The Best Tips for Starting College as an Adult


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Starting college as an adult…are you crazy?

Are you thinking about getting your first or second degree? Have you asked yourself…how can you possibly survive college as a working adult?

Well, I did and I’ll tell you how in this post.

It does not matter how old you are, every day is a learning process. Everyday is a new beginning and your life will only change when you commit to follow your dreams.

This is something I found myself doing a couple of years ago. I was in a job that I was not a fan of due to some circumstances that were outside of my control (I won’t get into that drama, I will just say my soul needed a change).

In my line of work, clinical dental hygiene, the only way to move forward (if you don’t want to work in a traditional office) is by continuing your education.

So with much prayer and thought…and sleepless nights, I decided to chase after my bachelor’s degree.

It felt like I had taken 10 steps backward.

OMG…I am not 19 anymore…how on earth am I possibly going to swing school work with a full-time job, 3 kids and a husband?

person laying back with book on their face

It is going to be so different from when I was fresh out of high school. Do I even remember how to be a college student?

Well, I had my end goal in mind. I decided to utilize a school that was entirely online because there was no possible way I could make it to a class in an actual classroom.

And…did I pick the best time to jump right in (that is sarcasm in case you were wondering)…I started my class smack dab in the middle of summer, right before our family beach vacation. So there I was…doing school work at the beach.

(Sidenote: Man online class has really changed since when I first started in 2002)

But it is ok. I am here to tell you that I HAVE survived. It took me 2 years exactly, but I am FINISHED!

definition of college highlighted green

So, because I made it through those 2 years and lived to tell about it (with all of my hair and most of my sanity intact-lol)…I am going to share the tips I learned that helped me so that you can smash it.

1. Set your end goal

Decide what your ultimate goal for going back is. Mine was to get my bachelor’s degree.

This way you will know what is expected and you can follow the path towards the degree you are looking to attain without wasting any time. (most of the time, you have to play your own advocate- because no one is going to hold your hand)

Write down your goal somewhere that you can see it for motivation.

There will be times when you feel like quitting but knowing the end-goal is a helpful way to push you forward.

2. Utilize a calendar

This is one of the best tools to keep you on track.

You will know what is expected of you each week and you can plan your time accordingly.

Try this Calendar.

Some schools will sync with google calendar automatically. This is a big plus because it would show up automatically on your phone.

Here is a Printable Calendar for easy organization that I made (feel free to print and use)

computer and calendar
Photo by Pixabay

3. Time management/stay ahead

Being able to utilize your time is very important as an adult learner.

It is also one of the harder things to do as a working parent.

Surviving College as a Working Adult will require time management!

If you are able to work ahead and finish assignments ahead of schedule, it will ensure that you aren’t up at 11 pm on a Thursday night trying to get an assignment finished before the 1 am deadline…not that I would know what this was like…wink wink!

You need to be able to divide your time at home between your kids, household chores and school work.

I would always work on my school work during my lunch break or after my kids went to bed (which is 8:30 at my house).

You can also make yourself get up an hour early and get things done. Some people work better in the morning (I am not one of those people).

I am the most productive in the evenings. I don’t know why. (Also- I work better under pressure)

Check out this post Why Time Blocking Increases Productivity to help you with time management.

4. Find a quiet space

As a working parent attending school, it is important to find a quiet space to work on assignments.

I have a room in my basement where I do crafts and sew. There is a big table and a desk chair down there so if I needed to work during “waking hours” (aka- when the kids aren’t asleep) I would do there because it would put some separation between me and the noise.

I also find it helpful to change the scenery. You could go to work on assignments outside or head to the local library. I even went to chick-fil-a and used their wifi (also enjoyed a diet dr pepper and fries).

5. Be frugal

Utilize financial aid, Start Here by Filling out a FASFA, search for scholarships for “adult learners”.

Check out and check with your school for any available scholarships. Also, check out Scholly.

I also have a post called Tips for Adults that Need Money for College that can help you find the money you need to get started.

Rent Books or Buy Used, Don’t buy new.

I used AmazonCampusbooks, and Chegg.

If you decide to rent, be sure that the rental period meets the time frame of your class. Also, that you return it before the end of the rental to avoid being charged for additional time.

If it is a book that you don’t think you will ever look at again, I would suggest renting… it’s so much cheaper.

Utilize the Clep exams, these are “college level examination program” tests that range between $80-100 (I took one). It can save you thousands, just make sure your school accepts them for credit.

All I had to do was go to the local college to take the test that was proctored in a computer lab.

person working at a laptop

I had never heard of these tests but I’m glad I found them because they saved me a bunch of money. (I’ll save it again- just make sure you talk to an advisor and they accept the credit)

UPDATE: Another website I have actually used for college credit is Straighterline. There is a list of colleges that accept the credits on the website. We used it for my husband’s last credit.

His college wasn’t listed but we contacted the college registrar’s office to get permission to use the credit. We made sure they provided a written signed permission form so that we were covered.

The cost for Straighterline is $99 per month. You can take as many courses as you would like, as fast as you want to. The course he needed was $59. So for $158 he got his last credit and saved about $1000. Most classes range from $49 to $100.

The course he took was no joke. It’s not easy but if you put a little effort into it, you will be fine. He printed the notes, read through them, and highlighted them. Then used Quizlet flashcards. The quizzes are open notes.

I studied for my CLEP test on Quizlet (and passed). My husband also used Quizlet to study for his course.

If you have to pay out of pocket for your education…don’t stress. You can make sure to budget your money for school.

The Easiest Budget for Beginners is a great way to get started with budgeting today!

I also have a post dedicated to saving money with college that I recommend you check out.

6. Be confident

You can do this!! Never doubt yourself, not for one minute. If you can keep a positive attitude during this process, it will go a lot smoother.

Doing college as an adult IS achievable.

You are capable of more than you think and God is not going to put anything on your plate that he thinks you can’t handle so go GET IT DONE!

Photo: Jonas Svidras @ STEP.CAMERA

I hope I have been able to give you some tips that will help you on your journey of surviving college as a working adult.

Don’t let the thought of going back to school haunt your mind and convince you not to do it.

Your education is very valuable and worth investing in.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me at thebudgethustle(at)gmail(dot)com

Go follow me on Pinterest!!

8 thoughts on “The Best Tips for Starting College as an Adult”

  1. I have recently been taking some online accredited courses and these are great tips on how to stay focused on your goals. My son is starting college soon and I am definitely going to share this with him. I think it is really going to help him. Recently he asked me where to look for scholarships and you have given some great tips here!! Thank you for sharing such valuable information to achieve all our goals and stay confident!!

    • You are welcome!! I love sharing tips that helped me so they will help others too!

  2. Great tips! Starting as an adult can be scary but being able to follow these tips can really help.

    • It is very scary, I did it and was overwhelmed because no one told me any of these!! But it is so doable. 😉

  3. Thank you so much for putting this together. I am 29 and I’ve decided to go back to school for political science. I really feel more focused now than at 18. Lol

    • Your welcome! I am glad someone can learn from from my experience!

  4. I am 42 with a husband and three boys…2 in middle school and one senior. I made the giant leap and returned to school this week for nursing (3 yrs). I gotta tell ya: I’m totally wondering what I’ve gotten myself into! Online IS totally different than it used to be. My family is supportive but I just need to keep my eye on the prize! Thanks for your post.

    • You are so right! I had a major adjustment period when I started back but I promise you can do it! It’s all about prioritizing your time, which is hard but you can do it! Good luck and awesome job so far!

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