How To Go To College As An Adult: 9 Strategies To Be Successful

Are you wondering how to go back to college as an adult? Learn how to offset costs and seek tuition assistance as a working adult.

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Are you wondering how to go to college as an adult? Learn how to offset costs and seek tuition assistance as a working adult.

Many of us think of college as our glory days. We remember the feeling of being young and alive, meeting new friends, experiencing new places, staying up late to study, and sensing the sweet taste of accomplishment when we receive that passing grade.

The collegiate chapter of our lives contains many memories for those who were fortunate enough to attend, however, a large portion of Americans don’t have the same privilege. Many of the people who have not graduated from college lack a degree not because they just didn’t want one, but because life somehow got in the way.

It might be that an applicant was not accepted into a university because the educational upbringing failed to set them up for success. They might have enrolled in school, eager to advance their academic career, but were forced to drop out and care for dependent family members instead. Or, maybe financial constraints prevented them from even considering the tuition requirement for higher education.

Whatever the case may be, many adults do not have a college degree—which can be a major detriment to achieving financial success and enjoying a comfortable quality of life. Even though a growing number of companies, including many in tech, are dropping the requirement for a bachelor’s degree for many middle-skill and even higher-skill roles, a college degree is important to many people.

Workers without either are severely limited in their employment options, often earning significantly less than their degree-holding counterparts. They also have less access to retirement plans and health care coverage, which has long-lasting consequences for their personal and financial well-being.

Thankfully, college enrollment is not restricted by age or family size; it’s entirely possible for adults to go back to school and take control over their future, no matter how old they are or how many children they have.

More and more Americans are empowering themselves and bettering their circumstances by returning to school and pursuing higher education later in life. According to a recent report published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment rates among older adults are on the rise.

There’s one major setback that makes prospective students pause, though: how to fit their aspiring academic program into their current budget. Going back to school requires more than just willpower; it requires resources to learn, transportation to commute, and time to study.

If you’ve recently thought about pursuing a training program, certification, or collegiate degree, but are concerned about how you can make it work financially, keep reading. Today’s post is all about advice on how to go back to school and budget accordingly so you can advance your education without breaking the bank.

Who Should Go Back to College as an Adult?

There are many reasons why someone might decide to go back to college as an adult. Perhaps you’re looking to change careers, or you want to improve your job prospects. Maybe you didn’t have the opportunity to finish your degree the first time around, or you’re simply curious about learning something new.

Whatever your reason, going back to college as an adult can be a great decision. But it’s not always easy.

Here are a few things to consider before making the decision to return to college:

  • Are you prepared for the challenge? Going back to school as an adult can be a big adjustment. You’ll likely be balancing work and family commitments with your studies. You’ll need to be organized and motivated to succeed.
  • Do you have the time? Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to find the time to attend classes and complete assignments. If you have young children or a demanding job, going back to school might not be the right decision for you.
  • Can you afford it? Tuition, fees, and other costs can add up quickly. Make sure you have a plan in place to cover the cost of your education before making the decision to go back to school.
  • What are your goals? Before enrolling in college, take some time to think about your goals. Are you looking to change careers? Improve your job prospects? Learn something new? By being clear about your goals, you can choose a program of study that will help you achieve them.
  • What type of school is right for you? There are many different types of colleges and universities, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Research the different options to find the one that’s right for you.

If you’re considering going back to college as an adult, these are just a few things to keep in mind. It’s important to do your research and make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. But if you’re up for the challenge, going back to school can be a great decision.

9 Strategies for Adults Going Back to College

Many adult students are seeking higher education and have aspiring educational goals. Are you one of them? Learn how to go back to school as an adult with these 9 strategies.

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Strategy 1: Define your goals

Before you even begin the process of going back to college as an adult, it’s important that you sit down and define your goals. What are you hoping to achieve by completing a degree? Is it a promotion at work or a pay raise? Are you looking to change careers entirely? Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can begin to tailor your college experience to help you achieve them.

Strategy 2: Estimate Your Expenses

Budgeting your money is all about cash flow and weighing the money coming in versus money going out. Before you enroll in a program, take a look at your bank statements over the past few months to see how much income you earn. Be sure to include any non-taxable sources of income you may receive, such as alimony or child support.

Hopefully, you already know your estimated cost of living, as well as how much money you can allocate to savings and discretionary spending per month. If not, now’s the time to calculate non-negotiable expenses (such as rent, insurance, groceries, and so forth) to determine the amount of room within your budget that can go toward school.

Next, tally up the expenses required by the program you hope to pursue. Even if you don’t have concrete costs dialed down quite yet, creating a list is a great starting place to begin running through the type of financial coverage you’ll need.

Here are a few common examples you may want to consider depending on your situation:

  • Tuition
  • Enrollment fees
  • Online registration
  • Course materials (books, reference guides, learning modules)
  • School supplies (backpack, notebooks, pens, paper, scantrons, etc.)
  • Tools and technology (laptop, calculator, printer, etc.)
  • Transportation
  • Parking pass

Parents who are debating school may also need to include the cost of a babysitter if their program will impact their parental duties. There are so many variables that can affect the costs you may face, so it’s important to thoroughly think these through when creating a budget.

Strategy 3: Offset Costs

Now that you have an idea of the expenses involved with higher education, you can start searching for opportunities to save and how to budget in college. Going back to school is much more challenging for low-income adults who express greater concern for how attending college will impact their ability to afford food and transportation.

