program that you’re interested in joining to see what forms of study are offered. Then, you need to consider various outside factors, including your schedule, financial situation, and personal commitments. Whether you're looking for total involvement with a full-time program, the flexibility of part-time study, or specialized micro-credentials, it's important to explore the different educational options available to you.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Programs

When deciding whether a full-time or part-time program is a better fit, first look at your schedule and financial situation.

With full-time programs, you can typically graduate quicker, but they require the biggest time and financial commitment.

Part-time programs may take longer to complete, but they are more flexible and offer a great option for students balancing work and family commitments.


For the shortest and most cost-effective option, you can enroll in a micro-credential program.

These programs focus on a specific area, and they can help you build your professional portfolio and skillset in your current career. Offering the most flexibility, micro-credentials are a great option for students and busy professionals.

Online Learning

When you choose to pursue your degree online, you are choosing a path that is flexible, accessible, and cost-effective.

You can take classes, have structured coursework, and enjoy social engagement—all from the comfort of your home. This is a great, convenient option for those looking to balance their schoolwork with their job and family responsibilities.

Traditional In-Person Learning

If you thrive on face-to-face learning and hands-on education, pursuing your degree in a traditional in-person format may be the right choice for you.

You'll enjoy direct access to faculty, networking opportunities, and the chance to build relationships with classmates for a greater sense of community.

How To Get Started

Once you've made the decision to pursue further education and have identified the program that aligns with your goals, it's time to take the first steps toward enrollment.

Let’s say you’ve opted to pursue a master's degree in computer science at WVU Online. The first step is to take a look at the admissions process.

  • Review the application deadlines, admission requirements, financial aid information, and frequently asked questions. To learn more about the process, reach out to a WVU Online Admissions Coach.
  • Create an account and complete the Online Application.
  • Pay the $60 application fee*.
  • Submit the application.

For a Master’s in Computer Science, WVU requires:

  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • Résumé/CV
  • Statement of Purpose
  • A minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or equivalent, based on a 4.0 system.
  • The GRE general test, with an expected score of 3.5 or better in analytical writing, and either the 80th percentile or better on the quantitative part, or a combined score of 300 or better in (verbal + quantitative)

Applications to be submitted by the following dates:

  • Fall: April 1
  • Spring: October 1
  • Summer: May 1

Advice for Anyone Considering Going Back to School as an Adult

1. If you’re part-time, don’t take too many classes your first term.

Going back to school can be overwhelming. If you're returning as a part-time student, consider starting with 1-2 classes your first term.

This allows you to adjust to your new schedule and responsibilities gradually as you gauge the workload, identify any challenges, and develop effective time management strategies. This way, you can start slow and maintain balance in your life.

As you grow more comfortable with your schedule and responsibilities, you can gradually increase the number of classes you take each term.

2. Prioritize time management and follow a schedule.

By developing a structured schedule that allocates time for studying, attending classes, and fulfilling other responsibilities, you can be productive and minimize stress.

Utilize tools, such as calendars, planners, or time management apps, to organize your tasks and deadlines while managing your time effectively.

You also want to make sure you are always reassessing your schedule on a regular basis in case any unexpected events come up, or your priorities change.

You may have to wake up earlier to study or set aside dedicated study time after your work day is done. This way, you can track your to-do list and make sure, no matter what happens, you get everything checked off your list on time—and don’t forget to schedule self-care to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.

By making time management a regular part of your routine, you can find the right balance between your education and your personal life, giving you a sense of control and achievement.

3. Utilize student services and resources.

Universities offer a variety of support services and valuable resources for adult learners. Academic advisors, tutoring centers, and counseling services can provide guidance and encouragement when you need it.

For instance, our Academic Coaches at WVU offer valuable insights and personalized support for adult learners to help them navigate the challenges of online education.

By utilizing these resources, you get the guidance needed to overcome obstacles, enhance your learning experience, and achieve your academic goals.

4. Create a dedicated study space.

Designate a quiet, organized space in your home specifically for studying and completing assignments. Eliminate distractions such as noise, clutter, or electronic devices that may disturb your focus.

Establish a regular study routine that aligns with your schedule, setting aside dedicated time for focused learning activities.

Get the essentials for your study area with supplies, ergonomic furniture, and enough lighting to create a comfortable atmosphere that has everything you need to concentrate and work efficiently.

5. Build relationships with your classmates and professors.

Connecting with classmates and professors can provide valuable support, mentorship, and career opportunities. Making meaningful connections is a great way to enhance your time in school, but it also may lead you to expand your professional network and land your next job.

You can start by engaging in class discussions, asking questions, and connecting with peers both in class on collaborative class projects and outside the classroom to grab a bite and get to know each other. Meeting people with the same professional interests is a great way to network and find a support system.

Your professors are information hubs for your program focus.

Utilize their knowledge by visiting their office hours or academic workshops and connecting with them on a regular basis. You can get more information on the field you’re entering, share your goals, and get guidance on how best to achieve them.

6. Stay focused on your goals.

Whether you're seeking career advancement or personal growth, stay focused on your goals and remind yourself why you chose to go back to school. whether it's to advance your career, pursue personal growth, or fulfill a lifelong passion.

Set clear, achievable goals for yourself, breaking them down into smaller milestones that you can celebrate along the way.

Keep your goals visible and revisit them regularly to see your progress, be reminded of your path of achievements, and provide a push along your academic journey. Celebrate each milestone, no matter how small, to help you stay motivated.

WVU Online Is Here To Support Your Educational Goals

As you make your way back to school for career advancement, personal growth, or new opportunities, remember that WVU is here to support you every step of the way. Our flexible programs and dedicated support services are designed to meet the unique needs of adult learners like you.

If you have questions about program requirements, financial aid options, or academic support services, our team of experienced Admissions Coaches is here to help you confidently navigate your educational journey.

Explore our degree and certificate programs or contact an Admissions Coach today to take the first step toward achieving your goals.

We're here for you.

Call us, write us, or fill out the request information form. Whichever communication style you prefer, there will be someone from WVU Online on the other end waiting to help.

(800) 253-2762 Email Us Submit a Contact Request Form

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