Are you considering going back to college as an adult learner? The university campus is a very friendly place for nontraditional students in today’s culture. Here are five tips for you as you move ahead and finish your degree with one of the many on-campus or online degree completion programs available today.

1. Identify Your Motivation for Finishing Your Degree

Remembering—or finding—your “why” behind finishing your degree will help you stay motivated to continue pushing toward your goal if you run into challenges along the way. You may have a number of reasons to consider this path. Often, a desire for self-development or the desire to give yourself a competitive edge in your field is all the motivation you need.

Sometimes the reason isn’t a desire to move up within your career field, but rather to make a change. If you need a degree to embrace your dream career, finishing the one you’ve already begun is a good starting point.

Maybe you find yourself wanting a higher rate of compensation. This could happen through a promotion or through applying for a new job within your career path. Either way, finishing your degree can open the door to higher pay.

2. Explore Degree Completion Programs

If finishing your degree makes sense for your career goals, you’ll find that today’s options are better than ever before. You can find flexible options for degree completion that fit your schedule and demands. On-campus programs give you the chance to study with other students, while online programs provide flexibility as you complete your degree. Hybrid programs combine both of these options, so you can get the on-campus experience while also benefiting from an online learning experience.

Many of today’s schools have flexible course options. You might be able to choose weekend or evening classes to fit a working adult’s schedule. Many programs have flexible start and end dates for their terms, particularly if they have online courses.

Today's university culture not only recognizes adult students but actively strives to support them. For example, the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) at the University of Minnesota has programs that provide working adults a chance to return to the classroom after taking a significant break away from school, preparing them to return to a career or start a new one. There are also many local and federal programs that provide employment and education counseling and sometimes financial assistance to help people get back to work when life forced them out of the classroom.

3. Maximize Your Transfer Credit

One of the best ways to maximize your opportunities as you go back to school is to ensure that every credit you've already earned counts. You can transfer credits from previous schools, even if you didn’t complete your degree. Talk to your admissions team to learn about transferring credit.

“There are many ways adult students can transfer into one of our programs with a large number of credits,” says Jeff Olsen Krengel, an enrollment advisor in CCAPS at the U of M. “We’re here to help ensure you are utilizing all of these so you can focus your studies on the new information you need to learn as you embrace your career goals.”

4. Look into Financial Aid

Paying for college as an adult learner may be easier than you think. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that provide some financial support to students returning to school. Ask your employer about these opportunities.

“Always start your journey back to school by completing the annual Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” advises Jessica Haensch, scholarship/financial aid and stewardship coordinator at CCAPS. “Many students are surprised to learn that they qualify for loans and grants through the federal government when they apply as an adult learner.”

After filing the FAFSA and talking to your employer, reach out to the University’s financial aid department. “Many programs exist for adult learners that are industry-specific,” said Haensch. “Our goal is to help you find those so you can get the support you need to pay for your education.

5. Establish a Support System

Going back to school as an adult may be easier than ever, but it is still challenging. You’ll need quite a bit of support to make this work.

First, remember that you’ll have to balance your studies as best as you can with working and family responsibilities. Don’t overload yourself by pushing to complete your degree more quickly. Pacing yourself will be better for your mental health while allowing you to be present for your loved ones as you return to school. And don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help—they’ll be happy to lend a hand.

Today's university culture not only recognizes adult students but actively strives to support them.

Find a mentor to work with, either someone in your field or perhaps a faculty member in your program. Learn what they did to make their education work, and implement some of those strategies in your own plan. Building relationships during this time is essential. These will be important contacts for your future professional career, but they will also make going to school something you look forward to doing.

In addition to mentorship, you have a variety of avenues to seek community and get involved. Explore the Student Services departments in your school to discover organizations, clubs, groups, and other activities you can participate in. You’re bound to meet others with similar interests.

Your professors want you to succeed, and they are going to be available to use as a resource as you grow in your knowledge through their programs. Be sure to get to know your classmates, as well. If you’ll be spending time on campus, be friendly and engaging. If your program is online, make an effort to engage in class forums and discussions. Build those relationships so you can help one another in the classroom and then later in your professional lives.

Explore Your Options at the University of Minnesota

As you prepare to go back to school as a working adult, explore the options CCAPS offers. Our Multidisciplinary Studies bachelor’s degree lets you combine your previous coursework with your current educational goals. This way, you can create a customized plan of study that will earn your bachelor's degree without the need to retake old courses. If you already have work experience and a number of college classes under your belt, this is a great option.

To strengthen your career opportunities, think about the Inter-College Program bachelor’s degree, some of which can be completed online. This program allows you to select courses across two to three departments of your choosing, to build a customized, well-rounded education that fits your interests and needs. With flexible options for completing your degree like this, the U of M supports you in your goal to finish your degree. Reach out today to discover the opportunities available to you at the University of Minnesota.