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How to Go Back to School as an Adult: The Beginner’s Guide

Returning to school after spending some time in the workforce can be daunting. It may have been a while since you were learning in a classroom environment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed at a university. We’ve got all the tips you’ll need to succeed as an adult going back to school, whether you’ve worked for five years or fifteen.

Finding the Right Program for You

Discerning the right program for you requires asking and answering the right questions. Whether it's researching program size or general career outcomes, making the best choice for your goals is a big part of returning to school.

One of the best ways to determine if a program works for you is to think through your interests, both personally and professionally. If you have a general degree, you’ll have more freedom in picking a new program. However, specific fields of study are also valuable in academic fields and can help you narrow down your program options.

What’s important to you in a program? Determining the core values of any given program and the types of approaches they use to accomplish these values is another good way to decide if it would be a good fit for you.

Another question to consider is how much help you need regarding coursework—thinking back to how your academics in high school or your early college years went might help here. Beyond just the available help for your courses, you should consider what your schedule outside of the classroom looks like. Prioritizing school work in addition to your other responsibilities will be an adjustment, so be sure to understand the time and energy necessary for each course so you don’t overload yourself.

In addition to questions about help with a program, ask yourself what modality you prefer. Part-time or full-time? Would you like to be in-person or remote? How far are you willing to commute if your classes meet in person? The day-to-day of your family, school, work and life balance will look drastically different based on which modality and schedule you choose, so take some time to consider your options.

Not all programs are equal, even if the cost on the surface is close. Some programs offer more support and instruction; in others, you are primarily on your own and guiding yourself through course materials.

For more insight into choosing programs, download our Take the First Step eBook. It houses invaluable insights into deciding whether you should go back to school, variables to consider when choosing a program, and how to count the cost of school financially. It also offers guidance on the different modalities available to students today, so you’ll be well informed to choose the best path for you.

How to Finish Your Degree Guide

Learning How to Make College More Affordable

While college is a significant investment in your future, nothing says you have to pay entirely out-of-pocket. Many forms of financial aid and tuition assistance are available to students, and some are explicitly offered to adults finishing their degrees.

Tuition assistance comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are some general examples of what help financing your degree can look like:


Usually granted based on academic merit, particular circumstances, and other achievements, scholarships are monetary gifts towards your tuition costs that you don’t have to pay back. They are the ideal form of assistance since there’s no pressure to return the aid received. There are many kinds of scholarships for just about anything you can imagine, so do your research and think about what life experiences you’ve had that would make you stand out and eligible for scholarships.


Like scholarships, grants are contributions towards your tuition. While most grants don’t require you to pay them back, some exceptions exist. A significant grant to consider as an adult returning to school is the Federal Pell Grant. Grants require you to meet the eligibility requirements, just like scholarships do.


Student loans are another way to pay for college, though they’re not as ideal as scholarships and grants because you must repay them. Loans can be an effective way to pay for college in the short term, but be sure you understand the interest rates and duration of the loan before you sign off on it.

Military financial aid

Just as special grants and scholarships are available for adults returning to school, special grants and financial aid opportunities are available to military veterans. If you’ve served, it’s worth looking into your options and seeing if you qualify for any assistance offered.

You can find more insights regarding funding your education in our blog post, 3 Tips for Financing Your Adult Degree Program.


You May be Eligible to Earn Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)

Some universities offer college credit for life experience, in which they award course credit for life experience. The main goal of CPL is to convert your knowledge into academic credit to help you finish your degree faster. You’ll work directly with faculty to see if you qualify.

Though CPL is an excellent opportunity to shorten your time spent in classrooms, it is not just filling out a form of prior work experience. Determining your eligibility may require some standardized testing, challenge examinations, or a portfolio assessment. This process is where faculty assistance comes in handy, as they can help you work through the CPL applications and help you submit your best work. CPL will also not cover all the necessary credits, but it might help lighten your overall credit load.

To determine whether or not you qualify for CPL, research what your university offers credit for and think through your life experiences. What unique aspects of your education or work experience could translate well into credit for particular courses in your college program?

For more help with CPLs, download our CPL Toolkit.

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The Adult Degree Completion Program at Southern

If you’re looking for an adult degree completion program that works with you to make the most of your past experiences and future successes, consider Southern Adventist University. Our programs are full of practical knowledge and expertise that will apply directly to your career from day one. With programs including Business Management to Psychology, let Southern help you reach your career goals and finish your degree.

Our program is flexible, built to work with your schedule, even as it changes. Each week you get to pick how you’ll engage with your course work and classes, from online learning to in-person sessions once a week. We want to see you succeed, and everyone on our team, from admissions counselors to faculty, is excited to work with you and see you excel in your program.

Southern is also affordable, with no hidden fees, 10 percent lower costs per credit than some regional programs, and flexible billing options. We know that going back to school can be expensive, so we want to alleviate headaches and help you focus on finishing your degree. For more information on our unique offerings, visit our tuition overview page.

Ready to turn your passions into a degree?

If you’re ready to take the next step in your academic and professional journey, Southern Adventist University is excited to walk with you. Schedule a meeting with us to chat through your options, or if you’re prepared to start right now, you can apply here.



Request More Information

To learn more about the adult degree completion program, financial aid, admissions, or anything else about Southern, fill out the form below and our team will reach out to you with more information!