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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 been working for five years or fifteen.

Finding the Right Degree Completion Program

Finding the right program for you requires asking the right questions. Whether it's researching cost 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. Some careers require specific degrees (like social work and education) while other careers allow more general degrees. What do you want to pursue a degree in?

What’s important to you in a degree completion 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. The root of a university’s mission impacts the curriculum, faculty, and outcomes of the program you choose. What kind of mission is important to you?

Different programs have different expectations outside of the classroom. With your current job and family responsibilities, how much can you expect to contribute outside of class time? Be sure you’re asking the programs you connect with what kind of schedule you can expect.

To figure out how a program can fit into your life, ask yourself what format 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 format and schedule you choose, so take some time to consider your options.

For more insight into choosing programs, download our Take the First Step eBook. You'll find valuable insights about deciding whether to go back to school, variables to consider when choosing a program, and how to decide if a school is financially a good fit. It also offers guidance on the different modalities, or teaching formats, 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, many forms of financial aid and tuition assistance are available to students, and some are only offered to adults finishing their degrees.

Tuition assistance comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are some general examples of how students finance their degree completion: 


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 on scholarship applications. 


Like scholarships, grants are contributions towards your tuition. While most grants don’t require you to pay them back, some exceptions exist. Similar to scholarships, grants often require applications and eligibility requirements. To see if you qualify for any federal grants, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Loans (FAFSA). You may be eligible for grants like the Federal Pell Grant or other federal aid money. 


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. . Like federal grants, you can apply for federal student loans through the FAFSA.

Military Benefits

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, awarding you 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.

Determining your eligibility may require some standardized testing, challenge examinations, or a portfolio assessment. CPL will 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 into credit for particular courses in your college program?

For more help with CPLs, download our CPL Toolkit.

[DC] [BLOG] Post #5 - Credit for Prior Learning eBook CTA

The Adult Degree Completion Program at Southern

If you’re looking for an adult degree completion program to finish what you started and catapult your career, consider Southern Adventist University. Our programs value practical knowledge and expertise that will apply directly to your career from day one. 

Our programs are flexible, built to work with your schedule, even as it changes. Each week you will decide how you’ll engage with your course work and classes, from online learning to in-person sessions.

Southern is affordable, with no hidden fees, 10% lower costs per credit than some regional programs, and flexible billing options. We know that going back to school can be expensive. We want to remove financial barriers to help you focus on finishing your degree. 

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!