It's back-to-school season and with it comes several time-honored traditions: shopping for new school clothes, buying school supplies, re-arranging your schedule at work and picking a sitter to watch your kids while you go to class. Even before the economy went south in 2008, Boomers were changing the face of our nation's colleges and universities. According to the University Continuing Education Association, adult or "non-traditional" students now account for more than half of all college students in America.
The reasons more adults are hitting the books are numerous. Some go to learn new skills to return to the job market after retirement or losing a job. Some are parents who haven't been in the workforce for quite a while and are wanting to find a job for extra income. Others are gainfully employed, but are hopeful that an additional degree may help them get a promotion and make more money, or even change careers. And, some are doing it just because they can.
Non-traditional students today often find that higher education has changed, and our busy lifestyles present new challenges. The three biggest are paying for college, accessing it and re-adjusting to being a student again.
Paying for college
There's no way around it, a college education is expensive, no matter how old you are. Some Boomers looking to go back to school may already be paying for their children's educations. One way to pay is through financial assistance. There are many scholarships and grants open to students of all ages and even some targeted specifically toward non-traditional students. You may even qualify for student loans. Search online for scholarships and talk to the admissions department at the school for help in finding financing options. It also would be a good idea to become familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Another solution to the problem of paying for an education is not to. Ohio's four-year universities and two-year technical colleges allow residents age 60 and older to attend classes at no cost. You are essentially auditing the course and, in most cases, will not receive credit for completion. Participation is limited to classes with space available and must be approved by the instructor, and you may still have to pay for books, equipment or lab fees. Again, talk to the school's admissions department about the availability of free classes.
If your only college experience was right out of high school, you will find that higher education is very different today. Responding to the busy lives of non-traditional students, colleges and universities have been expanding branch campuses and opening satellite centers in cities and neighborhoods to make attending classes easier. Another recent development is the availability of distance learning. You can earn an Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's and even doctoral degrees online. Many of these programs are accredited and employ a mixture of e-mail lessons, streaming video and audio and electronic tests that require only the most basic of computer skills, and most let you work at your own pace at times that are convenient for you.
Being a student again
Holding down a career and raising a family require a very different skillset and mindset than attending classes and completing lessons. First, you need to make time for your studies. The adult education guide at About.com suggests you set aside time each day for school work and treat it as if it were work or a doctor's appointment. Choose the time of day that makes the most sense for you, preferably when the risk of interruptions is minimal, but when you are at your best mentally as well. Don't plan on doing your homework first thing in the morning if your brain doesn't "wake up" until after lunch.
It may have been a while since you took a test, and it probably hasn't gotten easier. You can manage test anxiety by being prepared. Use your preparation time wisely and don't "cram" up until the last minute. The mental exhaustion caused by cramming can easily offset any benefits of extra study time. During test time, trust yourself and take your time. Read the instructions carefully. Answer the questions you know easily first and then go back to work on the harder ones.
Other ways to manage the stress of being a student again include getting plenty of sleep and finding a support system. When your life is already busy, you may sacrifice sleep as a way to fit more into the day. But your brain needs sleep to learn most effectively. The numbers prove it. You're not alone in returning to school. Go online to find support groups and forums for non-traditional students. Ask at the school's student assistance office if they have help available for students like you.
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