Continuing Your Education
Welcome to FAME’s nontraditional student web page and congratulations on taking the very first step towards your college education – letting yourself consider the possibilities!
A nontraditional or adult learner student is characterized as a student who has previously attended college before and is now returning to school; or, may be a first time college student who graduated from high school or received a GED and went straight into the workforce. If you've been out of school for awhile, you are probably excited and a bit overwhelmed with the thought of going to college. This web page was created to calm your fears and concerns by providing information to guide you through the college transition process and help you make a plan to succeed!
There are a variety of reasons why adults decide to go to college. Many are seeking better jobs and increased pay. Some are looking for an opportunity to expand their options. Others may be led into a career move due to employment layoffs or downsizing and are looking for a career that provides for greater job security and stability.
Whatever your reasons, there are definite benefits to obtaining a college degree.
Did you know that...
- The median monthly income for bachelor degree holders is 62% higher than for those with only a high school diploma.
- College graduates experience significantly lower unemployment and poverty rates.
- College graduates report overall better health
- Children of college graduates are more likely to also attend college.
College graduates also report an increased sense of self-esteem and personal satisfaction.
Consider Your Interests, Abilities and Skills
What do you like about your current job? What do you dislike about your current job? While it might sound a little silly, think back to when you were a child, what did you like to do for play? For example, did you play school a lot? Were you always the teacher? If so, perhaps there is a teacher in you, or it may be that you enjoy helping people, and/or would do well in positions of leadership.
Use FAME's Career Search to help you get started and for further exploration, complete a self-directed career exploration/assessment profiler.
Once you have a few career choices in mind, try to schedule an interview with someone that is working in that career or related career. Here is a list of sample questions that you could use for your interview. Be sure to focus on the question areas that are the most important to you.
Another way to get a better sense of a career is to job shadow. When you job shadow, you'll spend a day (or more) with someone while they do their work. Job shadowing provides an inside look at what career descriptions might not reveal.
Career Centers or Counselors
Maine has an excellent network of career and college access counselors. For more information, visit the local Career Center or contact the Maine Educational Opportunity Center. It is also a good idea to meet with someone in the job placement office at the college you want to attend. Advisors are skilled at helping students convert their ideas and dreams into a plan.
Probably one of the most basic factors guiding adult learners to select a particular school over another is the school’s location. Most adult students will choose from the schools that are located closest to them and Maine has an excellent selection of universities and community colleges located throughout the state.
Generally speaking it is a good idea to look at public colleges and universities in your state of residence first. State colleges and universities offer reduced tuition rates for state residents.
Consider attending a community college. Community colleges offer low costs per credit hour as well as excellent resources for nontraditional students. Students planning to continue on to a bachelors or higher degree may be able to transfer their community college credits into another program. Of course, it is important to work closely with both your current and future school when planning a transfer.
Interactive television (ITV) allows students to attend courses at offsite locations throughout the state via the use of an audio/video connection to the course as it is being conducted live. Students watch the course on a screen and may interact with the instructor by calling in questions and comments during the class. Typically an ITV course will have many students participating from several locations around the state.
It is also becoming more common for schools to offer courses and programs that are completed either in part or entirely online. This is a great option for working students; however, you need a good computer and reliable internet connection as well as a great deal of self-motivation and a disciplined approach to coursework. Participants log into a course site that will usually include a discussion board, assignments, lectures (which may be written or video), and tests. Class participation is often tracked via posting requirements to the discussion board.
It is recommended that you contact a college directly for information pertaining to their programs; however, there are a number of web sites on which you can do some preliminary research.
The FAME website has a Maine College Search for a quick view of the colleges in Maine. Listings include “Services for Adults” indicating the services that are particularly beneficial for adult learners.
The following web sites can also help as you research colleges:
Be aware that while most schools participate in the federal student financial aid programs, there are some that do not. For example, sometimes career or trade school do not offer financial aid. These types of schools are often attractive to adult students as they frequently offer flexible short-term schedules; however, they can be more expensive and without the availability of aid may not be affordable. If you are unsure if the school has federal financial aid, contact the school directly.
It is important that you make sure that the school you are interested in is accredited by the appropriate accreditation authority. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that the higher education institution meets acceptable levels of quality. If the school has not received approved accreditation, you may find that credentials earned at the school are not useable for further education or employment. You can research school accreditation at the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Education.
Types of Programs and Schools
Common education requirements for many jobs include the following:
- Certificate Program – one year or less of full-time study
- Associate Degree – two years of full-time study
- Bachelor Degree – four years of full-time study
- Masters or Professional Degree – two to four years of full-time study after completion of undergraduate (bachelor) degree program.
