5 Common Myths About Returning to College as an Adult

Returning students believe that previous credits won't count, they'll have to re-take the SAT, they won't receive as much financial aid, defaulted loans will affect chances of any financial aid, and their real-life experiences won't matter.
Woman holding son and reading book after returning to college as an adult

Thinking about returning to college to finish your undergraduate degree as an adult? You're not alone. With a college education becoming increasingly valuable in the work force, many adults are considering going back to school to finish their degree. But many worry that it's been too long and that the time spent away from the classroom will make it difficult to return. Here we break down the most common myths about returning to college as an adult so you can see that no matter the obstacles you face, it's never too late to go back to school.

Myth #1: My previous college credits have expired

While each school has their own policy on which credits they will accept, college credits never technically expire. General education credits for subjects like math and English tend to be the easiest to transfer. Credits for subjects that are constantly changing and evolving with new information, such as science or nursing, might be harder to transfer. Your school may only be willing to accept these credits as electives. It's also possible your school might require you to take a placement test to see how much of the relevant course information you remember. Regardless of what your school's policy is, there's a good chance that at least some of your course credits will transfer, regardless of how long ago they were earned.

Myth #2: I'll have to take the SAT® again

Most colleges waive standardized test scores for people over the age of 25. Instead, they will sometimes offer a placement test. However, SAT scores may be required for certain institutional grants and scholarships. And what if you took the SAT many years ago? The College Board® keeps a record of all scores, and they will still send them to your school upon request. If it's been five years or more since you took the test, the scores will include a message explaining that they may be less valid predictors of college academic performance than more recent scores. It's up the college to decide if they will still accept these scores. As always, it's best to speak directly to the college to find out their requirements.

Myth #3: I've ruined my chances at financial aid by defaulting on previous student loans

If you've defaulted on your student loans before, it's still possible to receive financial aid. You'll just have to get your loans out of default first. And thanks to loan rehabilitation, it may not be as hard as you think. To rehabilitate a defaulted Direct Student Loan, you must agree in writing to make nine voluntary, reasonable, and affordable monthly payments within 20 days of the due date, and make all nine payments during a period of 10 consecutive months. A reasonable monthly payment is determined as 15 percent of your annual discretionary income divided by 12. If you still can't afford that payment, you can ask your lender to calculate an alternative monthly payment taking into account your monthly expenses. Depending on your income, your monthly payment could be as low as $5. Once you have made the nine payments, your loans will no longer be in default. As an additional benefit, the record of default on the rehabilitated loan will be removed from your credit history, which will improve your overall credit score.

Myth #4: I won't qualify for as much financial aid now that I'm considered an adult

It's actually possible that you may qualify for more financial aid as an adult. If you completed the FAFSA® when you were in high school, it's likely that schools were looking at your parent's income and assets when deciding how much aid to award you. But if you're over the age of 23, you're considered an independent student, which means the school is only looking at your income (and your spouse's income if you're married). Independent students are also eligible for higher Direct Student Loans since their parents are unable to take out a PLUS Loan on their behalf. If you'll be keeping your job while returning to school, check and see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, as many do. If you'll be leaving your job to return to school, make sure you let the financial aid office know so they adjust your income information accordingly based on this new information.

Myth #5: My real-life experiences won't matter to college

With more and more adults returning to college, schools are finding increasing ways to value the work and life experiences of these adults that took place while they were away from the classroom. The CLEP® is the most widely accepted challenge exam program and grants college credit to students based on knowledge learned through professional experience and independent study. Many schools, both residential and online, allow CLEP exam scores to count towards college credits. The exams mostly consist of multiple choice questions and are a great substitute for introductory college classes. And at $80 per exam, it's much cheaper than paying for a college course. Another option that some schools offer is a written academic portfolio. A good example of this is UMass Amherst's Without Walls program. The program is designed to help adults complete their first bachelor's degree. In their second semester, students can submit a written portfolio of essays about their work and life experience that can earn them up to 30 credits towards their degree.