Juggling the demands of college, work and family can be challenging, and a 2011 Harvard University study found that only 56 percent of college students complete school within six years. If you didn't attend or finish college after high school, returning to college can offer you tangible benefits. Not only will you get an education that equips you for a wide variety of careers, you'll also likely make more money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that college graduates' median earnings were $1,033 per week while people who leave college have median earnings of $727 per week.
Choosing a School
The school at which you started your degree could be your best option, particularly if you've been out for only a few semesters. Some schools allow students to take a few semesters off without reapplying, and sticking to the same school can ensure that you retain the credits you've already earned. If you've been out for several years or have moved, though, consider looking for a school that caters to commuters and adult learners. Online schools and schools that offer online classes can also be an option, but ensure that whatever school you choose is accredited.
Paying for School
A 2009 study by Public Agenda found that financial stress is a major contributing factor to college dropout rates. If you're returning to school, you'll need to ensure that financial strain doesn't become a problem. Talk to your employer about a flexible schedule that enables you to continue working. Enrolling in night classes or taking a light course load can also ensure you don't run out of money. Apply for scholarships and, if you're not eligible or scholarships don't fund your tuition, fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid with the U.S. Department of Education. Both government and private loans can help cover your tuition costs, and many loans will also cover costs of living and school supplies.
If you're returning to school to get a leg up in your career, choose a major and classes that will help you. College career centers can provide you guidance about in-demand majors. If you already have a job or have a particular career in mind, research majors and classes that can make you a more desirable candidate.
Settling back into academic life can be an adjustment at first, so take it slow. If you're planning to go full time, try taking relatively easy classes first, or start out with a part-time course load. Develop a daily schedule that allows you time for classes and for studying. You'll generally need to study one or two hours for each course hour you're taking. If you have a family, talk to them about the changes in your schedule. You might need additional help with childcare or with household duties. Set up a quiet area in your home to study. Develop relationships with other students, who can help you study and give you notes when you miss class, and talk to your professors, who can provide you with additional career and academic guidance.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.