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6 Common Myths About Going Back to School as an Adult

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Finish College »

If you have thought about returning to college or university to finish your education as an adult, you might have heard a few statements about adult education that gave you pause. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions that exist surrounding the idea of finishing college in your late 20s, 30s, or beyond.

Fortunately, if you read on, you’ll likely find that many of the claims you’ve heard have only a fraction of truth to them (or they’re completely false).

Let us cover six of the most common myths associated with returning to school as an adult learner. After reading this article, we hope that you’re equipped with the facts you need to help you make an informed decision.

1. My previous credits won’t count toward my degree.

Most colleges have their own policies set up when it comes to which past credits they will and won’t accept, so exploring your options is definitely worth the effort. ”Most universities are looking for transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions with a C or better,” said Ryan Thibodeau, Director of Transfer and Adult Admission at Viterbo University. If you’re planning to go back to college as an adult learner, take time to meet with an advisor or counselor and go over your past transcripts with them. You’ll be able to determine which credits are transferable, and which aren’t.

Most of the time, you’ll find that general education credits are the easiest to transfer to your new college program. At the very least, transferring these credits will save you time and allow you to bypass having to repeat general education coursework. “Most people don’t realize how much time and money they can save by transferring in credits,” says Andy Atzert, dean of Adelphi University’s College of Professional and Continuing Studies. “Students entering our programs can transfer up to 90 credits and up to sixty of those credits can be awarded for life experience or education obtained outside of college, like in the military or through employers.”

2. I can’t get financial aid as an adult student.

A person’s age does not bar them from receiving financial aid, so if you’re putting off going back to college under the assumption that you’ll have to pay for your program alone, you might want to reconsider. Fill out the FAFSA forms on the official FAFSA website, and once you’re done, you’ll be presented with financial aid options that apply to your situation. Some students, regardless of age, qualify for the Pell Grant, scholarships, work-study programs, or other financial options to consider.

Even if you have previously received financial aid or taken out a student loan in the past, you may have financial aid options available to you. “Financial aid can be very confusing so a student may not know all of the options available to them,” says Atzert, “which is why we have dedicated counselors to help students through the process.”

3. I’ll have to retake the SAT or ACT.

Many colleges don’t require students to present standardized test scores when they’re over 25. In fact, some community colleges don’t require standardized tests for attendance regardless of a student’s age. “At Viterbo University, we are test optional and many institutions have followed this trend. As an adult student, we only require all past college transcripts” said Ryan Thibodeau. The same can be said for Adelphi University; none of the programs require standardized tests because “adult learners can better demonstrate their aptitude for college study through prior learning and their employment history.”

If the institution or the scholarship you’ve applied for does require SAT or ACT scores, the record that shows you’ve taken these tests doesn’t disappear just because you tested several years ago. A copy of your scores can be forwarded to the required parties, but they might be less valid than new scores if more than five years have passed. Luckily, however, schools like Morehead State University do not require the ACT or SAT score for students to enroll. Instead, student credentials such as high school or college transcripts are used to evaluate admission and place students into appropriate courses. 

Explore your options to determine which schools do and don’t require current test scores. You may even find that this requirement no longer exists for many reputable institutions.

4. I don’t have time for school on top of my work and family obligations.

While it certainly won’t be easy to complete a college program as a non-traditional student, people from all walks of life can make time for college. Some programs allow students to attend classes part-time, online, or on an evening schedule for added convenience. Working with a school that is willing to accommodate your busy schedule is the best approach for students who have jobs and families to consider. “It’s important for students to be able to resume their daily lives while earning a degree. Our programs are specifically designed to accommodate the demands of full-time working adults,” says Adelphi University’s Atzert. 

You might also want to look into work-study options, which allow students to earn credits while at work. While you won’t be able to complete an entire degree program this way, work-study options can most definitely help you reduce the number of hours you’ll need to spend in class, reading textbooks, and taking tests.Many universities also offer an expansive support system for its students, particularly adult learners who are continuing their education. Frequently, nontraditional students are discouraged by the prospect of additional work and other miscellaneous commitments required by higher education. Oftentimes, they will find online coursework more convenient. Online programs like those at the University of the Incarnate Word’s School of Professional Studies offer free textbooks, accessible instructors, free tutoring, and readily available academic advising, which can also eliminate some sources of stress and allow adult students to focus on their studies.

5. An online degree is not as valuable.

In most cases, an online degree is just as valuable as a traditional degree. In fact, unless the words “virtual” or “online” are listed in your college’s title, or you explicitly state that you earned your degree online, most managers and hiring professionals won’t notice. If your résumé declares that you have earned a college degree, that’s usually all they need to know. After all, if you attended classes, took tests, and passed with decent grades, you’ve accomplished everything that traditional college students do. Andy Atzert from Adelphi agrees. “Most employers no longer make a distinction because they’ve learned that online programs are usually just as rigorous as classroom-based courses – and ours certainly are,” he said. 

Also, unless your employer or the hiring manager you’re speaking to asks whether your degree was earned online or in person, you’re not obligated to divulge this information. Providing details about the classes you attended, subjects you covered, and skills you developed during your program should suffice.

6. I have enough work experience, so I don’t need a degree.

In some situations, this can be true. For others, the absence of a college degree might interfere with progressing at work no matter how many years of experience a person has. In fact, certain positions and titles legally require a degree. For example, if you’re looking to progress from a teacher’s aide position to a teacher’s position, you’re going to need a degree in most public and private school settings. “Labor statistics tell us that having a degree leads to increased incomes and can increase a person’s work ceiling. Over a lifetime these really add up. Also as a benefit, most universities, including Viterbo, will take your work experience into consideration and offer work experience credits that count toward a degree.” Ryan Thibodeau added it’s a “Win Win situation.”

It’s also worth noting that, just because your current job doesn’t require a degree, that doesn’t mean you won’t need one in order to move to another company. Let’s look at medical billing and coding specialists: while some companies will hire these staff members if they have experience and no degree, many other companies prefer to hire (or even require) candidates to have a two-year degree and state certification. Atzert recommends that people survey job postings for jobs at companies they may aspire to work for in the future. “Avoid the media hype,” he advises, “and learn for yourself what credentials are actually required for your desired career. It may or may not mean getting a degree.”

It’s unfortunate that many aspiring adult learners avoid pursuing their educational goals due to misleading information they’ve received. Plenty of adults return to college later in life, and because of the diverse needs of these students, numerous college programs have become more flexible in recent years.

“Living life in the real world, I learned that you can’t go far without a college degree,” says Daryl Parker, a non-traditional student at Morehead State University. “Being a first-generation student, I wanted to lead by example, not just for my family, but for others that look like me.” 

If you want to go back to college to earn a degree, visit Abound. Our website hosts a wealth of information geared toward adults who want to attend college. We offer advice, recommend adult-friendly colleges, list available programs, and much more. Abound is here to help you find the right fit for your educational needs.

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