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Best Advice For Adults Going Back To College: Studying Tips

As an adult learner returning to higher education, you might feel like you’re stepping into a world designed for recent high school graduates.

But the good news is that colleges and universities are increasingly catering to adult students, recognizing the value of their life experience and professional experience.

Whether you’re pursuing an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or even a graduate degree, there’s no age limit to learning.

You learn during your whole life. And if you have found your passion or just want to pursue a lifelong dream, then age should not matter.

It may be more challenging to learn when you are a senior, especially if you did not keep your brain active. 

So what is the best advice that I can give you for going back to college?

The best advice for older adults returning to college includes setting clear, SMART goals, creating a study plan, seeking support when needed, staying organized, and celebrating milestones. Balancing education with other responsibilities like work and family can be challenging, but with the right strategies and resources, adult learners can successfully achieve their educational goals.

5 Tips On How To Stay Motivated While Returning To Education

These 5 tips are the same ones that I followed when I signed up for my very first college courses in my later years.  

I was terrified and excited as I entered that community college full of so many college students, younger students!  

But I knew that as an older student, I had unique life experiences and a level of determination that would serve me well. 

I set clear, SMART goals for myself, created a detailed study plan, sought support when needed, kept my study space organized, and celebrated each milestone along the way.

These strategies not only helped me manage my academic responsibilities but also allowed me to fully embrace and enjoy my journey back to higher education.

So whether you’re walking onto a college campus or taking online classes, you’ll find these tips can help you too.

Set Clear Goals

One of the first steps in your journey back to college is to set clear educational goals.

Whether you’re aiming for a college degree to advance in your current career, start a new career path, or simply for personal fulfillment, having a clear goal in mind will keep you motivated.

Make your goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

This will help you measure your progress and stay focused on your degree program.

SMART goals are a powerful tool to help you achieve your objectives, and they can be particularly useful for an older adult returning to college. Here’s what each letter in the acronym stands for:

S – Specific: Your goal should be clear and well-defined. Instead of saying “I want to do well in my classes,” a specific goal might be “I want to achieve a GPA of 3.5 this semester.”

M – Measurable: You should be able to track your progress towards your goal. For example, if your goal is to read a certain textbook, a measurable goal could be “I want to read one chapter per week.”

A – Achievable: Your goal should be realistic and attainable. While it’s good to aim high, setting a goal that’s too ambitious can lead to frustration and demotivation. If you’re working full-time while attending school, for example, a goal of studying 8 hours a day might not be achievable.

R – Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to your overall objectives. If you’re returning to college to advance in your career, for example, your goals should align with this purpose.

T – Time-bound: Your goal should have a deadline. This creates a sense of urgency and can motivate you to stay focused. For example, if your goal is to complete a degree program, you might set a goal to graduate in four years.

By setting SMART goals, you can create a clear path towards achieving your objectives as an older adult returning to college.

Create a Study Plan

Time management is crucial for adult learners, especially those juggling full-time jobs and family obligations. 

Creating a study plan is a crucial step for older adults returning to college. Here are some tips to help you create an effective study plan:

  1. Assess Your Schedule: Take a look at your current schedule. Identify the times when you are most alert and have the least distractions. These are the best times to schedule your study sessions.
  2. Set Specific Goals: For each study session, have a clear goal of what you want to accomplish. This could be reading a certain number of pages, completing a chapter, or working on an assignment.
  3. Break It Down: Break down your study material into manageable chunks. This could be by chapter, section, or topic. This makes the material less overwhelming and easier to tackle.
  4. Prioritize: Not all study tasks are created equal. Prioritize your tasks based on their importance and deadlines.
  5. Use a Planner: Use a planner or digital calendar to schedule your study sessions. This helps you visualize your study plan and keeps you accountable.
  6. Include Breaks: Don’t forget to schedule short breaks during your study sessions. This helps prevent burnout and keeps your mind fresh.
  7. Review and Adjust: Regularly review your study plan and adjust as necessary. If you find that a certain time isn’t working, or a certain method isn’t effective, don’t be afraid to make changes.
  8. Seek Support: If you’re struggling with creating a study plan, don’t hesitate to seek help. Your academic advisor or a tutor can provide valuable guidance.

Remember, a study plan is not set in stone. It’s a flexible guide that should adapt to your needs and circumstances.

The goal is to create a plan that helps you manage your time effectively and reduces stress as you navigate your return to college.

Seek Support

Don’t hesitate to seek support when you need it. Whether it’s from your academic advisor, faculty members, or fellow students, a strong support network can go a long way in helping you succeed.

Online programs often offer resources specifically for adult learners. 

Additionally, the service Edu Birdie can provide personalized guidance and help with essay writing and other academic challenges.  

There are many tools and resources available to adult learners returning to college.

