5 tips for working adults returning to college

(BPT) - Most working professionals want to advance their skills, land that promotion and get a raise. However, some 36 million adults face a significant barrier to achieving their goals and aspirations: They still need to complete a significant amount of coursework in order to earn a college degree.

While many of these adults have completed at least some higher education classes, the demands of family life and maintaining a career, along with a lack of financial resources, can both be forces that derail these plans.

Fortunately, the pathways to earning a college degree are evolving, which means a working professional now has more affordable and efficient means to finish the coursework. With a smart strategy, a busy working professional can make that dream of earning a diploma into a reality.

1. Define your goals

Some people know exactly what they want from life and how a college degree will help them fulfill their goals. Others may have more general ambitions related to finishing the degree, but they may need to take time to create a more detailed plan. In either case, before choosing a higher education program, it’s important to take time to inventory skills and career experiences. The insights from this exercise can be helpful in charting your course to earning that diploma.

2. Consider your time and explore your financial options

For a working adult, using traditional means to earn a degree isn't always best-suited to the realities of life — not to mention finances. With the demands of family and work encroaching on study and class time, fitting it all in can seem overwhelming.

It's important to take time to research your options, because there may be more flexible and affordable paths to choose from.

One great example is a new program from Kaplan University called ExcelTrack. Students begin with an assessment, which measures what they already know and advises a course of study. Even better, the coursework allows them to focus on what they need to master, not what they already know. They then work through the courses online — which entails participating in seminars, doing practice activities, completing projects that demonstrate what they know and can do — all while taking as much or as little time as they need.

For people who are able to move at a faster pace, the option can be more affordable than the traditional route because they can pay a flat fee for 6 weeks (graduate level) or 10 weeks (undergraduate level), enabling them to take and complete as many courses as they can handle. This makes earning a degree from an accredited university much more affordable and flexible.

3. Get organized

Working toward a degree can be an intense experience for anyone, which is why it's important to create the right environment to focus and study. Start by setting up a study station. Ideally, this is a desk or table that’s clean, well-lit and organized with plenty of supplies on hand, and a comfortable chair.

Begin by holding study sessions at different times of the day, while paying attention to energy and productivity levels. Many do their best when they rise an hour or two before their families do, while others come alive in the evening hours. Studying online offers this kind of flexibility so whatever time of day works for you, be sure and stick to your study routine. Before long, your mind will anticipate and expect a study session at certain times of day, which makes it easier to get focused.

4. Get support

With the demands of school and work, now is an appropriate time to seek help from family and friends. Talk to your partner, parents or siblings about taking on child care duties a few days or evenings a week so you can work without interruption. This is an opportune time to give older kids additional responsibilities, such as folding their laundry, starting dinner and packing their own lunches.

Beyond that, consider informing your employer about your college courses and your goals. If your degree is relevant to other work at the company, you might discover they are willing to help. After all, they already have an employee who knows the business, and they will more than likely appreciate your ambition.

5. Keep it in balance

When life gets this hectic, especially when it’s consumed with family, work and school, it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends, leaving you feeling overextended and burned out. This is why it's important to schedule some down time. Having a break to look forward to can be a powerful motivational tool. Maybe it’s a weekly bike ride, or relaxing with a favorite movie. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about taking this time for yourself.

For more information about earning a degree online from Kaplan University with its new ExcelTrack program, visit kaplanuniversity.edu.

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