Programs for Adults Returning Back to School

Updated May 27, 2022 | Thomas Broderick

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Best Colleges for Adult Learners

Attending college as an adult may bring many benefits, including job opportunities, promotions, or raises. Some professionals need a degree to stay at their current job. Higher education also appeals to retired workers wanting to learn new things. Many schools offer on-campus and online college programs for adults.

This article covers questions to ask about returning to school as an adult and applying to programs. We also discuss accreditation's importance. The final section highlights 10 schools with college programs for adults. School websites feature contact information for admissions, academic, and financial aid counselors.

Questions to Ask When Going Back to School

Prospective students thinking about attending college as an adult should ask themselves how education may impact their career. They should also figure out how long they want to spend in school.

Will a Degree Help My Current Career?

A degree may qualify an employee for a promotion or raise. However, companies' policies and requirements differ. Workers thinking about returning to school as an adult should contact their employer's human resources (HR) department. These professionals offer information on which degrees and certificates can help workers advance their career.

Will a Degree Help Start a New Career?

Some adults return to school to change their career. Many junior and community colleges offer career-aligned degrees and certificates to learners without a college education. Prospective degree-seekers with a bachelor's should research second bachelor's programs. These degrees help students change their job, reenter the workforce, or qualify for graduate school.

How Long Do I Want to Be in School?

Most students spend four or more years earning a bachelor's degree. Graduate students in a master's program may need 2-3 years. Adult learners wanting to earn a degree faster should research accelerated programs. Second bachelor's programs also feature a shorter curriculum. Other options include certificate programs. Most certificates take under a year to finish.

How Much Time Can I Commit to School?

Working full time or raising children does not need to prevent adults from attending college. Many top schools feature online programs. In these programs, students complete coursework from anywhere and do not commute to campus. Many programs' asynchronous formats let degree-seekers view lectures and do assignments when convenient.

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What to Consider When Returning to School as an Adult

Prospective students should research potential schools' admission requirements and campus resources. They should also learn about financial aid opportunities. People find this information by taking a campus tour and contacting faculty.

Many schools use special application steps for adult applicants. Steps may include taking a placement test. Some colleges let students earn credit for prior knowledge. Degree-seekers can earn this credit by submitting a work portfolio or taking an exam.

Colleges recommend that adult applicants contact the admissions department for one-on-one help. These professionals assist students with the application process and ensure they complete all admissions steps by the deadline.

Prospective on-campus and online students should consider taking a college tour. Advantages include meeting admissions counselors and faculty. Many schools offer online tours and information sessions, letting applicants connect with admissions staff and ask questions.

Top schools offer recent high school graduates and adult students a virtual or in-person orientation. This experience introduces learners to student services, such as career and transfer advising.

College applicants who know what they want to study can contact professors in that field. Making a connection helps prospective students learn more about a major's academic experience and requirements. Applicants can find contact information on an academic department's website.

Applicants who cannot connect with a professor directly should see whether they post syllabi or other materials online. These documents introduce class topics and expectations. Other ways to learn more about a major or class include reading a school's academic catalog.

Top schools offer many online and campus resources for students attending college as an adult. Learners can speak with financial aid, transfer, and career advisors. Other resources include personality and career assessments.

Online students do not miss out on these resources just because they learn from home. College websites and student portals connect distance learners with appropriate services, like virtual appointments with academic advisors. Many schools use Handshake to offer degree-seekers career-planning advice and local job opportunities.

An adult student's age does not disqualify them from financial aid. Learners submit the FAFSA each year to qualify for federal grants and loans. Many schools screen incoming students for need-based grants. Some colleges set aside institutional scholarships for adult degree-seekers.

Prospective and current students should research private scholarship opportunities. Other options include tuition-reimbursement programs sponsored by employers. These programs' eligibility requirements vary by employer. Contact a company's HR department for more information.

The Importance of Accreditation

Attending college as an adult involves picking a good school. Top U.S. schools hold institutional and/or programmatic accreditation and follow U.S. Department of Education guidelines. Accreditation shows that a school's programs offer a quality education. Prospective students should avoid schools without accreditation.

