Thinking of going back to school? A checklist for adult learners.

By Erin Eagan

Adult learners, also called non-traditional students, come from a variety of backgrounds — all with their own unique reasons for delayed enrollment. Some have been at home raising a family, while others have been in the workforce but are looking for a career change. Many never got the chance to go to college, or even earn a high school diploma. Regardless of their situation, one thing that unites them all is a desire to further their education and better their lives.

With flexibility, affordable tuition and a hands-on, practical approach to learning, technical colleges are by far the most popular choice for adult learners. If this is the path for you, here is a simple step-by-step checklist to follow as you embark on an exciting new chapter in your life.

____  First and foremost, if you haven’t done so already, consider a few different career options. You don’t have to make any final decisions at this point, but start to narrow your focus. Where do your interests and passions lie? How might those translate into a career? To help you get started, take this Career Interest Questionnaire.

____ Visit a technical college in your area and make an appointment with student services or a guidance counselor to discuss the different program options. While you're there, check out the campus and facilities, talk with students about their experiences as well as instructors about what to expect. Arm yourself with all the knowledge you possibly can.

____ Once you have a college picked out, fill out an admission application. This can be done online for all 16 of Wisconsin’s technical colleges. If you run into trouble at any point along the way, experts at each college are available to help you navigate through the process.

____ Apply for financial aid. Start with the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For further assistance, contact your college’s financial aid department. There is no age limit for federal or state aid. Every little bit helps.

____ Earn credit for what you already know or have accomplished. Before you begin selecting courses, explore options to earn college credit from prior learning or by taking an assessment.

____ Decide whether you’ll be attending full-time or part-time. Make an appointment with an advisor or counselor to help you choose a class schedule and make a realistic graduation plan.

____ Finally, sign up for classes!

It’s okay if the thought of going back to school has you wrought with nerves. Richard Faith, a non-traditional Surgical Technology student from Waukesha County Technical College, knows the feeling first-hand. "My first day of school … I think everyone in my class could have been my child, from an age standpoint,” says Faith.

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Richard Faith (left), a student at WCTC, went back to school as an adult to get his degree in Surgical Technology.

Just remember, what you as an adult have over the younger students is life experience that will prove invaluable in terms of time management, handling finances and other responsibilities that come with going back to school. With that as a head start, there’s no need to feel intimidated. Who knows, they may end up coming to you for advice!

“I would encourage every student, no matter what their age is, to come back into the college system because it is inviting for everyone. Instructors, typically my experience has been, are more favorable and more encouraging to the older student and they push us to continue and let us know that we can do it,” Faith concludes.