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Back to School: Success Tips for Non-Traditional Students (Part 1)

Back to School: Success Tips for Non-Traditional Students (Part 1)
Adult students seeking to enroll in face-to-face programs need to focus on perfecting their study skills to ensure success in their postsecondary endeavors.

The world of adult education seems to be in a constant state of flux. New technologies are presenting opportunities as well as incredible challenges for instructors and students alike. The profile of the typical college student is changing and non-traditional students (those over the age of 25) are becoming an ever-increasing segment of the college and community college population.[1] At the same time, some things, including the need for a dedicated approach to learning, the wisdom of efficient planning and the use of strategic methods to create academic success, have remained essentially the same.[2]

Whether a student decides to pursue higher education in a face-to-face (f2f) or online setting, there is one issue of universal concern for students: the cost of education. Students should have a plan for how they intend to pay for school and must look beyond the overly simplistic advice to just take out loans. Non-traditional students, who more than likely have a job and other responsibilities, may be best served by taking a few classes at a time on a pay-as-you-go basis. Students who are employed can also investigate the possibility of employer tuition reimbursement. New graduates will typically enter the job market at entry-level wages, and this reality should be considered at the beginning of the process.

Another universal concern for both f2f and online students is course selection and time management. It’s important to take prerequisites and basic courses before signing up for advanced material. Students should plan for one or two hours of study per week for each credit hour of classes. Some courses, such as language classes or courses with lab hours, require additional study time, and students should avoid over-packing their schedules. It can be helpful to do a mini-assessment of time management, technology and academic skills at the beginning of each term before registering for courses. Admissions and advising staff can be helpful in this phase.

It is important for students to manage their expectations around educational procedures and study behavior. Students who meet in classes on campus should take advantage of having classmates to study with and tutoring centers and library resources for extra help. College instructors base their grades on results and not effort, and this can be a rude awakening for some students. Planning adequate time to study and using all available resources is far more efficient than fighting with instructors over bad grades or asking for extra credit assignments.

Special tips for face-to-face students:

  • Cover the basics: find the right room, show up on time and turn your cell phone off
  • If you want to record lectures, ask for permission from the instructor before the first lecture
  • Show up with readings completed and ready to take notes either with pen/paper or on a laptop or tablet
  • Organize your notes before the end of the day and mark areas where you may want to ask questions in the following class
  • Make an effort to meet classmates and form study partnerships or groups

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[1] National Center for Education Statistics

[2] Derived from my presentation Start Up, Survive and Succeed

This was the first installment of Karen Watts’ two-part series. To read the conclusion, please click here.

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