Colleges with online programs must also hold accreditation. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards institutional accreditation. A college with DEAC accreditation offers the same educational experience to on-campus and online students.

Some undergraduate and graduate degrees earn programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation agencies specialize in one academic field. Their evaluators grant accreditation to programs with a strong curriculum and good faculty. Visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website to find degrees with programmatic accreditation.

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Schools for Adults Going Back To College

true Charter Oak State College Public New England Commission of Higher Education

Concentrations Available: three associate degrees; 14 bachelor's degrees; three master's degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Undergraduate degree-seekers pay out-of-state tuition; graduate students pay in-state tuition.

Located in Connecticut, Charter Oak features over a dozen online bachelor's degrees for adult students. Majors include criminal justice, organizational leadership, and sociology. The RN-to-BSN program lets RNs advance their education without pausing their career. Some undergraduate degrees feature an optional certificate track. New degree-seekers submit a portfolio to qualify for prior learning credit.

Prospective undergrad and graduate students create an online account to apply. Charter Oak accepts up to 87 transfer credits from accredited schools. Degree-seekers in neighboring states receive an out-of-state tuition discount. The university sponsors over a dozen endowed scholarships and grants. As of Jan. 2022, most institutional scholarships award $850.

John & Elizabeth Blennerhassett Endowed Scholarship

true Excelsior College Private Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Concentrations Available: seven associate degrees; 22 bachelor's degrees; 15 graduate degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

Situated in Albany, New York, Excelsior features dozens of online degrees. Bachelor's students major in healthcare management, history, and national security. RNs in the school's RN-to-MSN program pick from many concentrations, such as nursing education and nursing informatics. Adult degree-seekers benefit from an asynchronous format.

Prospective students apply for one of six annual start dates. Excelsior does not charge out-of-state tuition. Degree-seekers pay a per-credit academic services and technology fee. Active-duty military personnel and veterans enjoy an automatic tuition discount. Applicants may qualify for one of dozens of general or program-specific scholarships. Interested learners submit FAFSA results.

AXA Foundation Scholarship Fund

true Walden University Private Higher Learning Commission

Concentrations Available: 45 bachelor's degrees; 25 master's degrees; 30 doctoral degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

Walden's over 50 graduate degrees make it an appealing choice for adults with an undergraduate degree. Options for master's students include developmental psychology, health education and promotion, and criminal justice leadership. Doctoral degree-seekers train for a career in academia by majoring in public policy or social work. Learners choose a traditional 16-week curriculum or self-paced learning. Self-paced students may save money on their education.

Applicants submit official transcripts, personal information, and their employment history. Walden accepts transfer credit and awards credit by exams and portfolios. Learners working in law enforcement receive an automatic 20% tuition discount. Returning alumni also pay less for their education.

Master's of Arts in Teaching Grant

true Thomas Edison State University Public Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Concentrations Available: 13 associate degrees; 34 bachelor's degrees; 15 master's degrees; two doctoral degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

Located in Trenton, New Jersey, TESU features more than 60 online degrees. Options at the bachelor's level include electrical technology, accounting, and international studies. Master's students prepare for a leadership role in accounting or homeland security. Degree-seekers may take a class with other learners or study independently.

Undergraduate admission requirements include a high school or GED diploma. Some applicants receive conditional admission. TESU does not consider prospective students ages 19 and younger. Incoming TESU degree-seekers may earn transfer credit through portfolios or exams. Learners apply for institutional scholarships May 1-31 and must maintain a minimum 3.2 GPA.

Helene Fuld Health Trust Scholarship Fund

true Northcentral University Private Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Concentrations Available: three bachelor's degrees; 27 master's degrees; 23 doctoral degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

NCU has helped working adults advance their education since 1996. The school offers fully online programs for bachelor's and graduate degrees and graduate certificates. Master's degree-seekers major in health administration, psychology, or organizational leadership. Specialized doctoral programs admit students with transfer credit and help them complete their dissertation. New classes start every week, making NCU suitable for learners wanting to start their education quickly.

