5 Action Steps for Going Back to College at Any Age

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Going Back to College at Any Age

Have you ever thought about going back to college but think that are too old?

Perhaps you feel like you need a career change or advancement that would require you to return to college but you don’t know where to start?

Do you have a dream career that you want but it would require furthering your education or obtaining a degree?

Maybe you didn’t go to college right after high school, thinking you would go back eventually but it never happened. Life as an adult presents a myriad of challenges that may keep us from finishing our education or pursuing our dreams. We get stuck in a job that we don’t like that just barely pays the bills, we settle down and have families…so many things can keep us from pursuing our dreams and goals.

But I am living proof that it is never too late! You can go back to college and obtain a degree at any age! You can follow your dreams and achieve your goals no matter how old you are! There are no limitations on what age you can go to college to get a degree or even start a career if it is something you are truly passionate about!

Just remember that ultimately, passion is what it is all about! If you are not truly passionate about a subject of study, if you have not set any educational or career goals for yourself, going back to school will feel more like a difficult chore than something worthy of your time and effort.

And it will take a LOT of your time AND your effort! You cannot accomplish anything without these two important ingredients. But when you have an end goal, a plan, a dream in mind, it will make it all worthwhile and you will find it much easier to accomplish those difficult tasks. Those dreams, passions, and goals will keep you going through the most trying of times.

That said, if you are serious about wanting to go to college at any age, there are 5 important steps you should start taking RIGHT NOW!

5 Action Steps to Take Right Now

1. Fill out the FAFSA!

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Like the title states, it is absolutely FREE to apply and is the very first step you should take when you are considering going to college. Without it, you will not be eligible for any financial aid – student loans, grants, scholarships. All of that falls under financial aid.

College can be very expensive and most people rely heavily on financial aid to help them pay for it. Of course, if you have a substantial amount of savings or are financially well-off and can afford to pay it all yourself, then by all means do that! But if you are like most, you will need help, and that’s where financial aid comes in.

It is as simple as filling out one form and you will have access to a vast array of scholarships, grants, and student loans. In many cases, the grants and scholarships may be enough to cover your entire tuition and possibly more!

  • One thing to keep in mind is that you (or your parents if you are still a dependent) will need to have filed your taxes for the current year. But if you haven’t filed them yet, don’t let that keep you from filling out the FAFSA online! You can always set it up so that when your taxes are filed, the information automatically goes to your FAFSA. The important thing is to get the application submitted ASAP!
Busy young woman working with her laptop on a desk

2. Decide on a Course of Study (Majors, Minors, and Certificates)

Deciding what your major course of study will be is one of the most important decisions you will make during your college career. But it can also be one of the most difficult decisions to make. College can be expensive as well as a significant investment of time. You want to make sure that you are putting your time and your money in the right place.

Perhaps you already know exactly what you want to study. That’s great! It could be that you are already on a particular career path and need more education in order to advance your career. You might even be lucky enough to have educational funding provided by your employer. The right education can certainly open new doors for advancement.

But maybe, like many of us, you are not quite sure what your major should be. There are resources available that can help you decide a major. But most importantly you need to think about what you want your end goal to be. What kind of career do you want to have? What skill sets do you need in order to succeed in your chosen field? What kinds of jobs are available in that field?

Once you have some idea of the skills you will need to succeed in your chosen career, start doing your research! Find out what colleges and universities specialize in majors leading to that career field, what courses they offer, and how long a particular major will take to complete. Will an Associate’s degree or a certificate be sufficient to fulfill your requirements, or will you need a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or even a PhD?

3. Apply, Apply, Apply

Now that you have decided on a major and found some colleges that have a program you like, it’s time to apply!

But before you apply, there is one other factor you want to consider when applying for colleges. That is location. As adults, we are often more “settled in”. We own homes, we have jobs and families – you know, roots, obligations. So sometimes we feel that we can’t just pack everything up and move to a different city, state, or even country to attend our dream school. Understandable. But, that said, if it is what you truly want, you will find a way to do it!

In reality, most people will probably opt for going to a nearby college that ,if not within their city, is at least a commutable distance. I did this myself while attending the University of Colorado, Denver, where I obtained my Masters degree. I live in Colorado Springs and I commuted to Denver for classes twice a week – about an hour-and-a-half drive each way. I even had a part-time job there for a semester. I also have a friend who commuted all the way to Boulder for her Masters degree! Where there is a will, there is a way!

Expanding the range of how far you are willing to commute can really make a difference in what is available to you, but it will also cost you more in time and gas money. You might also want to look at colleges that have online programs. Some colleges offer a limited number of online classes, but more and more are offering entire courses of study online!

The point I want to make is that you want to have as many options as possible when you apply. Your local college or university may be easy to get into, or they may not – it depends on the type of college it is. They may not even have the program you want, and in that case you need to have other options. Your acceptance into a particular college may also be dependent on your past educational record. Were you a straight A student when you were in high school back in the 90’s, or did you barely pass with D’s?

I don’t want this to discourage you. You can still get into college if you had bad grades in high school! But I want you to be aware that not all colleges have the same requirements and some may want you to jump through some additional hoops to get where you want to be. If you have your sights set on going to a top-notch university, but you barely graduated from high school and/or you haven’t set foot in a classroom for 10 or more years, you are going to have to start at a community college and work your way up. But don’t be ashamed of that! College is college and you have to start somewhere!

