The re-entry student, sometimes called a "nontraditional student," has plenty of things to consider when going back to school. Some people are in a place in their lives where going back to school won't require tremendous transition. Other people will have added many complicated elements to their lives, including owning a home, raising kids, and holding down a job, which may make it a little more challenging to be student. Before going back to school, you should ask yourself what the time and financial demands of your life are, and how you will meet these demands in addition to attending classes.
If you do go back to school, you'll likely need to decide if you will quit your job, work part time or continue to work full time, and how taking classes and doing homework will fit into your schedule. Consider the financial impact if you make less money, and whether or not you'll qualify for financial support if you need it. It's a good idea to take a long look at your finances if you are considering going back to school and work out these practical issues before you commit to getting more education. In long-range financial planning, you'll also want to weigh the impact of taking on more debt if you must get student loans.
An issue that affects both finances and any education you get may be where you plan to attend school. If you don't have a college degree of any sort and you're not sure what you want to study, you may want to begin your education at a community or junior college. These are typically far less expensive than a traditional four-year college and can give you an opportunity to explore your options. Community colleges are also very friendly to re-entry students and may have a higher than average mean age of student than do some four-year universities. Many also have re-entry student departments or programs, which can provide some support and ideas about how to make the most of your education.
If you already know what you'd like to study when going back to school, then your decision may rest on the qualified and accredited colleges that will give you the best education. To save money, you may want to look at state colleges as opposed to private institutions, but on the other hand, a more expensive private school may offer you a better program or greater prestige. If you are planning to manage work and school, you might want to look for colleges that offer some flexibility, like a few online classes, or at least evening or weekend classes. Some schools even offer summer seminars that may help you speed up the time it takes to get your degree.
If you're parenting young children and going back to school, look for colleges that offer daycare services. Some have excellent programs that can provide full-time daycare or at least help when you're in class. Additionally, you'll need to evaluate the amount of time outside of class you can expect to spend on homework, and decide when and how you can work this into your schedule so you succeed in school.
Some people are nervous about going back to school because they were not terrific students in the past. Search for colleges that have good remedial programs as many of these can help you learn study techniques and offer tutoring services. Remember that motivation to be in school can make a big difference in performance, however. Also, if you're not familiar with use of a computer or the Internet, take a few classes to get some basic training. Many classes now assume most students have typing and computer skills, and some skill with web-based research.
Plan to meet with guidance or admission counselors at any schools you're considering attending about six months prior to the time you need to apply. Ask counselors about the services they offer to nontraditional students and the requirements you'll be expected to fulfill. This will give you time to decide which schools and programs are best suited to your needs.