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Going Back to School: Working Adults Returning to College

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You’re in a career you love but want to move up the ladder. You’re stuck in what feels like a dead-end job and want to jump ship, but you don’t know where you’ll land. You love learning and are longing for the chance to challenge yourself and learn something new. You recognize the world is changing quickly, and you want to have the latest skills to keep up.


Does one or more of these statements apply to you? If so, you can consider going back to school as an adult. Earning an online degree as a working adult can be the catalyst for entering an exhilarating journey, one that has the potential to advance your skills and position, boost your salary, or support a whole new career path. And if you choose to take this journey, you’ll be in good company. In 2020, 7.5 million students 25 years old and over enrolled in college.


From test-taking tips to how to talk to your supervisor about going back to school, this guide will help you take the first step toward the college experience, taking courses, and embracing a whole new chapter in your life as a working adult returning to college.


Discover the following sections of this guide:


Benefits of Online College for Working Adults

Don’t live near a campus or have time to commute? That’s no longer a barrier for adults returning to college. An increasing number of online degree and certificate programs are offered by well-established and reputable nonprofit universities. These programs are ideal for working adults and other learners who are seeking a more convenient way to complete their schooling. Here are a few reasons why online college is a great option for adults going to school and working full time.


When you’re taking online classes, you typically don’t have to worry about making it to class on time. Online classes that are offered in asynchronous formats provide flexibility, enabling you to finish coursework on your own schedule within provided time frames each week. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, or only have time to complete coursework on weekends, online classes are usually always accessible.


While there are deadlines to meet and scheduled exams, online classes offer the convenience to schedule your schooling when it works for you. Furthermore, you can choose how many courses you want to take at a time, or pursue your degree part time to continue working.

Learning from Home

Learning from home may help save you both time and money. You likely already commute to work; why add more travel time, gas money, or transit fares into your day? Online courses provide virtual classrooms that allow you to interact with your instructors and classmates — from the comfort of your home, office, or anywhere.

Potential for Increased Salary and Job Status

Extra education can lead to better job and financial prospects, as many employers will recognize and appreciate your commitment to furthering your education and learning new skills. You may also be fortunate enough to work for a company that offers to cover some or all of your tuition if your coursework is related to your current role. If you’re looking to move into management, for example, higher education may enable you to earn the qualifications to make that leap.

Greater Financial Freedom

It may not be financially feasible for you to quit your job and go to school full time. An online degree program gives you the flexibility to pursue a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate while maintaining your regular work schedule.


Not having to register for a full course load all at once means you can pursue your education in a time frame that allows you to effectively balance not only your work/life schedule, but also your checkbook. There are also many scholarships available for adults returning to college.


To search for college scholarships, check out the following websites:


Networking Opportunities

As an adult going back to college, you’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020, 38% of college students were 25 years old and over. Going back to school can help you establish or expand professional networks and meet new people in new industries.

Ability to Explore a Career Transition

Are you considering making the leap into a new career or industry? Taking classes online allows you to gain the skills and education you’ll need to transition into a new field while maintaining your current job.

Improving Your Technical Skills

If it’s been a while since you were last in school, you’ll likely notice technology has changed quite a bit. When enrolled in an online degree program, you may be required to use different learning management systems, as well as other computer and online programs that may be unfamiliar to you. Improved computer literacy can benefit you in the digitally connected world in which we live.

Going to School and Working Full Time

Working full time and going to school has its own set of challenges. Time management will become a crucial element to your success at work, home, and school. You will also have to learn to balance deadlines, multiple assignments, and exams. Here are some tips that can help you effectively balance the demands of work, home, and school.

Managing Your Time

As a working adult returning to college, you’ll need both time and commitment. That’s one of the reasons why online schooling is such a fitting option if you’re working full time. These are some things that can help you become a time management pro as you navigate this new chapter in your life.


