Adult Learner

I'd like to return to college. Where do I start?

There are lots of choices out there! Explore Careers to help narrow down your options. You can also Explore Programs and Majors to see what's offered, and to find the programs that match your skills, interests and experience. If you've decided on a career or educational path, Explore Schools to find a school that best meets your needs. You can also visit a college counseling center for further guidance.

Will I be able to keep up with younger students?

Learning is a lifelong pursuit. You're never too old to learn! In 2021, students aged 25and older accounted for roughly one-third of all college and graduate students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Statistics show that adult students are just as successful in their academic studies as those 19 to 23. There are lots of campus resources available to help you transition to student life. Contact your campus's adult resource center, or talk to a non-traditional student advisor.

How do I decide what to study?

Learn About Yourself -- determine your skills, interests and work values, and find a career path that is right for you! You can also Explore Programs and Majors to see what's being offered. And Explore Schools -- learn what different colleges and universities have to offer, and find one that best meets your needs.

College counselors are another great resource. They can help you map out a course of study or career path that matches your strengths, interests and experience. Most counseling services are free to enrolled or prospective students.

Your local public library may also offer useful resources, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor. An online version is available at

Should I start with credit or non-credit courses?

If you've been away from school for several years, or you're unsure of your educational or career goals, you may consider a non-credit, special interest course to start. Many colleges and universities offer refresher courses or non-credit courses for people who want to brush up on their skills. Then, when you're ready, you can register for credit courses.

How long does a program take?

Programs vary in length. It really all depends on your educational goals. Many colleges offer short-term programs of two years or less (credit and non-credit courses). These programs may lead to certificates or associate degrees in a particular field, such as culinary arts, early childhood education, teacher's aide, emergency medical technician, computers, travel and tourism, or real estate.

A certificate program may take 18 months or less to complete. An associate degree takes two years for full-time students, and longer for those studying part time. A bachelor's degree usually takes four years for full-time students.

Typically, part-time students register for one or two courses, instead of a full course load. Evening classes are often longer in duration, but classes usually meet only once or twice a week, giving you time during the day for work or other obligations. Weekend courses may also be available.

Colleges and universities try to be flexible to help you meet your goals. You can sign up for non-credit, continuing education courses each semester. Local school districts and applied technology centers also offer non-credit, adult-education evening courses.

Do I have to take more than one course at a time?

No, your course load is up to you! College advisors can help you plan your courses and schedule, depending on your time, finances, work, family responsibilities and educational goals. You might start with a light schedule and a subject that interests you!

Will I have enough time for other responsibilities?

Yes, colleges and universities try to offer flexible schedules to accommodate adult students. Most offer evening courses, particularly for basic requirements. Some even offer Saturday classes. Contact your college's director of continuing education, admission officers or counselors to set up a schedule that works for you.

Can I receive credit for life experience?

Many colleges offer credit for work experience, business courses, college-level military, or other types of independent learning. Non-traditional degree programs may review your portfolio or assess your knowledge through challenge exams. Contact a campus admissions officer about a particular college's requirements. Once enrolled, you may contact a faculty member or academic counselor to learn more.

Can I apply for college financial aid?

Yes, you can still apply for financial aid. Age does not play a factor in eligibility for financial assistance. You can also be a working student, studying full time or part time. However, you must demonstrate financial need, and be enrolled in a degree or certificate program with at least six credits.

For more information, read Financial Aid 101.

To apply for federal assistance, you must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Complete the FAFSA online.

Find scholarships to locate other sources of aid, and use the Financial Aid Calculators to determine your costs.

You can even build your own financial aid package online, using the Financial Aid Wizard. In seven easy steps, the wizard helps you calculate all your expenses for any college you're interested in. It walks you through scholarship searches, provides deadlines for financial aid applications, and even helps you interpret financial aid award letters.

You can also contact the financial aid officer at the college you plan to attend. Additionally, your library may carry lists of independent sources of aid, based on your religion, ethnic group, disability, career goals or program of study.

Do employers offer educational assistance?