Here’s a list of some that I think may be helpful for you.

Physical Tools:

  1. Ergonomic Furniture: Comfortable, supportive furniture can help reduce physical strain during long study sessions. This might include an ergonomic chair, keyboard, and/or mouse.
  2. Reading Glasses: If necessary, having a good pair of reading glasses can help reduce eye strain.
  3. Notebooks and Planners: Organizing thoughts and schedules in physical form can be a great way to stay on top of assignments and deadlines.
  4. Recording Device: A portable audio recorder can be useful for capturing lectures or discussions for later review.
  5. Lighting: Good lighting is important for reducing eye strain and maintaining focus, especially when reading or studying for long periods.
  6. Physical Textbooks: Some people find physical textbooks easier to read and annotate than digital versions.

Online Tools:

  1. Learning Management Systems (LMS): Tools like Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle are commonly used by colleges and universities to manage coursework, assignments, and grades.
  2. Digital Note-Taking Apps: Applications like Evernote, OneNote, or Google Keep can be helpful for organizing notes.
  3. Cloud Storage: Services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive can be used to store and access files from any device.
  4. Calendar Apps: Google Calendar or Apple Calendar can help manage class schedules and assignment deadlines.
  5. E-Books and Online Resources: Digital textbooks and resources can be more convenient and sometimes cheaper than physical textbooks.
  6. Video Conferencing Tools: Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams are used for virtual classes or meetings.
  7. Online Research Tools: Databases like JSTOR, Google Scholar, and library databases can be critical for academic research.
  8. Accessibility Tools: Screen readers (like NVDA or JAWS), text-to-speech software, and other accessibility tools can be essential for some individuals.
  9. Online Tutoring and Study Help: Websites like Khan Academy, Coursera, or Quizlet can provide additional study resources.

Just a heads up, these tools might not work the same for everyone. So, it’s super important to figure out what fits your needs and preferences best.

Plus, a lot of colleges and universities have extra stuff and help for older adults and non-traditional students. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to them for more info – it could really make a difference!

There are also multiple essay writing services to help you if you are struggling with your papers. But to make sure you will face all the challenges ahead successfully, then you should apply these tips.

These resources prove to be valuable for students seeking help in essay writing. With their expertise and support, students can overcome challenges, refine their abilities, and excel in their academic pursuits.

There are numerous other resources available for older adults returning to college.

  1. Academic Advisors: Academic advisors can provide guidance on course selection, degree requirements, and academic policies. They can also help you create a study plan and set academic goals.
  2. Tutoring Centers: Many colleges have tutoring centers that offer free or low-cost tutoring in a variety of subjects. This can be a great resource if you’re struggling with a particular course.
  3. Writing Centers: Writing centers can provide assistance with writing assignments, including essays, research papers, and dissertations. They can help with everything from brainstorming ideas to proofreading.
  4. Adult Learner Services: Some colleges have offices or programs specifically designed to support adult learners. These may offer services like academic advising, career counseling, and workshops on topics like time management and study skills.
  5. Online Resources: There are numerous online resources available to help adult learners succeed in college. These include online tutoring services, educational websites, and online study groups.
  6. Libraries: College libraries often offer a wealth of resources, including access to books, academic journals, and research databases. Many also offer quiet study spaces and computer labs.
  7. Support Groups: Some colleges offer support groups for adult learners, where you can connect with other students who are facing similar challenges.
  8. Flexible Learning Options: Many colleges offer flexible learning options, such as online courses, evening classes, and accelerated degree programs, which can make it easier for adult learners to balance their studies with other responsibilities.

Remember, it’s important to reach out and take advantage of these resources. They’re there to help you succeed in your return to college.

Stay Organized

Keeping your study space and materials organized can significantly improve your productivity. Use a calendar or to-do list to keep track of assignment deadlines and other important dates.

This will help you manage your time effectively and reduce stress.

Here are my tips on how to stay as organized as possible while in college.

  1. Use a Planner or Digital Calendar: Keep track of all your assignments, exams, and important dates in one place. This could be a physical planner, or a digital calendar on your phone or computer. Set reminders for upcoming deadlines.
  2. Create a Study Space: Designate a specific area in your home for studying. This space should be quiet, comfortable, and free from distractions. Keep all your study materials in this area so you can easily find what you need.
  3. Organize Your Study Materials: Keep your notes, textbooks, and other study materials organized. You might organize your notes by subject or by date. Consider using binders or folders to keep everything in order.
  4. Break Down Large Tasks: Large tasks can feel overwhelming. Break them down into smaller, manageable tasks and tackle them one at a time. This can make your workload feel more manageable and less daunting.
  5. Prioritize Your Tasks: Not all tasks are equally important. Prioritize your tasks based on their importance and deadline. This can help you focus on what’s most important and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
  6. Use Technology: There are many apps and tools that can help you stay organized. For example, note-taking apps can help you keep your notes organized and searchable. Task management apps can help you keep track of your tasks and deadlines.
  7. Stay Consistent: Try to establish a consistent study routine. This can help you make studying a habit and make it easier to stay on track.
  8. Review Regularly: Regularly review your planner or calendar to check your progress and adjust your plans as necessary. This can help you stay on top of your tasks and prevent you from falling behind.

