Thinking of Going Back to College? Read This (Part 1)

An adult returning to college discusses why she decided to go back to school, how she chose her college, what factors mattered more to her as an adult, and the application process.
Woman using laptop after going back to college

My wife Cathy and I met in college. But unfortunately, circumstances were such that she was not able to continue her studies past her freshman year. Throughout our relationship, I saw her wrestle with the idea of going back to school. She attended a few institutions and kept searching different paths to find her fit. Recently she made the decision to re-enroll in college at Lesley University to earn her bachelor's degree.

There was a lot of pressure on her as she made this transition. So many big questions surrounded the undertaking. What's it like to go back to college as an adult? How could the working mother of a toddler be a full-time student and continue to make everything work? I kept thinking about the many other individuals who are in the same position. So many people want to make a change in their lives, and earn a degree, but it seems so improbable. How do you even get started?

I interviewed Cathy to have her explain the factors that led her to go back to college, and what she learned through the process. Hopefully, this interview, which will be divided into three parts, can help others dreaming to do the same.

Jonathan: So why did you decide now to go back to college?

Cathy: I realized that life continues after you have a kid. I studied to become a massage therapist and had my massage license, but after I had my son Malcolm, I realized it wasn't the career I wanted it to be. I want to work after Malcolm goes to school. I want to have a career that's intentional and not just whatever I can get without a degree. And also if anything ever happens to you, I want to make sure we are okay financially and I can raise Malcolm.

Jonathan: So what was the first step for you?

Cathy: I decided to look at colleges based on what they offered adult students. I highly recommend that adults do that. Having been in the work world, I know that certain attributes of colleges don't matter as much as you think they do when you're younger. It was more important to me to go to a school that has flexibility for adult students. We have time constraints and money commitments that many traditional students don't have, as well as a view of life that many students don't have.

Jonathan: What do you mean by that?

Cathy: Well, I came to college this time around wanting to learn, and I have very direct goals related to this degree. I came to school this time to change my life. Not to begin life, or have my freedom, as so many traditional freshmen do, but to change my life.

Jonathan: So when looking at what a school can offer adults, what would you look for?

Cathy: First, how many credits will a school allow you to transfer over from a previous school? Can you use life experience as credits? Can you do classes both online and in person? Are there weekend or nighttime classes? And really, does it seem like they want adult students at their school? Some schools don't have any information for adult students or even images of adult students on their websites. If I see that, I'm not going to that school. I chose Lesley because they work really hard to make adults feel welcome, and they want adult students. They want their adult students to have a good experience at their school, and that has made a huge difference.

Jonathan: What role did affordability play in your decision?

Cathy: Well that was big part obviously. I needed to make sure I could reasonably pay for school costs. As an adult (anyone over 23) returning to college, you're classified as a federally independent student and thus eligible for more money through Federal Direct Student Loans. That's really helpful. Also, there are times when my employers have reimbursed my costs for college classes, so I definitely recommend that others going back to school see if that's a possibility. When looking at different schools, we also used the Net Price Calculator on each college's website to get an estimate of how much it would cost us for each school. It ended up being pretty accurate.

Jonathan: So when you believed you had found the right college, when did you actually apply for admission?

Cathy: I attended an info session for adult students, which I definitely recommend. I got to meet the advisers for adult students, and that made me feel like I could go. So I applied right after that and was accepted.

We'll stop here for now, and return to this conversation in our part 2 blog, where we'll touch on the admissions and financial aid processes, some additional affordability tips, and other useful observations from the world of adult students. Make sure to read Part 2 and Part 3 in this series! 

Read Part 2 on Returning to College