Going back to college as an adult is challenging. First, you need to dust off those old study habits (or, if bad grades are what halted your education last time around, you'll need to develop some new ones). Second, you'll need to adjust to life as a nontraditional student (i.e., someone not fresh out of high school).
As an adult student, you'll probably be more focused on your studies and less studied on socializing and other extracurriculars. That should make success a little easier. On the flipside, there's a good chance that balancing a full-time job and family obligations could actually make the process of returning to college a little more difficult.
Going back to school isn't easy, but here's some good news: Lots of people do it. Many adults who decide to finish (or start) their bachelor's degree do so at community colleges, whose convenient campuses, lower tuition, and predominantly nontraditional student body make for an easier transition. Most community colleges offer two-year associate's degrees that transfer to local public (and in some cases private as well) four-year colleges and universities.
To get some perspective on how students like you can make it work, we connected with Prerna Pathak, an adult learner currently majoring in Information Security and Information Technology at Peirce College in Philadelphia. Pathak initially enrolled at a local community college, an experience that, as you will see, worked out very well for her.
How long did you think about going back to school to earn your degree before you made the move? And what finally inspired you take action? I'm from a different country, so it was not easy for me; it was very difficult. It took me a long while to prepare myself for going back to college because as someone coming from another country, none of my prior classes would transfer in, so I had to start from the very beginning.
What were you doing before going back to college? I was working for a long time at a daycare center, and at other places.
So, what made you finally decide to go back? As soon as I got to the United States, I was very motivated and interested in going to college, but I had to work for a while to establish myself and be ready. I also had to find the right place to go to.
Was there a person or resource that got you started? Yes. I went to the Career Link Center in Norristown, PA. It's a service offered by the state, through local offices. You can take all the different small exams there to prepare for college. They help you get started to go to college.
What kind of exams were these? They were exams in subjects like reading, math and English to make sure you were ready to go on to college. If you passed them, Career Link would help you. So that's what made me start the process. I passed all their tests.
What made you want to return to college and get started on completing your degree? I'm career oriented. Even though I was working, I saw that to have a career and work anywhere I really wanted to, I would need a college degree. I wanted to be able to get to the right place with my career, so I decided that I do need a degree.
So you were after a career and a profession? Yes, very much. I knew this is what I wanted.
What was your biggest concern or fear in going back to college as an adult? My situation is a bit unique, so it was the language; my native language is Hindu. It was also: What is the adjustment to college going to be? My biggest fears were hoping people would understand me, and that I could fit in with everyone. I'm very grateful because I did adjust very well.
Were there any other fears? My one other concern was financial. But I got a scholarship and financial help, and I was fine after that.
So funding your education was a concern? Where did you go to get help figuring out how to pay for college? I went to the financial aid office at my community college and asked for help. They helped me with everything.
How did you choose a school? I started at Montgomery College, a community college that has a partner program with other colleges for when you are ready to go on the next college. Career Link made the referral to Montgomery for me.
What advice would you give other students looking to go back to college? Definitely start out with a community college because they have so many resources. You go there and they just help you out so much. You learn about scholarships from the Pell Grant to other scholarships.
Community colleges are small and can focus a lot of attention on you. It gave me a smaller place to start to get me ready for a bigger platform. I was able to grow. That's why I'm so comfortable now at the university I transferred to. They prepared me for this at the community college. I learned how to be a student and where I wanted to go next. That was my experience.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered about going to college as an adult? I'm feeling very confident and very independent. I never believed I would be where I am right now. At this time, I have a full-time job, take care of myself and my house and still study. It's not easy. It's very intense. But I'm surprising myself and dealing well with everything.
I'm sure that's a great feeling. Congratulations. Thanks, it's a good feeling.
How long did it take before you saw a positive change in yourself or in your life as you were working towards your degree? I think I started to feel a change about six months into community college. I got very involved, connected to other students and started going to many events. It allowed me to become more confident.
I guess I'm very lucky because they offered me a job at the school as a college peer leader and student ambassador. By helping other students, I got to know almost everything about the school and all the opportunities. Becoming a mentor to others was a big change for me.
Tell me about your transfer to your next college and how you chose your major? I've always been interested in technology. With technology you always stay current, you are always updating, which these days is very important. Cybersecurity is one of the biggest concerns for everyone. You need to be secure in your technology use. So I chose cybersecurity as my major.
Community college is only two years, so when I started to look at schools to transfer to for my bachelor's I only looked at those colleges that had my major, cybersecurity.
My major is not offered everywhere. It's new and very popular, but it's a very specific major. I chose Peirce College because they had it, and they also had online and in-person classes. Right now because of my full-time job and the commute to my job, I am an online student.
I also chose Peirce because I knew all of my classes from Montgomery Community College would transfer, because Pierce has a partnership with Montgomery. After working so hard I did not want to lose any credits.
How do you juggle all of your commitments with going to school? How do you make it work? My job is actually really far from my home; It's an hour from my house. So I leave my home very early in the morning and work all day. When I come home, I do my housework and then I study at night online. It's a long day, and studying at night is the only way I can do it.
Is the online format the key thing that allows you to continue your studies? Yes, definitely, because of my job.
If you could talk to your younger self about this whole process, what would you say? What would be your advice? Never give up. And continue to grow.
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