Every day, I talk to adults about coming back to college.
One of the most important things I tell them is that they can finish their degree without sacrificing their personal and professional responsibilities, but they have to be willing to do the work. It is not easy, but it is doable.
Many adults run their own businesses, supervise employees, raise children and manage personal or corporate finances and still find time to come back to college and finish their degree. If you are a busy adult who is thinking about coming back to college, my best advice is to be thoughtful about your needs before selecting an institution.
Today, there are many options designed for adult learners that go way beyond online courses and taking classes at night or on weekends. First and foremost, academic integrity, quality and flexibility are key items that any college or university should have.
The academic quality of any institution is directly tied to its accreditation, which is an independent review of a school’s educational programs to determine that the education provided is of uniform and sound quality. An institution that has earned accreditation ensures that it has met established standards of quality determined by the organization granting the accreditation.
The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation in the United States is regional accreditation. There are six geographic regions of the United States with an agency that regionally accredits college and university higher education programs:
- The Middle States Commission on Higher Education: (institutions in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico)
- The New England Association of Schools and Colleges: (institutions in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont)
- The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: (institutions in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming)
- The Northwest Accreditation Commission: (institutions Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington)
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools: (institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia)
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges: (institutions in California, Hawaii, the territories of Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the Pacific Basin, East Asia, and areas of the Pacific and East Asia where American/International schools or colleges may apply to it for service)
For more information about institutional quality and accreditation, visit the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity website.
In addition, it is important to determine how a school offers its academic programs.
- Do its programs work around your schedule?
- How does the school define flexible?
- What learning options are available, in addition to a traditional classroom setting?
- Does the school offer the program you want and in the format you need?
Remember that you have different needs today than you had when you were a fresh-faced teen who just graduated from high school. You may have earned college credits at another institution or acquired college-level knowledge can be applied as college credit toward a degree. That said, it is important to consider:
- Will the school accept previously earned credits from other institutions?
- If so, how many of those credits can be applied to your degree?
- How many credits will you have to repeat?
- Can you earn credit for college-level knowledge you’ve acquired outside the classroom (through work, professional training, military training, volunteering, etc.)?
The answers to these questions can serve as a guide to selecting a school that is a good match for the prospective adult student.