How to Return to College if You Are a Non Traditional, Older Student

Are you a baby boomer (born between 1946-1965) and considering returning to college to complete a degree, to enhance your marketability in a changing workforce, or do you simply want to expand your knowledge? If you fit any of these categories, here are some steps that will help ease you back into the college setting.


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    Determine where your interests are by taking a Campbell Strong Interest Inventory questionnaire offered by many colleges. You can take this test on your own through numerous free websites. Some colleges may offer their own version of testing to determine your area of interest and personnel to help you interpret your results. Take advantage of this tool if you are uncertain where your interests lie.
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    Audit a class at a college for a semester. This usually costs nothing but gives you an idea of what a college course is like without obligation on your part. Be aware that you will not earn college credits by auditing a college course but it is an ideal method to determine if you can picture yourself in this setting. Be sure to get prior permission from the institution before auditing any class.
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    Determine which college will provide you with the coursework you desire. The Internet is a good tool to search for college programs since most have web pages detailing their offerings. College admission personnel are eager for new students so take advantage of this resource for questions, assistance, and guidance. Most colleges offer online coursework, as well as, face-to-face classroom settings and you may be able to complete a degree completely online. This broadens your choices for colleges because you can attend online from anywhere as long as you have access to a computer and the Internet.
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    Take advantage of the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) where you can earn college credit for prior learning by taking an examination. Some categories you can use the CLEP process for are:Composition and Literature,Science and Mathematics,Foreign Languages,History and Social Sciences, and Business. If you earn college credits through the CLEP process, you can save time and money by testing out of some classes. Although you will still need to pay for any credits you can earn through CLEP, you save that time you would have spent in a classroom. Check with your college’s admissions department for more details.
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    You can find sources to assist with college tuition. Inquire if your employer offers programs such as tuition reimbursement. Some colleges offer incentives for returning students such as free tuition for one course. Check into grants or loans through your college’s admissions department. There are many options to assist with tuition so be creative in finding them.


  • Do not be intimidated if your computer skills are less than adequate. Most colleges provide online help and offer tutoring upon request. You can gain the computer skills required to be successful in today’s college classroom.
  • Be prepared to have classmates and professors who are 20 or more years younger than you are. There may be an adjustment period at the beginning of each college course until you establish yourself as a student with similar interests and goals as your younger cohorts.
  • Plan to have access to a computer with adequate memory and an Internet connection. Most college courses require you to communicate via email and most coursework information, such as a syllabus, is provided online.
  • Take advantage of support groups many colleges offer for returning students or develop one of your own. Support groups can offer ideas, information, and encouragement as you acclimate yourself to today’s learning institutions.


  • Check the credentials of any college under consideration. While the Internet is a rich source for finding colleges that offer the coursework you desire, it is also a place for less scrupulous learning institutions to promote themselves. Check with the U.S. Department of Education to make certain a college you are considering meets the criteria of being an accredited institution. Failure to do so might invalidate any credits and you could waste valuable time and money.
  • Only consider loans or grants from reputable institutions. It’s best to work with lending institutions whose reputation is solid, such as your bank or credit union. Work only with institutions that have a loan officer who is familiar with the process to guide you.

Sources and Citations

  • – source of information on college accreditation.
  • – source for College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP).

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education