  • Get a day planner or scheduling app. Catalog all your to-dos for school, work, and the rest of your day in one place so you always have an idea of what’s on your plate and how much time you’ll need to dedicate to each task.
  • Make lists. One exam, two papers, an approaching deadline at work … where do you begin? Once you’ve listed everything that’s coming up in the next few days, week, or month, you’ll be better prepared to determine which tasks need your immediate attention and which ones can wait.
  • Prioritize to stay on track. You may encounter situations where it simply isn’t possible to get everything done at once. In these situations, consider what is most important to you. Start there, and work on your tasks in order of priority.
  • Be realistic with the demands on your time. You may not be able to grab after-work drinks or dinner with colleagues or friends as often as you used to. Consider time-blocking in your schedule: Set out specific blocks of time during each day or week to devote to certain tasks, whether that’s housework, exam prep, or simply relaxing and spending time with friends and family.

Time Management and Planning Apps

iStudiez Pro


  • Track your schedule, homework, and grades
  • Free cloud sync
  • Available on macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS




  • Create task lists and projects, and keep track of deadlines and goals
  • Integrates as browser extension or email plugin
  • Available on macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS




  • Manage class schedules and assignments, with categorization and prioritization features
  • Syncs across devices
  • Available on macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, Chrome, and Kindle Fire

Stress-Free Schooling

There are a number of things you can do to help ensure your going back to school as an adult doesn’t add additional stress to your life.


  • Form study groups. There’s a good chance that other people in your program are in a situation that’s similar to yours: going to work full time and balancing those demands with school. By connecting with those people — even virtually — you can ask questions about coursework, get support when needed, and develop a sense of community.
  • Approach test-taking with a sense of calm. Exams and other tests can certainly heighten your stress levels, but it’s also possible to reduce those anxieties. When you’re taking a test, take your time. Read the instructions — and the questions — carefully. Answer the questions you know first, and then return to focus on the more difficult ones.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Have a few pending assignments, including one that you really don’t want to complete? Do that one first, and feel the stress lift off your shoulders.

Apps for Studying and Note Taking



  • Organize notes, screen clippings, and media files
  • Notebooks, tags, and highlighting and drawing features
  • Available on Google Play, Microsoft, and the App Store




  • Collect multiple file types including PDFs, screen clippings, emails, and cloud files
  • Syncing, clipping, and searching features
  • Available on Google Play, Microsoft, and the App Store




  • Create and share study materials, track progress, set reminders, and create custom quizzes
  • Crowdsourced library of over 400 million flashcards, notes, and study guides created by students
  • Available on Google Play and the App Store

Maintaining Healthy Habits

When you’re working and going to school, it’s easy to let some basic things fall by the wayside. However, this busy schedule means that maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough become particularly important. Proper sleep and nutrition can increase your test-taking success, and exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, relax your mind, and refresh your focus.

Keeping Open Lines of Communication

As a working adult returning to college, going back to school will be a change not only for you, but also for your family and colleagues. That’s why it’s important to have open communication with everyone in your life about what you’re doing.


Talk with your supervisor and explain that you’ve enrolled in some classes or a degree program. Be sure to reassure your boss that your new adventure won’t detract from the quality of your work. That openness may lead to extra support or flexibility from your supervisor, and your company may have financial support to offer as well.


At home, the way you spend your time may shift. Rather than relaxing after dinner with your spouse or children, you may have coursework to complete. Some weekend chores may need to be postponed while you’re finishing an assignment. Additionally, your friends may wonder why you’re suddenly less available. Be proud of your commitment to your education, and be sure to let those who are important to you know about this exciting development.

Types of Degree Programs for Working Adults

Most working adults don’t have the time to attend a university or college full time or enroll in a traditional degree program. Fortunately for adults like you who are interested in getting back to the books, there are some more flexible options out there.

Online Degree Programs

It’s possible to earn your degree without setting foot on a university or college campus. Many schools offer degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate level that are 100% online. These programs are ideal for working adults who don’t have the time to get to campus and prefer to pursue their studies from home.