Prospective master's students submit undergraduate transcripts. Some programs require a resume. Incoming learners complete an academic evaluation to determine transfer credit. Each NCU school charges a different per-credit tuition rate.

New Year, New Goals Scholarship

University of Massachusetts Global Private Western Association of Schools and Colleges/span>

Concentrations Available: two associate degrees; 37 bachelor's degrees; 20 master's degrees; one doctoral degree
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

Formerly Brandman University, UMass Global offers students an asynchronous education and an employer-aligned curriculum. Online bachelor's degrees include criminal justice, early childhood education, and legal studies. Master's degree-seekers can specialize in autism education or educational leadership. Dedicated support services for online learners include enrollment coaches and academic advisors.

Bachelor program admission requirements include at least 12 transferable credits and at least a 2.0 undergrad GPA. UMass Global offers graduate applicants four admissions pathways. Per-credit tuition at this private school depends on the degree level. Active-duty military personnel and their spouses receive a 50% tuition discount.

UMass Global Scholarship

University of Maryland Global Campus Public Middle States Commission on Higher Education/span>

Concentrations Available: one associate degree; 34 bachelor's degrees; 22 master's degrees; two doctoral degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

Situated in Largo, Maryland, UMGC offers an associate degree for out-of-state students and active-duty military. Degree-seekers pick from more than 10 specializations and leave UMGC ready for a bachelor's-completion program. Other academic opportunities include over 30 bachelor's degrees, including east Asian studies, graphic communication, and health services management. Learners benefit from free digital textbooks.

Prospective undergraduates submit GED scores or high school transcripts. UMGC does not require standardized test scores. All applicants pay a nonrefundable application fee. Maryland residents pay less per credit than out-of-state students. Fortunately, UMGC awards many institutional scholarships. Degree-seekers may also qualify for federal financial aid programs.

President's Scholarship

Granite State College Public New England Commission of Higher Education/span>

Concentrations Available: five associate degrees; 22 bachelor's degrees; six master's degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? No

GSC offers online bachelor's degrees in nursing, business management, and fire service administration. The university also offers an MSN program and a master's in human services administration. Students earn transfer credit by submitting transcripts or passing an exam. They can also develop an experiential learning portfolio.

Prospective undergraduates must hold a high school diploma or pass the GED exam. GSC does not require standardized test scores or recommendation letters. The college does not consider graduate applicants without at least a 3.0 undergrad GPA. Out-of-state learners pay slightly more per credit than New Hampshire residents. Each institutional scholarship needs a separate application.

Alumni and Friends Scholarship

Peirce College Private Middle States Commission on Higher Education/span>

Concentrations Available: seven associate degrees; 13 bachelor's degrees; five master's degrees
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

Peirce's 100% online programs include bachelor's degrees in accounting, health information administration, and criminal justice. Master's degree-seekers can specialize in healthcare administration or higher education leadership. Each degree features a career-aligned curriculum and highly trained faculty. New learners can earn up to 12 prior learning assessment credits.

Application steps include submitting high school transcripts or GED scores. Peirce uses a minimum "C" grade cutoff for undergraduate transfer credit. The college limits graduate applicants to those with at least a 2.75 undergrad GPA. Out-of-state students do not pay a higher tuition rate at this private school. New and returning learners interested in institutional aid submit the Common Scholarship Application by the annual deadline.

Alice C McCausland '27 Endowed Scholarship Fund

Post University Private New England Commission of Higher Education/span>

Concentrations Available: six associate degrees; 18 bachelor's degrees; 13 master's degrees, one doctorate
Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? N/A

Located in Waterbury, Connecticut, Post offers undergraduate and graduate online programs in child studies, finance, and human services. Learners living near campus may earn a degree online or in a hybrid format. All online classes use an asynchronous format. Students engage with each other through virtual group discussions.

Undergraduate admissions steps include speaking with a counselor, attending orientation, and applying for financial aid. Pierce uses a 3.0 undergraduate GPA cutoff for graduate admissions. Undergraduate and graduate per-credit tuition vary by major. Post charges a per-term technology fee. Online graduate students may qualify for an institutional scholarship.

Post University Scholars Scholarship

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