It's becoming more common for companies to offer continuing education to employees. Some may reimburse employees for classes taken, or offer flextime to attend the classes. Others may provide learning opportunities on-site. Unions and professional organizations sometimes sponsor continuing education. Check with your company for its policies.

Most colleges and universities also offer flexible, cost-effective training programs to meet employer needs.

Can displaced homemakers receive assistance?

Displaced homemakers are individuals who are forced into the workforce because they are divorced, widowed, or supporting a spouse who is disabled or economically dependent. Special programs may be available for job training, career counseling, day care and transportation. Enrollment in these programs is limited and based on need.

Some non-profit organizations also help displaced homemakers transition into the workforce.

Do colleges offer child day care?

Many colleges and universities provide students with child care options right on campus. Others have coordinating offices, listing child care available near campus. Contact the college you plan to attend for details.

Are there special services for adults with disabilities?

Colleges have disability services offices to ensure people with disabilities can access college programs, services and activities. Based on documented limitations, colleges provide reasonable accommodation. Services may include interpreting, note taking, textbooks on tape, exam accommodations and adaptive technology.

Policies on accessing these services vary from campus to campus. Disclosure of a disability is handled in confidence.

Do senior citizens receive a discount on tuition?

Many colleges allow seniors to audit classes for free or at reduced rates. And public colleges in some states waive tuition altogether for seniors. Contact your local college for details.

Are there financial aid programs for veterans attending college?

Yes. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs office at 888-574-7286. You can also contact the campus veterans affairs office at your college. Each campus has a veterans affairs certifying official who can tell you about the educational benefits of the GI Bill. Learn more about the GI Bill at:

Veterans may be eligible for other financial aid as well. Like all students, veterans must apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Complete the FAFSA online.

What if I need retraining before I can get a job?

Many colleges work closely with businesses and industries to develop short-term programs designed to meet workforce needs.

What if I don't have a high school diploma?

Admission standards vary at different colleges and universities. Some have an open admission policy. Others require a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. Some colleges also provide GED-preparation programs and administer GED tests on-site. Contact the admissions office at the college you wish to attend for more information.

What if I need remedial help?

At most colleges, you'll need to take a placement test to determine your starting point in college. For instance, placement tests help to determine which math or English classes you should take first. Before starting college-level coursework, many students need to brush up on their reading, writing or math skills. Many colleges, particularly community colleges, offer students remedial or developmental courses.

I'm from a foreign country, but I live in the United States. I do not read or write English well. Can I return to school?

Most high schools offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses as part of their adult education programs. Students learn the basics of speaking, reading, writing, mathematics and citizenship. Community colleges also offer ESL programs and tutoring services.

How do I choose a college or university?

Before choosing a college, you'll probably want to consider costs, the programs offered, location and other factors.

Explore Schools for school details, such as tuition costs, financial aid, size, academics and student life. You can also Explore Programs and Majors. Then visit the websites of the colleges that interest you to learn more.

Can I transfer credits that I have earned over the years to a current degree program?

Your current college decides which courses transfer. Colleges have different rules on transferring credits. Most colleges limit the number of credits you can transfer, and the length of time that can pass since you earned your credits.

Also, the credits you earned at your first school may not necessarily count toward your current degree. Check with your school's academic advisors for details.

In addition, most colleges have a "residency requirement," meaning you must take a certain number of credits at that college in order to graduate. The number varies from 15 to 45 credits.

Why can't I just take courses that interest me?

You're free to do this; however, your courses may not lead to a degree or certificate. Colleges and universities develop learning plans, with specific required courses, to prepare students for success.

If you want to earn a degree or certificate, talk to a college advisor to find out about the degree programs offered, and the courses required. You can also Explore Programs and Majors to learn more.

What's the difference between an undergraduate and graduate degree?

An undergraduate degree is a student's first degree -- typically a bachelor's degree. A graduate degree is an advanced degree, with the general requirement that students must have already earned an undergraduate degree.

Students can earn the following degrees:

  • Associate degree, requiring 60 to 69 credits
  • Bachelor's degree, requiring at least 120 credits
  • Master's degree, requiring 30 to 60 credits beyond a bachelor's degree
  • Doctoral degree, requiring about 30 credits beyond the master's degree


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