As of June 2023, an estimated 19.85 million students are enrolled in public or private colleges across the United States. Many return to school after a break from the classroom, and that transition can sometimes be rocky.
It’s no simple feat to balance job or family commitments with classes, exams, and other coursework — but it’s definitely not impossible. So whether you haven’t opened a textbook in 3 months or 30 years, here’s how to succeed in your continuing education.
Choose a Format that Aligns with Your Needs
There are all sorts of motivations to pursue continuing education. You might need to learn a new skill set or earn a certification to advance your career. You might want to resume your studies after a deferral or leave of absence. Or you might love the intellectual challenge and stimulation of an academic environment.
Whatever the reason, there’s a continuing education format to meet your specific interests, needs, or lifestyle criteria. Would you instead learn on campus or online? Will you be a full-time student or take classes at night? Do you want an accelerated program or a flexible structure to move at your own pace? Here are some continuing education pathways to know about — choose the option that works best for you:
- Post-secondary Education: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees
- Professional Certifications: Focused training for a particular industry or sector
- Continuing Education Unit Course: 10 hours of learning to renew a license
- E-Learning Modules: Online courses from universities or other academic platforms
- Extension Course: College class that non-enrolled learners can audit for professional upskilling or personal enrichment
Search for Continuing Education Scholarships
If you think only high school seniors can receive college financial aid, think again. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has no age limit, so before you enroll in classes, submit this form to see if you’re eligible for tuition assistance. You might also qualify for the Pell Grant based on your income level.
FAFSA is an excellent starting point, but many scholarships or grants are also available to those who plan to continue their education — no matter how long it’s been since they walked into a lecture hall. If you need some help financing your academic pursuits, be sure to check out the list of continuing education scholarships below:
- Ford Opportunity Program Scholarship
- Soroptimist Live Your Dream Grant
- Adult Students in Scholastic Transition Scholarship
- Jeannette Rankin National Scholar Grant
- Return2College Scholarship
- Patsy Mink Education Support Grant
- Working Parent College Scholarship
- Imagine America Adult Skills Education Grant
- College JumpStart Scholarship
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
- Boomer Benefits Scholarship
Create and Adhere to an Organization System
When you return to school after any stretch of absence, it can be difficult to manage your class schedule or assignments on top of your other life commitments. It will take time to acclimate to this new change — that’s normal. But to keep those stress levels to a minimum, the key is to remain organized.
When you plan ahead with a transparent organization system, allocating your time, prioritizing tasks, remembering crucial dates, accomplishing all deliverables, functioning at a higher capacity, and maintaining a work-school-life balance will be much easier. Not only will this help you finish all the items on your to-do list, but it will also lower the risk of burnout and protect your mental health. Here are a few organizational tips to streamline your education:
- Write down all tasks and when they’re due, then separate them into distinct categories (job, school, family, personal, etc.).
- Create boundaries between your academics and other responsibilities, so they will not interfere with each other. For example, don’t study for an exam during work hours — block out specific times for school.
- Establish measurable goals to stay motivated when the stress creeps in, or you lose sight of why all these extra efforts matter.
- Designate a location in your home just for doing coursework. This will train you to tune out distractions when entering the space so that you can focus purely on school, then disconnect once you’re done.
Formulate Strategic and Effective Study Habits
In order to perform well as a student, you must cultivate successful study habits. This doesn’t mean cramming your brain with a semester’s worth of material at the last minute before a final exam. It means building incremental, sustainable practices to retain information and understand the concepts you’re learning.
If you’ve been out of the classroom for a while, even the phrase “study habits” might cause you to feel anxious or overwhelmed. Opening a textbook and committing the words on that page to memory is difficult. But no need to sweat it — just implement the strategies below to make those study sessions less frustrating and more effective:
- Mind the gap. Take a practice test to evaluate any gaps in retention, so you’ll know which areas to focus your attention on moving forward.
- Space it out. Digest the material in bite-size chunks over a period of time rather than trying to memorize it all the night before a quiz or exam.
- Mix it up. Switch back and forth between a few different (but related) topics over the course of a study session. This forces the brain to work harder to retrieve information which, in turn, will help strengthen your retention skills.
- Process periodically. Think critically about the subject matter while you review it in real time. Write down a list of questions to answer about the material, and summarize the concepts you just learned in your own words to boost comprehension. Once you understand something, you will be able to remember it.
- Make it meaningful. Find reasons to care about what you’re learning — if you connect to the information, it makes studying feel less repetitive.
Get Ready to Achieve Your Continuing Education Goals
Whether you’re heading back to school for professional advancement, personal enrichment, or anything in between, these tips will make the transition as smooth as possible. And if you’ve been on the fence about continuing your education, consider this your motivation to take the next step towards that goal.