Adult Learner

How to: Returning to college after 20 years


Just as the world tends to do, academia has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Even the most established brick and mortar universities have transitioned into the digital age, and more adults are going back to school than ever. But how do these nontraditional students return to the classroom or cloud after such a long hiatus?

The Technology Factor

One of the most significant differences that happened between 1994 and 2014 was the tech boom and continuous rapid advancement in electronics. This tweet just says it all and surely brings back memories for many of us:

As new learning technologies are introduced and more paper textbooks are transformed into digital textbooks written in “e-ink” or pixels, academia is transforming faster than ever. Online learning platforms, once revolutionary concepts, are now staples in classrooms from kindergarten to doctoral levels. What does this mean? You don’t have to be an expert techy, but every adult student needs to understand the basics.

Almost all nontraditional universities offer programs fully online as well as on campus. However, keep in mind that for these institutions the “on-campus” often translates to “blended learning” which does require some sort of online component to completing classes. The idea behind this concept was to accommodate to those working full time and want to go back to college to achieve their degree but cannot attend day classes held multiple times per week.

One of the most used online learning management companies is Blackboard Inc., headquartered in Washington D.C. There are tons of resources on the web to help you understand the basics of this major system. Those looking for this type of alternative to the traditional four-year college experience are encouraged to ask the school they are interested in what type of digital learning platform they use, and familiarize themselves with the technology before beginning school.

Financial Planning

Investing in a college education near the age of 40 is much different than when students are graduating from high school with no capital or credit. Most adults are seasoned managers of their own financial presence and understand the importance of ensuring a secure future.

Like many different life-changing experiences, there have been stories of success and failure. Most students, including those that go back to school later in life leverage loans to finance their educations. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of two financial aid focused college-information websites, provides a general rule of thumb and advice for calculating repayment for adult students taking this route:

As you can tell the basic accounting information like income and loan amount should be considered when contemplating financing your education but the timeline plays a major role as well. Those looking to advance their career and increase salary should also remember to continue setting aside an allotment for retirement and other expenses. Talk to your personal financial planner as well as a financial aid representative to find what the best option for you.

Your Support System

With those pesky numbers out of the way, the next thing to consider when returning to college after 20 years or more is your support system. School is definitely a commitment, and many dedicated students have full-time work and/or other responsibilities to manage on top of homework. The best advice most of our students give is to talk to those will be there to back you up and push you toward your achievement.

The most important source of support was almost always their family members. In the words of Megan Nalley, navy wife, mother and bachelor’s degree student graduating May 2015 with her bachelor’s degree, “I’m so thankful to my husband. He is the biggest reason why I am in college. Never give up, no matter how hard it gets! Support is everything!”

In addition to family members, the next level of support adult students rely on is their school’s staff and inspiring educators. Deborah Alfaro graduated with her bachelor’s in 2013 after a 25 year hiatus from college. She describes it as a difficult endeavor but she describes what made all the difference in her education by saying, “All of my professors at UMass Global have truly cared about my education and have been so supportive. Having an executive coach to help me with organization and the transition of beginning school again has also taught me much.”

Some CEOs may be familiar with the term executive coach, but others don’t often realize just how important these types of professionals can be to others. As a student-centric university, UMass Global understands that transitioning into school after a long time away can be overwhelming which is why it offers this service to every new student. Not every university has executive coaches to help students transform dreams into reality by creating personalized success plans that are unique to their needs. It’s definitely something to consider when evaluating your options for the future.

Find Your Focus

These three things are some of many factors to consider when returning to college over years away. The key throughout the journey is to stay focused and keep working toward achieving your goals. Once you've made the decision to go back to school your next step is to research the right university and program that's the best fit for you. Get started with The Adult Learner's Guide to Choosing a College that outlines ten important factors to keep in mind when evaluating your options. 




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