Remember, staying organized is a skill that takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to find a system that works for you.

The important thing is to keep trying and find ways to improve your organizational skills.

Celebrate Milestones

Remember to celebrate your achievements along the way. Whether it’s completing a problematic assignment, earning a good grade, or finishing a course, acknowledging these milestones can boost your motivation and confidence.

Here’s why it’s so important:

  1. Motivation: Reaching a milestone gives you a sense of accomplishment, which can boost your motivation to continue working towards your larger goal. It’s a reminder of the progress you’ve made and a motivator to keep going.
  2. Recognition: Celebrating a milestone is a way of recognizing the hard work and effort you’ve put into your studies. It’s an acknowledgment of your dedication and perseverance.
  3. Reflection: Milestones provide an opportunity for reflection. They allow you to look back on what you’ve achieved, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown.
  4. Positivity: Celebrations bring positivity and joy, which can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout. They’re a way of bringing balance and enjoyment to your academic journey.
  5. Goal Setting: Milestones can also help with goal setting. They break down your larger goal into smaller, more manageable parts, making it easier to stay focused and motivated.

So, whether it’s finishing a challenging assignment, acing an exam, or completing a course, take the time to celebrate these milestones.

It doesn’t have to be a big celebration – even a small reward or a moment of recognition can have a big impact on your motivation and morale.

Financial Aid

Fortunately, there are many colleges that offer courses at no cost to seniors.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI): The OLLI program, funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation, is available at over 100 universities and colleges across the United States. These institutes offer non-credit courses with no exams or grades to adults over age 50. The courses are designed for pure enjoyment and personal enrichment.
  2. Road Scholar: Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar offers educational tours in all 50 states and 150 countries. While not free, these programs are often affordable and offer a combination of learning and travel.
  3. Senior Citizens Auditing Programs: Many colleges and universities offer senior citizens the opportunity to audit classes for free or at a reduced cost. Auditing a course allows you to participate without receiving academic credit. Policies vary by institution, so it’s a good idea to check with the specific school you’re interested in.
  4. Online Learning Platforms: Websites like Coursera, edX, and Khan Academy offer free online courses from universities around the world. While the courses are free, there may be a fee if you want a certificate of completion.
  5. Public Libraries: Many public libraries offer free educational programs and workshops for seniors. These can range from technology tutorials to book clubs to language learning groups.
  6. Community Centers and Senior Centers: These local resources often provide classes and workshops for seniors, including art classes, exercise classes, computer classes, and more.

Keep in mind that these are just examples and there may be other options available depending on your location and interests.

You can reach out to your local senior center, library, or college/university for more information about opportunities in your area.

But, if you need financial aid, here are several financial aid options available for seniors returning to college or going to college for the first time.

Federal Aid

Seniors can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) just as younger students do. Stafford and Plus loans are available, but Pell and Supplemental Education Opportunity grants are only available for students without bachelor’s degrees.

You generally need to be enrolled at least half-time in a degree or academic program to qualify for most types of federal financial aid.

Tax Breaks

Seniors may be eligible for tax breaks such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (up to $2,500 annually) or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (up to $2,000 per year). Additionally, taxpayers under a certain income level can deduct student-loan interest.

529 Accounts

If you have money left in a 529 savings account from when your children were in school, you can change the beneficiary to yourself.

If you’re planning to go back to school, you can open a 529 account for yourself, which could get you a state tax deduction as well as the chance for tax-free growth​​.


There are scholarships specifically aimed at older students. Websites such as StudentScholarshipSearch and Fastweb can help you find them.

Additional places to consider are:

Some of these scholarships have specific requirements, such as residency, age, or employment status, so be sure to review the eligibility criteria for each one.

Federal Grants

Federal grants like the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) are available to students of all ages based on financial need. For the 2022-23 school year, the Pell Grant provides up to $6,895 and the FSEOG offers up to $4,000 annually.

Remember, you can also search for scholarships and grants at the institutional, state, or local level, and there may be more opportunities with fewer applicants the more you fine-tune your search.

Please note that while I have tried to provide a comprehensive list, financial aid can be complex and the best options for you may vary based on your specific circumstances.

It may be helpful to consult with a financial aid advisor or counselor at the college you plan to attend for more personalized advice.

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