#MyDegree2013 is a special blog series dedicated to helping people make those resolutions a reality by showcasing the experiences of actual students who are balancing work, a busy family life, and classes.
As the New Year arrives it is common for people to make resolutions, and for many, those resolutions include going back to school to finish a college degree. According to recent surveys, education has been a popular resolution among adult Americans over the past decade and is now one of the top personal goals for 2013. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that some 34 million Americans over age 25 have some college credits but never completed a degree, a rate that grew by roughly 700,000 people over the past three years. Most of these adults are not able to put their lives on hold while going back to college, but there are ways to make that New Year’s resolution a reality. #MyDegree2013 is a new blog series about adult students who are working full time while earning a degree, and aims to help motivate people making New Year’s resolutions for education. Joe Cockrell is the primary blogger behind #MyDegree2013 – he is a graduate student at Brandman University, a non-profit institution that is part of the Chapman University System. Brandman primarily serves working adult students and Cockrell has assembled some tips with the help of experts.
Here are six “A’s” to help get you started on your New Year’s resolution:
Assess. You need to evaluate what degree program is right for your personal situation. What is your motivation for going back to school? If you started a bachelor’s degree but never finished, perhaps your goal is to complete the degree in that field. If you are a mid-career adult with a bachelor’s degree, options could include an MBA or other master’s program, or you might want to consider a certificate program in your industry. If you are unemployed or looking to make a career change, do some research into the fields that interest you and identify what degree is needed to make a career move. You’ll also want to think about whether you might consider earning your degree online – a popular solution for many working adults. For some it might be best to attend community college and then transfer into a bachelor’s program. There are a variety of options! If you’re not sure what degree program you want, talk to people in the field that interests you and ask for advice on what academic route is best. Use social media sites like LinkedIn to network with people in the field you are considering and ask them for advice.
Analyze Your Options. Do your homework! Searching online is certainly a good idea, but rather than Googling randomly, you can find a wealth of information on the U.S. Department of Education’s website (ed.gov) to help get you started. There are a lot of advertisements for universities on television, radio and the Internet – look beyond the marketing and do some research focused on information about schools that offer the type of degree you seek, their graduation rates, loan default rates and accreditation. Identify 2-3 institutions as your top picks and review admissions criteria for the program you want to pursue.
Ask Questions. Once you’ve identified 2-3 schools where you might want to attend, visit their websites and learn as much as you can about their admissions requirements and the application process. Set up an appointment for a campus tour or personal advising appointment over the phone. Most reputable institutions provide qualified admissions counselors who can help you navigate the process, including financial aid options. Some good questions to ask include:
· What is your graduation rate (what percentage of students who start go on to graduate)?
· What is your school’s loan default rate (the percentage of students who default)?
· Is this college for-profit or non-profit?
· What support services do you have in place to help me as a new student?
Apply. If you have previous college credits, or are applying for a graduate program, you’ll need to get official copies of your transcripts, test scores, etc. so be sure to have that information prior to applying. Most universities have online applications; at Brandman, it’s free to apply online.
Afford It. One of the biggest misconceptions about adults going back to school is the cost of attending. It is possible to finance your education in a variety of ways and there are a number of financial aid options, including grants, scholarships and federally-subsidized loans. Be sure to check with your employer about tuition benefits - some companies have programs that help employees earn a degree, so ask your boss or HR department. There are a variety of factors unique to your own situation, so the best thing to do is take advantage of financial aid counseling from each university you are considering. You should know exactly how much it is going to cost and exactly how long it will take to earn your degree. For adult students, programs that allow you to continue working full time while attending can help minimize the amount of student loans you’ll need.
Attend & Avoid Pitfalls. Recognize that going back to school is a major life decision and takes commitment just like any other New Year resolution. Make a plan for all of your resources -- finances, time, family, social obligations, etc. Once you know which resources you have and need, you can develop a strategy during the coming weeks and months to use those resources wisely.
· Make class part of your regular routine; put class schedule into your calendar and schedule blocks of individual study time just like you would an appointment or meeting; put reminders for important due dates into your calendar as well. Engage your family and friends in your effort to return to school, by making it meaningful and valuable for them, too. That may mean, for example, doing your homework at the kitchen table with your kids and sharing what you’re learning about.
· Don't isolate yourself as a student – your peers in the classroom are going through the same thing. Build a support network of classmates (or co-workers who are also returning to school). Use social media sites, such as LinkedIn groups, to connect with others and share experiences and support.
For more information visit www.BrandmanHub.com/mydegree2013.