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How To Go To College As An Adult: 5 Strategies To Be Successful

If you’re considering going back to college as an adult, the number one thing you should know is that it’s never too late to go to college. In fact, with today’s workforce education requirements, technology-driven work environments and a trend toward later retirements, it’s very normal to go to college as an adult.

Currently, 1 in 10 college students in the United States is age 40 or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2027, 3.3 million students will fall within this age group. 

While there are many compelling reasons to go to college at any age, that doesn’t mean being a nontraditional student is always easy. Going to college as a working adult comes with its own set of unique challenges. 

If you’re dedicated to improving your personal, professional and financial outlook for yourself or your family, we’re here to help you prepare for success. Let’s dive into 5 strategies that can help you navigate the challenges of going to college as an adult and thrive as a nontraditional college student.

Strategy 1: Remove the Intimidation Factor

One of the biggest hurdles for many adults aspiring to go to college is uncertainty. Many prospective adult college students ask themselves questions like: 

  • Can I even get into college? 
  • Will I be surrounded by traditional age students and feel isolated? 
  • Do I have the tools to be successful in today’s college environment?
  • Is now really the right time for me to go back to school?

Going back to college is a big decision—but don’t let yourself get in the way of achieving your goal.

Success Strategy: Remove the intimidation factor by applying to colleges or universities that consider your holistic experience and education when making admission decisions.

There are many reasons the college application process can feel intimidating. Maybe you aren’t a strong test taker and entrance exams are your number one fear. Maybe your previous high school or college GPA wasn’t strong. 

Whatever your concerns, never assume you won’t get accepted to college. There are high-quality, accredited colleges that lower the barriers to entry to help motivated students from all backgrounds get a college education. 

Strategy 2: Reduce Financial Stress

One of the major considerations for adults returning to college is the cost of a college education. There are many ways to plan for the financial realities of going to college, including: 

  • Completing the FAFSA to ensure you’re considered for grants and federal student loans.
  • Asking if your employer offers tuition reimbursement for the cost of college courses.
  • Planning ahead, making a budget and setting aside savings dedicated to your college education.
  • Doing your research into the total cost of your college education, including tuition costs, additional fees, and textbook or software costs.


Heading back to school? Make sure you max out your Financial Aid with the help of this free FAFSA report.


When considering the financial investment of a college education, keep the long-term benefits in mind.

“Most people don’t think twice before taking out a loan for a car,” says Dr. Ross, “They see it as essential and plan for the costs. An education, on the other hand, is less tangible and many people question taking out student loans. While loans shouldn’t be your first option, an education only appreciates in value over time, while an investment like a car depreciates in value. As you evaluate your financing options, always take a long-term perspective and think about how an education will help you reach professional and salary goals.”

In fact, for many adults without a college degree, it’s becoming a long-term financial necessity to go back to college. According to the Social Security Administration, men with bachelor's degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor's degrees earn $630,000 more. 

Success Strategy: Choose an affordable online college that gives you the flexibility to work while you get a college degree.

One way to reduce the opportunity cost of a college degree is to choose an online college that allows you to maintain your current job and salary. Going back to school full-time inevitably costs more because you lose out on salary earnings in addition to adding the cost of tuition to your financial picture. 

As a nonprofit, private institution solely dedicated to serving working adults, Franklin University’s tuition rate is 66% lower than the national average for private, nonprofit four-year colleges. By offering online courses that are designed for the needs of working adults, Franklin makes it easier to maintain the balance of your career and your college education.

Strategy 3: Proactively Manage Your Time and Workload

Time management is critical to success when going to college as a working adult. If you’re going to pursue your degree online, you want to make sure your flexible curriculum doesn’t become a detriment to your success. You need to proactively plan your schedule to make sure you don’t procrastinate or fall behind. You also want to make sure you’re maintaining balance between your educational, professional and personal pursuits.

Here are some tips to help you stay organized and on schedule:

  • Create a dedicated, quiet workspace that allows you to focus on your coursework.
  • Download a task management app like Todoist to manage your workload.
  • Block off time each week on your calendar to dedicate to your coursework.
  • Regularly check your course website to track your progress on assignments.
  • Break up work and set personal deadlines to pace out the completion of larger projects.

In addition to basic time management best practices, choosing the right college degree program can make it easier to manage your workload.

Success Strategy: Look for a college that offers a balanced workload format that makes it easier to plan around your college courses.

Strategy 4: Find Support and Resources

As an adult going back to college, you may need different types of support than traditional college students. 

Not sure what to look for? Here are some of the types of support that can be most beneficial to adult learners.

  • Make connections with other students and form study groups to work through assignments.
  • Take advantage of professor office hours to ask questions about course material.
  • Look for networking opportunities offered through your degree program and university. 
  • Use library, tutoring and writing center resources when you need extra help.

Success Strategy: Choose a program with dedicated support services that cater to the needs of working adults.

Support services that are only offered during normal working hours often don’t work for adults going to college. You also shouldn’t have to sacrifice personal support because you choose to attend college online. 

“At Franklin, every student is assigned an academic advisor who can help them make decisions about their courses and educational path,” says Dr. Ross, “I regularly hear from advisors soliciting advice on behalf of their students. We also offer support services like the Student Learning Center. For example, if you need help on a paper you can submit it and receive feedback within 24-hours. It’s these types of services that help us cater specifically to working adults.”

Strategy 5: Don’t Forget to Enjoy Life

Going back to college can be stressful at times, but it’s also very rewarding. Take the time to engage with professors and classmates and truly enjoy what you’re learning. Also, don’t forget to find the balance in life. 

Success Strategy: Make a list of your most important personal and professional responsibilities and plan your school work accordingly.

Whether it’s attending a work outing or tucking your children in at night, make sure you set your priorities early and stick to them. By making time for social engagements and family time, you’ll stay grounded and motivated to reap the benefits of a college education.

Choose a College Designed for Working Adults

While online colleges provide the most flexibility, not every online college is designed to meet the specific needs of working adults. 

For over 115 years, Franklin University has been dedicated to serving working adults. Franklin University is a regionally-accredited university, meaning it meets the highest quality standards while providing education in a flexible online format that works around your schedule. Franklin’s dedicated resources, tools and systems make sure you have what you need to succeed as a working adult going to college.

Learn more about how we support you every step of the way as you pursue your college degree.

Free Report:
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