Back to School: 5 Steps to Follow When Returning to College

You’ve already taken the first step. You’ve made the decision to go back to school— to finally finish the degree you started so many years ago. Now what? The process of researching, selecting, and applying for admission can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these five steps to choose the right program for you and get back into school in no time. 

  1. Decide what degree you want to pursue. Consider your reason for returning to school. Are you returning to college for:

    Advancement in your current career
    What credential do you need to make you “stand out” for that next promotion? Interested in a management position? Consider a degree in organizational leadership. Are there any industry-specific certifications you can pursue?

    Opportunities for a career change
    Research the field that you would like to transition to and the types of degrees required for those positions. Some industries require a particular degree for entry-level positions. Use sites like Indeed or Careerbuilder to find job openings for positions you want, and identify the specific degrees that those employers are looking for.

    Your own personal satisfaction
    If you are motivated by personal satisfaction rather than career growth, explore areas that truly interest you. Is it psychology? Art? Have you always had an underlying interest in Criminal Justice? In this situation, you’ll get the most out of your educational experience if you choose an area that you enjoy learning about. 

  2. Research schools that offer your chosen degree.
    What is most important to you in a degree program? Consider your current situation and aspects of a degree that are crucial to the feasibility of your success.

    Flexibility and format of the classes
    If you work full or part time, consider taking an online class that doesn’t require you to travel to campus. Online classes give you the flexibility to fit school into your already busy life. Taking classes online can also help you balance college and existing family responsibilities.
    Accreditation of the school
    As a minimum, you should look for a school to hold regional accreditation. Regional accreditation means that the school has met or exceeded minimum standards of quality and that the courses you take are transferrable to other institutions. You can find a list of Regional Accrediting Agencies in the US on the Department of Education’s website. Additionally, specific colleges and/or degrees can also hold specialized accreditation. For example, the School of Business Administration at Georgia Southwestern State University holds specialized accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in addition to the college’s regional SACSCOC accreditation.
    Opportunities for Prior Learning Credit
    If you’re returning to school after years in the workforce, you may have built up some experience that you can actually receive college credit for. Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) is awarded by the institution and, therefore, can differ from school to school. Most schools offer options such as Credit by Examination and Portfolio Submissions as a means to obtain credit for work and/or life experiences. Explore the CPL opportunities at the schools that you’re considering to see if one may be a better fit for you than the others. You can find information on CPL resources for our eMajor Affiliate Institutions on our website.
    Amount of Transfer Credit Accepted
    Transfer credit acceptance can sometimes vary by degree and by institution. Consider requesting an unofficial transfer evaluation to determine how your existing credit will fit into the degree. 
  3. Apply for admission.

    Review admission requirements.
    These requirements will differ based on your admissions type. Common admission types are Beginning Freshman, Transfer, and Non-Traditional. Your admissions type will be determined by your age and the amount of transferable college credit that you hold.

    Submit the online application for admission.
    Be sure to review application deadlines. Also, be mindful that most schools consider a completed application to include a standard application fee.

    Request official transcripts from all previous colleges attended.
    These are needed for the school to complete a transfer evaluation. Official transcripts can normally be ordered online and should be sent to the Admissions Office of the school to which you are applying in a sealed envelope.

    Submit any other required documentation.
    Additional documentation may be required depending on your admission type and specific requirements of the program.
  4. Complete advisement and/or orientation.

    Review your transfer evaluation.
    Your evaluation will tell you how your existing credit fits into your degree plan  and what courses you have left to take

    Meet with academic advisor in person or virtual
    Some schools require that you meet with an academic advisor before registering for class. Even if this is not a requirement at your school, consulting with an advisor prior to registration is a good way to ensure you are on-track with your degree plan and that you don’t waste any time by taking unnecessary courses.

    Complete orientation requirements
    Most schools require some sort of introduction or orientation program for new students. For online programs, these are usually conducted virtually— such is the case with the eCore and eMajor introduction quizzes.  Monitor your emails regularly for communication regarding orientation requirements, and be mindful of deadlines to complete these intro activities.
  5. Register for classes.
    Congratulations! You’ve successfully applied and been accepted to the school and program that is best suited for your needs. All that’s left is to register for your first classes and start working toward that degree!
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