29 October 2008

Boomer Ed: Going to School in the Downturn

Economic downturns almost always send adults to school in large numbers. That is predicted for the current financial crunch, too, except that higher ed is hurting in this crunch right along with everyone else. Some states are making cuts in higher ed, and everyone is concerned that financial aid may be limited. Today begins 6 posts on the subject, half this week and half next week. Part 1 of this series begins with early steps in deciding to go to school; tomorrow, Part 2 will consider on-campus versus online options.

Boomer Ed - Part 1: Going to School in the Downturn

Non-traditional students (that's what older students are called, and "older" means over 25) are very welcomed on college campuses. Despite the country's worries about college drop-outs, educators know that's balanced by the strong efforts by adults who either come late to college or return to finish. Mature students come to campus with determination to learn, to study, and to finish. That doesn't mean the finish comes easily—a return to school is expensive, both in time and money.

If there is one major protection worth considering, it is to make the return slowly. Take just one or two classes. Admittedly, that is the least followed advice by returning students. Below are some other basic pieces of advice about getting started.

Attend only an accredited college. This means the school is vetted by one of the 6 regional accrediting bodies in the U.S. Your college's web site should name one of the accreditors listed on the CHEA web page. You can also go to the accreditor's web site and double-check that your college is listed as having been approved or renewed or reaffirmed.

Use the Internet to compare colleges. To learn more about independent and private schools, check out U-CAN. U.S. public schools can be searched at the VSA web site called College Portrait.

Explore the community colleges in your area if you are seeking an Associate's degree or a career-oriented certificate. The Associate's (sometimes called A.A. and similar abbreviation) is about half of a Bachelor's degree.

Even if it's a Bachelor's degree you seek, check out the community colleges for credits that you can transfer to a 4-year school. The community college almost always costs less. Some schools have articulation agreements, which basically guarantee that a course from one school will count toward the intended degree at the next school. If you cannot get that assurance, limit your community college credits to courses in the Gen Ed or core curriculum approved in your state. The course catalogs should indicate which courses are "safe" for transfer but the question deserves a visit to an academic adviser, too.

Course catalogs are also a good research tool if you seek a graduate degree. That's how I chose my graduate program. I collected 3 catalogs, put them side by side on the kitchen table, and read the course descriptions. Most schools publish their catalogs online, now, making such comparisons must easier.

Start the application process early because a deadline may be too late to get the classes (and financial aid) you want. Most schools offer some level of online application but read closely for any extra paperwork that is required. You may need to order transcripts from other colleges you have attended; you may need to complete additional applications for grants and loans. For undergraduate classes, start your application 1 -2 semesters ahead of time. For graduate programs, you may need to start a full year ahead.

Visit the school(s)
, even if no interview is required. If you plan ahead, you should be able to make appointments for all these offices:

  • Admissions - try to talk with an admissions adviser who can actually discuss degree plans.
  • Academic Program - you may need to visit the Department of your program to speak with an adviser or a professor. If you have attended college before, carry your transcript with you (an unofficial one is fine for this purpose).
  • Financial Aid - do not delay on this office if you intend to seek scholarships, grants, or loans. The word on campuses today is that financing is shrinking, so you will want to be the early bird. Also, this office is swamped near the start of semester, so you should visit months before that time.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Very good advice.

I appreciate your encouraging adults to return to college. To add to that encouragement I never...in more than 30 years in college admissions...worked with a returning adult who was not successful in earning a degree. And, despite the trials and challenges they faced, I have never encountered an adult student who regretted his/her return to education.