Plan now for return to school in fall as adult student

As you enjoy all the beauty of a Wisconsin summer – from BBQs to a trip to the zoo – don’t forget to build in time to plan for the ABCs of going back to school in the fall as a returning adult student. Things may have changed since the last time you applied and enrolled in college or continuing education. Here are some actions you can take during summer downtime to prepare for fall applications and enrollment.

Document your goals. Start by reminding yourself why you’re taking this step. Are you completing a degree you didn’t get to finish? Changing directions in your career? Adding skills and knowledge that will help you advance? Be clear about your goals by journaling and talking with a trusted colleague, friend or family member. Reminding yourself of the big picture makes small tasks along the way worth your time.

headshot of Anne Niendorf
Anne Niendorf, student services coordinator

Determine deadlines. Find out application deadlines for your program of interest. Many schools have rolling admissions, which means they evaluate applications as they receive them rather than on a specific deadline, and then release decisions multiple times per year. What if you missed a deadline? It doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ll accept a late application. If not, put a note in your calendar for the next deadline, but don’t hesitate to ask what options you might have to get started this fall. For example, can you take a noncredit class or enter the school as a nondegree student to take a prerequisite?

Collect transcripts. Find out if the program requires transcripts and, if so, which ones. Many transcripts can now be requested online from various institutions, but you might have several schools you need to contact, and that can take time. Build in at least a month to be sure you meet deadlines.

Figure out financials. Calculate the cost of education, and don’t forget about books and other fees like commuting and parking. Look at your budget and see if there are costs that you can cut. Investigate employer tuition and professional development funds. Not everyone qualifies for financial aid, but complete the financial aid application (FAFSA, fafsa.ed.gov) because many schools require it for you to be considered for grants and scholarships. Talk with a financial aid specialist at the institution and ask about other options to fund your education.

Plan for balance. How do you envision your life when you go back to school? If you’re keeping your job and you have other obligations, how will you integrate time to take care of yourself and continue to do things that bring you calm and happiness? It’s important to consider this ahead of your start date so you can build some balance into your life. Start by recruiting friends and family members to provide support, hiring help or just setting intentional time to do things that spark joy and keep you connected.

Summer is also a great time to comb through websites to learn more about the program you’d like to enter in the fall. Send emails, ask questions, do some reading in your field and get in an academic mindset. You can also ask to talk with current students or graduates. And don’t forget to go back-to-school shopping, remembering the excitement of getting that new pencil box and preparing for a year of learning and growth.

The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Anne Niendorf, a student services coordinator, can be reached at anne.niendorf@wisc.edu. This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 13, 2021.