Going back to college can be a worthwhile experience, but finishing a degree isn’t always easy. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, around 850,000 adult learners who originally left school without earning a degree re-enrolled in 2021. However, one out of three returning students left again within one year, without a college degree.
Adult learners face many challenges that can disrupt their educational journeys. But everyone can accomplish their goals with the right knowledge and support. Discover some of the common obstacles you may encounter when you return to college and strategies that will help you overcome them.
The Unique Challenges for Returning Students
Returning students often feel highly motivated to finish their degree, but they may encounter barriers that make it difficult to persevere. Here are four obstacles that adult learners face:
- Family responsibilities: The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that 22% of undergraduate students are parents, and 53% of these learners have children younger than the age of 6. Many adult learners find it challenging to balance parenthood and schoolwork, and a lack of access to childcare can force students to miss class.
- Financial limitations: According to a recent survey by Trellis Research, 52% of students who are 25 and older struggle to focus on school due to financial distress. Expenses like day care, medical bills, and mortgages can stretch your bank account to the limit and leave little money for college tuition.
- First-generation status: 41% of college students in Mississippi are first-generation, according to data sourced by Forbes Advisor from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. First-gen students are less likely to graduate and may find it more challenging to navigate college without parental guidance.
- Work demands: The National Center for Education Statistics found that 56% of full-time students and 85% of part-time students who are 25 to 39 have jobs. Adult learners often need to stay employed to pay their bills, but a recent study found that working students are 20% less likely to graduate than their non-working peers.
5 Keys to Finishing a Degree as a Returning Student
Going back to school as an adult might be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. These handy tips and tricks will help you maintain a high quality of life throughout your academic journey.
1. Balancing Work, Family, and Education
Prioritizing your homework may feel impossible when you need to cook dinner, walk the dog, and answer work emails. These strategies can help you achieve the perfect balance:
- Choose online classes to eliminate travel time.
- Prioritize your to-do list and tackle the most important tasks first.
- Set a timer for tasks like cleaning and completing low-stakes assignments.
- Prepare your meals in advance to save time during the week.
- Delegate chores to family members.
2. Overcoming Financial Barriers by Exploring Grant Opportunities
Many organizations offer financial assistance for adult college students. Your college may provide grants based on academic achievement or financial need. Also, nonprofit groups and private foundations often give grants to students who meet specific criteria and those with certain majors.
Additionally, you can visit the Mississippi Office of Student Financial Aid to explore student aid in the state. Students who participate in the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program must apply for state financial aid through a specific link. A C2C Coach can help you navigate this process.
3. Developing Effective Study Strategies for Busy Adults
Use smart study methods to make the most of your limited time. These tips can help you stay on top of your homework:
- Study in short bursts when you have downtime.
- Use memorization methods like drawing diagrams and associating concepts with acronyms.
- Take frequent breaks to let your brain process information.
- Study with a friend or group to stay accountable.
- Avoid multitasking during online courses to maintain your focus.
4. Finding Support Systems Within Your Community
A strong support system gives you a safe space to vent and a shoulder to lean on when you face challenges. Discuss your educational journey with your coworkers, family, and friends. They may be willing to help if you need extra childcare or coverage at work when school gets hectic.
You should also make an effort to build relationships with your peers. For example, online students can schedule weekly virtual study sessions. Your academic advisors can also help you find adult learner organizations, which several Mississippi schools currently host.
5. Effectively Managing Stress and Responsibilities
College can be stressful, especially when you’re balancing schoolwork with other responsibilities. Minimize the stress by practicing self-care, such as exercising or even just watching your favorite television show.
Creating a flexible schedule also helps you cope with stress more effectively. Build time into your schedule to deal with unexpected responsibilities. For instance, if you enroll in an online program with asynchronous classes, you could work ahead early in the semester to create a buffer for potential work emergencies.
How to Choose the Right Degree Program
Colleges offer a wide range of degree programs. There are several factors to consider to find the right fit. You can start by considering your personal interests and strengths. For instance, if you enjoy working with children, an education degree might suit you. Likewise, if you want to work with technology, you could explore computer science programs.
It’s also wise to choose a major that can open career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest-growing occupations include nursing, IT professional, healthcare support personnel, and teaching assistant. These career paths often have lucrative salaries and numerous job opportunities.
Your previous educational experience could also influence your decision. Mississippi students who have already completed at least 90 credit hours in college may qualify for the Complete 2 Compete program participant exclusive University Studies degree offered at all public universities. This program enables students to take the fastest path to finishing their degrees.
How C2C Can Help Adult Learners in Mississippi Go Back to School and Finish Their Degree
Are you ready to overcome the obstacles and achieve your career goals? The C2C program can help you resume your journey. This program provides renewable grants, one-on-one coaching, and other resources for returning adults in Mississippi who have started but have not completed a college degree. The program is open to Mississippi students who are at least 21 years old and haven’t taken a college course in at least two years.