How to succeed as an adult returning student.

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Are you an adult with some college education, but no degree? If so, you are not alone. In 2015, there were between 30 million and 35 million Americans who fell into this category. In the greater Seattle metropolitan area, there are over 750,000 people in this situation.

Students opt out for many reasons: full-time workload, family obligations, medical illness and financial barriers are just a few. The reasons adults return to school can be just as varied: to gain a new skill set needed for your career advancement, to increase your salary potential, to be a role model for your children, or simply to finish what you started.

But whatever reasons have motivated your return to school, it’s important to get off on the right foot. What kinds of things can you do to ensure that you reach your educational, career and personal goals?

Start with a good foundation

Choose a program that is built for adult learners. Before selecting the program, make sure to do a clear-eyed assessment of the many balls you are juggling and select a program that will best fit in with your busy lifestyle. A traditional program, where you are expected to be on campus every day, may not mesh with your current work or family situation.

These days there are many kinds of programs you can select. Some programs offer a mix of online, face-to-face and “hybrid” (both online and face-to-face components) classes, allowing adult students to choose the right class delivery based on their own individual circumstances, which can change quarter to quarter.

Know what is available to you and then make sure it fits with your own work/life balance challenges.

Practice long-term and short-term goal setting

Look for programs that have both professional advisers and faculty mentors. Professional advisers help you navigate your course scheduling, explain your transfer credit evaluation, and remind you of important deadlines. Treat those as hard deadlines and make sure you schedule them on your calendar as you would any job-related deadline.

In your first meeting, discuss your career goals. Your faculty mentor is a great resource and can help you determine what skill sets you need to develop; they can give you suggestions for elective courses to prepare you for your field; and they can pass along networking opportunities in your field. Map these out as you would a long-term work project.

Look for programs that have both professional and faculty advisers

Look for programs where faculty and advisers are trained to work with adult students specifically. Ask about career services, faculty mentoring, the writing center, tutoring centers and counseling centers, and then use those services. After all, you are paying for them.

Remember, too, that your advisers, mentors and faculty are also resources. If you have an issue that is affecting your performance, reach out to them. They may offer an extension or know of a policy or student support service that can help get you back on track.

When you get off-track, regroup and start again

A recent study tracking adult-student completion rates made an interesting finding: The best predictor of whether an adult student will complete his or her degree upon returning to school does not correlate with the student’s previous G.P.A. or number of credits already earned, or with the chosen major. The study found that the best predictor of success was how long the gap had been between the previous college enrollment and the current enrollment. Adult students frequently have to pause their course of study due to work pressures, family life, the need to earn money before continuing, etc. Do not let this stop your forward momentum. Make a plan, and get back on the horse as soon as you can. Taking one class at a time, making small movements forward, is preferable to stopping entirely.

And if you have to take a long break, don’t despair

Make sure that you are using all resources to help you start back up again. Let your faculty and advisers know of your situation. They can help provide the support and guidance needed to reach your educational and professional goals.

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