4 of the Best Tips for Mature Students Returning to College

Bashar Hanna
4 min readFeb 6, 2024

Maybe you’ve been thinking about getting a university degree, but you entered the workforce or had other responsibilities immediately after secondary school. This could be something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t been able to make happen previously. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a layoff situation, or you just feel ready to make a change.

Whatever the case, the prospect of returning to school after you’ve been in the “real world” can be quite dauting. The good news is that you’re not alone. Every year many mature individuals like yourself make the bold move to enroll in university. And educational institutions welcome older students with open arms and many helpful services.

With planning and by taking advantage of the assistance available, a college degree and a whole new future is within your grasp. Read on for some of the best advice to make your learning journey as successful as possible.

1. Budget Realistically

Taking a long hard look at your finances is crucial. College can be costly, so you’ll want to know in advance how much money you’ll need for tuition and related school expenses. Transitioning from full-time employee to student also means that you may not have your previous steady stream of income. Plan for rent, food, transportation, childcare, and other living expenses.

Having some savings will be useful, as will applying for financial aid such as scholarships or grants. Chances are, you still plan on working while at least part-time while seeking your post-secondary education. If you’re employed and can reduce your working hours, that may be give you the time you need to be successful. By keeping your job, you may be able to keep your benefits. Some employers even have tuition reimbursement programs, so this could be an option for people returning to school or coming to school for the first time from the professional realm.

Once you’ve determined how you’ll pay for school while supporting yourself and any dependents, you need to crunch the numbers as you go. This also involves making sure that you track your spending leading up to your first day of classes and while you’re attending university.

2. Go in with a Goal

Are you looking for a degree that will qualify you for a new profession, or are you hoping to progress in your current role? Start with the end in mind, but you should remain flexible. Don’t be afraid to reassess how to reach your goal or even the goal itself.

Be open to other benefits that you may not have anticipated when you chose to return to school. You’re will discover tons of opportunities to learn and develop skillsets outside the classroom as you network with peers, meet individuals from diverse backgrounds, join campus organizations, take in lectures from visiting experts, and more. Such experiences can lead you to you to change or refine your original goals.

3. Seek Mentors

While you’re probably entering university with a certain career or other goal in mind, it’s invaluable to learn as much as you can about the industry in which you’d like to work. If you’re studying in anticipation of a change in occupation, you may not know very much about your chosen field. Attending university is your chance to really evaluate what working in your chosen trade or business will look like. There are almost always opportunities that you couldn’t even conceive of in advance.

Many of your professors may have first-hand industry experience, so it’s a great first step to ask them questions. Find out what they enjoy about their work and what advice they have for current students interested in the field. You should gather different perspectives, making a point to seek out individuals currently doing the type of job you want.

When people really like their work, they are excited to share their experience. These people may also be contacts when you graduate and are applying for positions.

4. Pace Yourself

Entering college after spending time out of school is a big deal, so be sure to not overwhelm yourself and burn out. You may feel a little overwhelmed at first, but it’s critical to take the time to adjust. You’re embarking on a new routine and becoming aquatinted with a unique environment.

Use the resources at the school, get the backing of friends and family for your educational pursuits and connect with other students who are older like yourself. Whether it’s online or in person, there are many ways to feel supported.

In closing

With proper budgeting, clear goals, an open mind, and reasonably paced effort, one of the most rewarding experiences of your life awaits you as a mature student.

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Bashar Hanna

Dr. Bashar Hanna has spent nearly four years as the president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University.