The phrase “back to school” doesn’t just apply to kids. Many adults are headed back to the classroom in hopes of starting a new career or improving their odds of promotion within their current job.
In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students over age 25 grew 43 percent from 2000 to 2009 – and it’s expected to increase another 23 percent by 2019.
“Anyone considering going back to college needs to do their homework,” said University of Phoenix School of Business Dean Dr. Bill Berry. “Returning to school is a big decision, and you have to be sure of your reasons so you get the most out of your educational experience. Do your research and ask questions. Additionally, talk with your family to make sure they’re prepared to support you. Going back to school is a commitment, but it’s one that could change your life for the better.”
So how do you know if going back to school is right for you? How do you choose a college and program? If you’ve been thinking of going back to school, Dr. Berry recommends asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:
What are my goals? You need to be clear about why you want to go back to school. Some common goals include getting ahead in your career, starting a career in a new field, or the personal satisfaction that comes with completing your degree.
Do I have time to take classes? Building in time for coursework and using time management skills is necessary for success. According to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, whether taking classes online or in a classroom, it can take at least eight hours a week of work to successfully complete assignments. Consider how you will structure your week in order to maximize time.
Am I self-motivated and self-disciplined? Many adult learners have responsibilities other than school, such as families and jobs, which require time and personal commitments. You need motivation and discipline to do the work – no one will do it for you.
Do I have a place to study? Having a dedicated space to complete assignments – whether it’s reading, writing a paper or creating a presentation – is important, even if it’s small or shared with someone else. If you’re taking online classes, you’ll either need your own computer and Internet access or access to these in order to participate in online group discussions, submit assignments or take advantage of electronic learning resources.
How can I leverage my support system? Having personal as well as professional support is critical. Ask family or friends if they are willing to look after your children while you’re studying. If you work, discuss your situation with your supervisor to ensure you have a plan in place to address work-related deadlines and responsibilities.
How are my computer skills? How comfortable are you with basic computer programs and Internet research? As more and more course work is done online, it’s critical to have these skills in order to succeed. If your computer skills are a bit rusty, look to see if your college or university offers any courses to help strengthen your skills before enrolling.
Do I really know what to expect? If you haven’t been to school in a while, or you never had a college experience, starting out can be overwhelming. Programs such as the University of Phoenix University Orientation workshops are required for incoming students with less than 24 credits. This provides those students with an opportunity to experience the University of Phoenix classroom without incurring a financial burden. The three-week, no-cost workshops allow students to experience the University’s academic rigor. “We want our students to succeed,” said Dr. Berry. “Offering this workshop lets them figure out if this is a good fit for them, and what is expected of them as students.”
What to Look For
If you’ve decided that you’re ready for school, you need to choose one that will help you achieve your goals. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning recommends that you:
Look for colleges that are accredited – Check for their accreditation on their website, or look for them at www.ed.gov.
Ask about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) – If the school has a system for evaluating your prior learning, you could save time and money when earning your degree.
Find out about student services – Will you have access to the library whenever you need it? Is tutoring or online help available? If it’s an online program, will you be able to interact with other students? Will you have access to faculty and advisors to help you with classwork and your program goals? For example, University of Phoenix assigns every student a Graduation Team made up of advisors for enrollment, academics and finance, in order to help you navigate your entire college experience.
“You also need to determine how you will pay for school,” said Dr. Berry. “Between scholarships, federal financial aid, pay-as-you-learn plans, student loans or tuition reimbursements by employers, there are a lot of options available to help you get the education you want. Make sure you’re clear on tuition costs, and talk with the school’s finance advisors before enrolling.”
Going back to school is a big decision, but if you ask the right questions and do the right planning, it will be a decision you can make with confidence, knowing it will pay off with a brighter future. You can learn more about University of Phoenix programs at www.phoenix.edu.
What’s Your Style?
Everyone learns differently. Understanding what learning styles work best for you helps you make better, more informed decisions about how to learn new things, and whether you’re best suited for online or classroom learning. Here are a few of the learning styles – which style best describes you?
Solitary – These students focus best when alone and tend to be highly motivated. They benefit most from having alone time for studying.
Social – Social learners often need to bounce ideas off of others. Study groups – both in-person and online – work well for these students.
Visual – This type of learner often doodles, using visual cues to help understand and retain new information. Study aids could include graphics or color coded notes.
Verbal – These students have a way with words, enjoying reading, writing and crosswords. Reading aloud, summarizing content in their own words or using acronyms are good study tools for verbal learners.
Aural – Aural learners have an affinity for music and sound. They can learn content by making musical associations, such as playing music while studying, making up songs, or putting facts to tunes they know.
Logical – These financial and math-minded learners frequently make use of ordered lists. They benefit by using to-do lists for studying tasks.
Physical – Moving around helps physical students retain information. Taking lots of notes during class, as well as walking or jogging while memorizing facts are helpful study aids.
You can take a self-assessment to find out your learning style by visiting www.phoenix.edu/LearningStyleAssessment.
A Different Kind of Education
College education has changed dramatically over the years, and often in ways that benefit working adults.
Schools now offer a variety of online and campus course options.
Smart phone applications allow students to check in on class discussions.
Online libraries make the latest textbooks and research available at the click of a mouse.
Diverse tutoring options and academic resources mean the education experience has become more customized to individual student needs.
You’ll be more likely to find other working adults and practitioner faculty who bring their own diverse work experience into the classroom.