One thing that is super great about starting at the community college level is that it is affordable enough that you can try out some classes in your area of interest before making a total commitment. Are you unsure of what you want to study? Take a few different kinds of classes and get a feel for what you might like to pursue further. Maybe some unexpected opportunities will arise that will help nudge you in the right direction – like a scholarship, or an internship, or a new program. In the meantime, you can also get some of those basic classes – like English, math, and public speaking – out of the way for much less cost than a university!

In addition, you can obtain an Associates degree and/or a range of specialized certificates from a community college. Usually, the majority of the classes taken for the Associates degree are transferable to many universities, so that you don’t have to take them again later. In addition to that, community colleges offer a lot of flexibility in terms of class scheduling and a variety of online courses.

But suppose you were a straight A student? Maybe you actually went to a great college for a while and then dropped out to pursue other things. Or maybe you got your Associates already, rocked it with A’s, and now you are ready to move on to the University level! Congrats!

Again, my suggestion is that you find as many different options as you can. There will always be the one that you think you want the most, but there are a lot of behind-the-scenes factors that go into admitting a student into college, particularly if you are applying to a private college or grad school. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket unless you are absolutely sure you can get in. Apply to as many as you can afford to that seem like a good fit for you. Just keep in mind that it usually costs between $50-100 (possibly more) to apply to each college. You will also need to supply transcripts, references, a short essay, and possibly a resume in addition to the fee when applying. And you will have to apply for the FAFSA if you haven’t already.

So what are you waiting for? Get on those college websites and apply today!

4. Apply For Scholarships

If you need financial help to make your college dreams a reality, you will want to apply for as many scholarships as you can. Scholarships are not only a great way to get money that you will not have to pay back, but may also provide opportunities that you may not have otherwise had.

Depending on the type of scholarship and the organization providing it, you may be invited to attend meetups, brunches, lunches, or seminars. You may be asked to write an essay or give a presentation about your goals and how the scholarship helped you achieve them. All of these things can be a lot of fun, provide networking opportunities, and can look great on your resume!

I had an especially great experience with The Colorado Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF) https://cwef.org. This organization is run by an absolutely fantastic group of professional women in Colorado who truly believe in empowering women through education. Their scholarships are aimed at women of a non-traditional age for college that are often from low-income and/or minority families.

I received not just one, but two monetary scholarship awards from CWEF, as well as their “Alice De Boer Named Scholarship”, which honored me with a profile on their website. Check it out here:


These wonderful ladies not only provided tons of support and encouragement, but I was also invited to attend several special events such as luncheons with great motivational speakers, the annual Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate fundraising event, and an amazing brunch where I met Miss Colorado (and future Supreme Court Justice!), Serene Singh.

If you are a woman living in Colorado and thinking about going back to college, you should definitely fill out the CWEF scholarship application https://cwef.org/scholarships/. If you are not in Colorado, or perhaps not even a woman, no worries! There are still plenty of other organizations out there offering scholarships. You might even want to start by asking your employer if they offer any scholarships or other incentives for going back to college.

There are plenty of other resources for scholarships, but the best place to start is your college or university website. Or, if you are still in high school, your school website, library, or academic counselor is sure to have lots of resources! The University of Colorado website was the first place I looked for scholarships. Every year while I was in college I received 2-3 scholarships ranging from $250-$2000 each. My first scholarship came from the Colorado Archaeology Society, which helped me pay for archaeology field school in Belize. Another was called the “Flying Solo” scholarship, which was specifically for single parents. It was $5000!

5. Register for Classes

So, now that you have applied to a college, been accepted, and applied for scholarships, it’s time to register!

You will most likely be assigned to a counselor who will go over your program of choice and its requirements with you. They will suggest a course of action for you – which classes to start with and how you should progress, but ultimately it is up to you and what will work with your schedule.

Whatever your program of choice, there will be many required classes and several electives. Some classes will have prerequisites, which means if you haven’t taken the introductory classes, you will need to take those before moving on to the more specialized ones. For instance, my bachelor’s program required that I take Intro to Anthropology and Intro to Archaeology before attending a field school or higher level anthropology classes.

For me, deciding on which classes I would take each semester was a lot of fun. I loved looking at the different options, particularly for electives, and ticking off the list of classes I had already taken. Each tick was another step closer to my goal!

Just make sure that you meet with your counselor at least once a year if not twice, just to make sure you are staying on track.

high school students graduates tossing up hats over blue sky.

Congratulations! You’re on Your Way!

Once you have completed these 5 Action Steps you will be well on your way to achieving your goals. I’m so proud of you! And you should be proud of yourself!

Going back to college at any age is a very important and sometimes difficult decision to make. But if you have a dream, a passion, a desire to make your life better through education and accomplishment, you have made the right decision by going back to college!

Don’t let yourself think that it is too late for you. It is never too late! I went back to college at the age of 40. I was not the only one my age, and there were many others who were even older. One student was 90 years old!

So get the ball rolling by starting the 5 Action Steps today! And make sure to leave a comment on this post about your progress. I would love to hear how it is going!

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