Three part plan for higher education

If you look back over your life, back to when you were a teenager, does it seem like you have always been busy?  From the time many of us were teenagers we were always doing something.  When we were sixteen we had schoolwork, extra curriculars, friends and part-time jobs.

Life happens

By the time we were in our twenties, our jobs were full-time, some friends were still around, while others moved on.  Eventually, dating turned into marriage and a family was about to emerge.  Soon our jobs became careers, we had a home, kids and still plenty to do.  

And so it goes, our life story continued to evolve and not always the way we wanted.  Changes occur for all of us.  While these changes are not always welcome, they can awaken our interest in self-improvement.  It's never too late to learn.  Learning is living with an open mind and greater potential for success. 

Education is the formal means of knowledge and can provide the requirements to achieve a better career, more money and greater wisdom.

If you're already overscheduled it may seem impossible to fit school into your life.  It's important to see the long-term benefits of your education as a driving force in making it work.  We put together a three part plan to help motivate and reorganize your life so that your vision of a better future can be realized!


Dream, Plan, Research

1. Choose the appropriate types of schooling that will meet your expectations. They should be fitting to your priorities and schedule.   This may include choosing online classes, night classes or part-time schooling. 

2. Your new education should meet the requirements that provide you with more personal happiness, money and career satisfaction.  Take a look at the DMK 2020 Career Challenge in the Summer/Fall issue of Starting Over Magazine.  It has trending career ideas & income statistics based on today's most popular professions & corresponding educational requirements.  The Special Section has great articles like, "What is your career missing?" and "Featured Career, Information Technology"

3. If you have interest in a degree or certificate program in a specific course of study, research details regarding demand, pay and educational requirements.   Research the typical amount of time outside of class you will need to dedicate to ensure you will be able to meet the demands of the program. You can do preliminary research online and later confirm your research with your guidance counselor before selecting a program.  

3. Your current situation may require reasonable modifications to your custody arrangements, employment or financial obligations.  Your education may provide a greater benefit in the future to make such changes worthwhile.  However, be cautious of major changes to housing, custody or otherwise until you are confident your education plan is in place. 

You may have to live very modestly until you have achieved your education goals.  This is the time to decide if your education choices are what you want, if you should wait or choose a different career and/or education path.  

4. More information can be found regarding lifestyle changes when going back to school, see our June, 2019 article on "How to fit school back into your life".

5. Research colleges, universities and trade schools that offer a certificate or degree program of interest.  You may want to tour some colleges or research them online to determine the right one. The most common thigs considered are: programs offered, expected completion time, tuition and location.

6. Develop an education plan that includes how to pay for school and time dedicated for classes and studying.


 Inquire, Select, Prepare

1. Make a detailed list of your priorities for the coming year.  Include an everyday schedule and a generalized long-term schedule that includes birthdays, holidays and anticipated events (family, job, household).   Forecast these commitments with your education plan so that you can prepare.

2. Go over the specifics of your current budget (worst and best case scenarios) and determine if you'll need to change your current job, lifestyle or housing in order to make it work.  Discuss these potential changes with family members that may be affected.  Adjust your current education plan, as needed.

3. Speak with a college guidance counselor of the college or university of your choice regarding the certificate or degree program you have researched in Part 1. 

  • If applicable, bring an unofficial transcript from any colleges previously attended to determine if your credits will transfer to the new college or university.   Also, determine if they are applicable to your current selected program.  If they transfer, you may also inquire as to how many credits would apply to the program and if more credits from your previous coursework would apply to another degree or certificate program of interest.  
  • Get information about entrance exams, prerequisite coursework, program applications and program waiting list(s), if applicable.
  • Determine if your current education (diploma, GED, other college coursework) satisfies the prerequisites to begin your new education program.
  • Verify the amount of months or years needed to satisfy program prerequisites and coursework required for your degree or certificate of interest. 
  • Determine if you will need to transfer to complete your education goals or if the school offers the entire educational program. 
  • Seek information about anyone else (other schools, hospitals or nursing schools, counselors, professors, etc.) you need to speak with regarding the program of interest and prerequisites.
  • If planning to transfer from a trade school or community college to a four year university, always meet with a guidance counselor at that university to ensure the credits and/or degree of interest will be accepted towards the completion of your total educational goals PRIOR to signing up at the trade school or college.
  • Determine if all information received from all counselors matches with your expectations based on your preliminary research.   
  • Make sure the coursework fits with your everyday and long-term schedule. 
  • Ask the guidance counselor for names and contact information of teachers and professors within their respective departments for more coursework information.  Talking with students and graduates of the program may also be helpful in determining if the program is right for you.

4. Determine what the total program will require from you from start-to-finish in order to better your preparedness and potential for program completion.  It's exciting to think of your new degree or certificate and eagerly sign up for school; but too often students quit before they graduate.

Based on information gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics, despite nearly 20 million students enrolled in secondary education in 2018, anticipated degrees are just under 3.9 million graduates. 

Don't dedicate time and money to a program that you're unable or unwilling to modify your lifestyle in order to complete it. Decide early on to change your degree selection or deem the end result worth certain sacrifice in coming months or years.  It helps to know what to expect!

5. Speak with a financial aid counselor to determine the grants, scholarships and loans of which you are qualified and those recommended for your situation.  Ask if there is any online information that you can reference. 

Make sure you inform him/her about any financial aid or loans previously awarded and the details accordingly.  Ask about any required documentation you'll need to provide, along with income limits and/or academic requirements to qualify.  Determine the financial aid and/or scholarship deadlines.

6. Meet with an admissions coordinator to discuss the upcoming semesters and course availability.  If you have transfer credits as determined in Part 1, ask what requirements the college or university has regarding their receipt of an official transcript. 

If you have a high school diploma or GED, determine the requirements regarding the receipt of an official transcript or other documents.

Proceed to order any and all transcripts or documentation (high school, college, trade school, GED) accordingly. 

Determine what 's necessary to enroll and deadlines to sign up for your classes.  Most colleges and universities offer an option to enroll and sign up for classes online.


 Enroll, Choose, Learn

1. Enroll at the college or university you've selected.

Make an appointment with the admissions coordinator or sign-up for classes online.  Consult with the guidance counselor prior to selecting classes, as needed.

Complete financial aid requirements and set an appointment with the financial aid counselor, as needed. 

2. Explain to your children the specific changes in your schedule based on the classes you selected.  Depending on their age, they may still find it difficult to adapt.  It may be best to arrange care for them when you have important term papers, tests and exams to study or prepare.   This would be the time to also make arrangements for that care with grandparents, your former spouse and babysitters.

3. Set up a quiet room or area of your home that is dedicated to your studies.  It should be kid free to give you a place to keep and organize your study materials.  Keeping it simple and organized will help your time management between work, school and everyday life.  See our Special Section article, "Organize your workspace" for ideas. 

4. Finalize all associated tasks to getting enrolled, obtaining your student ID, parking pass, schedule, books, on-line passwords, tuition due dates and financial aid.  There may be some minimal costs for ID's and passes.  You may also be responsible for some initial tuition if your financial aid or student loans are not yet approved.

You are now ready to get your education for a better future!  Be prepared for a tough adjustment ahead and give yourself time to get acclimated to your new schedule.  Always make necessary changes in order to keep your home and family safe, happy and secure without giving up on your dreams for a successful future.  

Know that you are not alone and that your professors and counselors are there to help you when you run into trouble with your current coursework.  Don't let things get too far, causing you to fail a class.  Instead reach out for guidance from the staff who can help direct you to tutors or provide information about dropping the class early enough to avoid a negative impact on your GPA.


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