It may take some creativity, but here are some tips on how you may be able to cut costs to make school more affordable within your budget:

  • Research repayment programs available to low-income students.
  • Minimize enrollment fees by taking more classes per semester so that you can finish faster.
  • Rent used textbooks to avoid the purchase price; if that’s not an option, sell your materials back to the school in order to recover some of the cost.
  • Shop school supplies through retailers who offer discounts to students.
  • Commute to school by bicycle or public transit.
  • If public transportation is not available, cut down on the cost of gas by carpooling with neighbors in your area.
  • Avoid eating expensive meals on campus by packing snacks and lunch every day.
  • Apply for food stamps for financial assistance at the grocery store
  • Save on childcare by forming a study group with similar parents and rotate the responsibility to supervise.

Strategy 4: Seek Tuition Assistance

Almost always, the largest education expense faced by students is the cost of tuition which usually means having to take out student loans. While your program’s price tag may seem insurmountable, there are strategies that may relieve your financial burden:

  • State- and federally sponsored programs may reduce or cover a portion of tuition.
  • Grants may be given to students who demonstrate hardship.
  • Many private companies and nonprofit organizations award scholarships to hopeful applicants.
  • Some employers offer tuition assistance to adult employees returning to school.
  • Students may be able to offset tuition costs through Work Placement programs.
  • Financial aid is available in the form of student loans that you can repay over time.

It is always wise to minimize debt, but sometimes private student loans are the only option for students who can’t afford tuition. Don’t let this be a deal-breaker; the new career opportunities available to you upon completion of school will likely come with a higher pay grade that’ll make timely loan payments much more possible.

Strategy 5: Proactively Manage Your Time and Workload

As an adult student, you likely have other commitments outside of school that can make it difficult to juggle everything. That’s why it’s important to be proactive about managing your time and workload.

This means creating a schedule for yourself and sticking to it as much as possible. Dedicate certain days and times of the week to completing your coursework, and make sure to leave some wiggle room in case something comes up.

It can also be helpful to break down your assignments into smaller tasks so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

One way to do this is to create a schedule or timeline for each task or project you need to complete. This will help you break down what needs to be done and when, so you can better plan your time.

In addition, be sure to set aside time each week to review your workload and plan for the upcoming week. This will help you stay on top of things and avoid getting overwhelmed.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There are plenty of resources available to help adult students succeed in college.

Strategy 6: Get Involved on Campus

Your next strategy for adult learners and is to get involved on campus.

There are many benefits to getting involved in college activities, including building new relationships, developing leadership skills, and feeling more connected to your school.

Plus, research has shown that adult students who are actively involved in their college experience tend to be more successful both academically and professionally.

So how can you get involved on campus?

One way is to join a student organization that aligns with your interests. There are organizations for just about everything, so you’re sure to find one that’s a good fit for you.

Another option is to get involved in campus events and activities. Attend lectures, performances, and other events that appeal to you. You can also volunteer for campus committees or organizations.

Finally, consider taking on a leadership role in a campus organization. This is a great way to build your resume and gain valuable experience.

Strategy 7: Seek Out Mentors and Role Models

One of the best ways to learn how to be successful in college for adult learners is to find mentors and role models who can guide you. These people can offer advice and support, and help you navigate the challenges of college life.

There are many ways to find mentors and role models. You can start by reaching out to your professors, advisers, or other adults you trust. You can also look for programs and organizations that support adult students.

In addition, don’t be afraid to ask your peers for advice and support. There are likely many other adult students in your situation who can relate to what you’re going through.

Finally, remember that you can also be a mentor or role model for other adult students. As you learn and grow, you can help others who are just starting out on their own college journey.

Strategy 8: Seek Out Support When You Need It

There will be times when adult learners need extra support to help you succeed in college. When this happens, don’t be afraid to seek out help from your professors, advisers, or other campus resources.

There are also many online resources available to help adult students succeed in college. These can be a great way to get advice and support when you need it.

It can also be helpful to break down your assignments into smaller tasks so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. Many colleges have programs and services specifically designed to help adult students succeed. These resources can provide you with the support you need to stay on track and achieve your goals.

Strategy 9: Don’t Forget to Enjoy Life

While it’s important to focus on your studies, don’t forget to enjoy life outside of school. College is a time to explore new things, make new friends, and have new experiences.

So go out and enjoy everything that college has to offer. Take advantage of campus events, join student organizations, and participate in activities you enjoy.

And don’t forget to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Make time for relaxation and self-care, and reach out for help if you’re struggling.


Can you go back to college later in life?

It’s never too late to go back to college. You can attend college at any age, and there are many resources available to help adult students succeed.

What are the benefits of going to college as an adult?

There are many benefits of going to college as an adult. College can help you earn a higher salary, obtain better job opportunities, and improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

What are the challenges of going to college as an adult?

Some of the challenges of going to college as an adult include managing a family and work life, paying for tuition, and balancing school with other responsibilities. However, there are many resources available to help adult students overcome these challenges.

What are some tips for success in college?

Some tips for success in college include creating a schedule, setting aside time each week to plan and study, seeking out mentors and role models, and taking advantage of campus resources. Additionally, it’s important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.


Attending college as an adult can be a daunting task, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience. By following the strategies in this article, you can set yourself up for success and make the most of your college experience.

There are many challenges that come with attending college as an adult student. However, by being proactive and taking advantage of available resources, you can overcome these challenges and be successful in college.

So what are you waiting for? Get started on your college journey today!

2023 could be the decade to define yourself—use this advice to consider your options and create the future you’ve always envisioned.

Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs helps you discover clever ways to pay off student loans, make extra money, save money, be resourceful and stay curious. With over 10 years of experience in the financial industry, Brian has developed a reputation for his in-depth knowledge and practical approach to personal finance. He holds a bachelor's degree in Finance and has been recognized by several industry organizations for his contributions to the field. Brian is passionate about educating people about personal finance and has been featured in several national media outlets, including Insider, AOL, Discover, and Yahoo! Finance. With his unique perspective and proven track record, Brian Meiggs is a trusted voice in the world of personal finance.