Adult students account for a large portion of the student bodies in many
community colleges and urban universities today. If you’ve decided to return to college or to begin your education later in life, you’re not alone. Many adults choose higher education as a means of advancing in their careers. Some simply wish to finish the education they failed to complete. A college education will expand your understanding and knowledge of the world in ways you never anticipated.
To begin the enrollment process, you’ll need to send an official transcript for previous credit to the school you wish to attend.
Transcripts can be requested from the school where you earned previous credit by sending a written request, along with the required fee and instructions. Many schools have printable transcript request forms online, usually found under the Registrar’s Office. Fees vary among institutions and are usually less than $10.
Once you’ve provided your college of choice with your transcripts, you need to determine which credits will transfer. Expiration dates for credit earned in the past vary by school. If part of an earned degree, credits usually have no expiration date. Most schools will accept credits that are less than ten years old (unless they are computer courses).
But you may be wondering if life or work experience counts toward college credit. Known as prior learning, many schools have credit-for-credit assessment of life and work experience. Contact the departments offering the degrees you are investigating for policies on credit for
prior learning. Methods for earning credit for prior learning include:
- participating in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
- challenging a particular course in which you have prior learning and taking a test or interviewing with faculty
- submitting a portfolio, which displays evidence of learning in a particular field
Determining how to pay for college can be a challenge. Traditional forms of financial aid, such as federal aid and Pell Grants, are available to adult students. Loans and grants, through individual schools and private banking, are also options. Many colleges in large universities have Stay in School grants or loans for students majoring in specific programs. For instance, the department of physics may offer a scholarship to physics majors. These scholarships are generally available for graduate rather than undergraduate study but are often overlooked because they are not advertised outside the department. Contact the dean in student services for information on financial aid.
The path leading to a college degree can be a bumpy one. Going back to college requires you make many adjustments and sacrifices to achieve your goal. The feeling of accomplishment, however, after you’ve earned your degree is worth it.
Virginia Westheider is the academic director of University of Cincinnati’s College of Applied Science.