Accelerated Degree Programs

Many schools offer an accelerated degree program that allows students to complete their degrees in a much shorter time than usual. Classes run year-round, with no breaks between semesters. These types of programs — where you can earn a degree in as little as 12 to 18 months — are worth considering if you are looking to get in, get your degree, and get out.

Weekend/Evening Classes

Weekend and evening classes offer working adults the opportunity to complete their courses without having to disrupt their regular work schedules. By enrolling in one or two courses per semester, adult learners can effectively balance the demands of a full-time job with their studies. These types of classes are right for you if you are seeking a way to attend classes in person while still going to work.

Blended Learning

A blended degree program gives you the best of both worlds, as you get the face-to-face interaction of on-campus schooling and the flexibility afforded by online coursework. A blended degree program is ideal if you desire in-person interactions with your peers and instructors, as well as the ability to work online from home or your office. Many blended programs feature an on-campus portion of the semester, which is then followed by online course completion.

Flexible Degree Programs

Flexible programs offer more than one way for you to earn your degrees. Traditional degree programs often have students complete their studies in a set time frame, such as two to four years. But with a flexible program, the time frame is a little more open. Some programs, for instance, offer the opportunity to complete a degree program in five years instead of four. A flexible time frame like this allows a student to spread out their courses, making it a little easier to balance work and personal responsibilities.

Returning to School After COVID-19

As public health officials determine when it’s safe for students and teachers to be in contact after COVID-19, elementary schools, high schools, and colleges will fully reopen. Many institutions and students, however, may realize that the online experience provides benefits when compared to in-person instruction. Whether you’re a working adult returning to college in an online environment, or taking classes in person, here are a few tips that can help keep you safe and healthy.

Tip #1: Anticipate a New Normal

Going back to school as an adult already comes with its own challenges. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been in a classroom environment, and you might not be used to sitting at a desk and listening to a lecture. If you’re earning an online degree, you might not be used to taking online quizzes or watching online lectures.


On top of adjusting to a college setting, you’ll need to anticipate a new standard of normalcy. If your classes are in person, you may be required to socially distance from others and wear a mask. It’s important for you to regularly wash your hands, take your temperature, and sit or stand six feet away from your instructor and classmates.


If you’re enrolled in online courses that meet regularly for synchronous classes, you may need to participate in video meetings for several hours each week. If you take asynchronous online classes and work at your own pace, you may not have too much of an adjustment. However, carving out time every day to read, finish homework, take quizzes, or write essays is important.

Tip #2: Do Your Best to Focus

COVID-19 has caused a lot of people to feel burdened by extra stress. According to the World Economic Forum, approximately 114 million Americans lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Perhaps you or a loved one temporarily or permanently lost a job at some point in 2020. Perhaps the reason you’re earning a degree is to make yourself more competitive in the job market and obtain more job security.


On the other hand, maybe you’ve been able to keep your job and work from home during COVID-19. Maybe you’re looking to earn a degree because you would like to enhance your skills in your current field or change your line of work completely.


Whatever the case may be, it can be easy to lose focus as you think about all the situations and events taking place around you. Do your best to focus on your coursework as you balance life, work, and college.

Tip #3: Take Breaks

One of the ways to be successful in the post-COVID-19 college environment is to take breaks. You may have gotten used to working from home, or simply having more downtime in your schedule. Working full time as well as enrolling in college can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re both working and going to school in person, and may require building relaxation time into your day.


If you’re working remotely and taking online classes, it’s just as important to take breaks. After you finish watching a lecture, taking a quiz, or completing a module, reward yourself. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, play a card game with a family member, or learn how to bake a new treat. Taking a break from your work — and indulging in a little self-care — can help you in the long run and be good for your mental health.

Take Control of Your Future

You want to move up that corporate ladder or do something completely different in your career. So why not climb higher through education?


To learn more about how you can start the process of going back to school for a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree, do your research and contact an enrollment advisor today. With the support of friends and family, financial assistance from various organizations, and the guidance of a school counselor and enrollment advisor, you’ll be well prepared to take control of your future as a working adult returning to college.

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