When thinking about which school to attend, look at the colleges that offer the type of degree you need:
- Career and Trade Schools – certificate programs
- Community College – certificate and associate degree programs
- Public Colleges and Universities – associate and bachelor degree programs, may offer masters and professional degrees
- Private Colleges and Universities – associate and bachelor degree programs, may offer masters and professional degrees
It is likely that you are entering college with life commitments that must be included in your educational plan. It is crucial to your success that you work out a balance between financial, family, and school obligations that will allow you to do well.
If you must work while attending school, be careful not to overextend yourself. Start out slow, perhaps taking only one or two courses until you are able to get a better sense of what you’ll need to succeed. How much time do you require to write a paper? How long does it take you to prepare for an exam? Buy yourself a planner and schedule your study time. Generally, it is advised that for every hour of class, you’ll need two hours of study; however, this varies from person to person. How it is all actually going to work will look different when you factor in your other responsibilities.
It all gets easier so it’s important not to get discouraged. There are adjustments to be made and you will get better at everything, at balancing, at writing, at studying and test-taking. Set manageable goals now that will allow you to succeed.
Once you have decided on a school or schools that you would like to apply to, there are certain steps that are important to follow. This list will help guide you.
Obtain an admissions application either online or by calling or e-mailing the school’s admissions office. In many cases, you may be able to submit the application online.
Read the application very carefully before you begin filling it out.
Set up a calendar to be certain that you meet deadlines.
Check with the school to find out about any testing requirements. Many colleges will not require adult SAT or ACT scores, however, may have other tests that they use to determine your academic placement.
Request transcripts from the last high school and college you attended. Be sure to request these early as sometimes it can take awhile to locate high school transcripts. If you have GED credentials, you will likely need your GED transcript which may be obtained through the GED Office, Maine Department of Education.
If required, write your application essay. Schools use the essay to get to know you and it is a critically important part of your application. There may be many students with similar academic achievement or potential but there is only one YOU. Write your essay with a great deal of care and thought. Make sure that your essay is both responsive to the question and reflective of you. Read it aloud when you are done and have someone (or more than one) person proofread it before you send it in. Grammar and spelling are critical and there is no room for error.
If required, obtain letters of recommendation. If you are uncertain as to whom to obtain letters from, seek guidance from the admissions office.
Review all application materials before submitting to make sure that it is complete. If the application requires a fee, take care to enclose the proper amount.
Submit the application.
Follow up with school to make sure that it was received, complete, and to check on next steps such as the interview process (if any).
Financial aid is available for nontraditional students just as it is for traditional students. Many financial aid programs are also available to students attending school part time. FAME’s financial aid basics provides more information on financial aid and how to apply.
Each year thousands of scholarships are available to qualified students. A common myth is that you must be a high school senior to be eligible for these scholarships. While it is true that many are specific to high school seniors, many are not. You do not need to be an “A” student to receive a scholarship, though there are certainly scholarships out there for “A” students. You’ll find that scholarships have a broad range of eligibility criteria and are based on an variety of factors such as academics, future career plans, ethnicity, or extracurricular activities, to name a few. Many are even just for nontraditional students.
FAME has a Maine-based scholarship search and you will find that many scholarships are available for students continuing their education. There are also links to other excellent online free scholarship searches. These are FREE searches. It is important that you do not pay any “fees” for the information or application processing.
Groups and organizations that you or your immediate family members belong to may offer scholarships for their members. Often these are not well publicized so it’s best to contact the organization and ask.
Employers sometimes have scholarships and/or tuition benefits that may come in various forms. If you are uncertain about whether or not these are available at your place of employment, be sure to ask. Educational benefits are not as utilized as other employee benefits so they are not always as well-known. And, who knows, your inquiry might get the wheels moving.
Check with the financial aid office at your college and also check with your college advisor and/or the dean of the program that you will be enrolled in. Some schools have institutional scholarships that require a separate application and the school may or may not provide this information as part of their standard process. It may be up to you to ask the question.
Apply for as many scholarships as you can. It is possible that you will find the perfect scholarship for you, submit the application, and receive an award, however, other factors aside, a focused effort to fill out as many scholarship applications as possible tends to yield a better outcome.
TIP - The scholarship committee reading your application and essay will be deciding why they should give the scholarship to you and not to another applicant. Complete the application carefully and thoughtfully. As in your college application, grammar and spelling are critical and there is no room for error. Read essays aloud to yourself (many grammar errors are discovered this way) and make sure that you have plenty of proofreaders.
You can expect to receive a financial aid award once you have been accepted for admission to a college and the financial aid office has received the results of your FAFSA. The financial aid award will list the financial aid you may be eligible to receive. Review the award carefully to determine the types of aid (loan, gift, or work) that are being offered. Look for words such as tentative and estimated. These words indicate that the amount provided has not been finalized and is subject to change. If you have received awards from more than one school, compare them to each other. FAME has developed a worksheet for you to use to review award(s).
Once you have reviewed your financial aid award from the school, you will have a better sense of whether or not financial aid is going to be enough to cover your educational expenses. If you find that you are coming up short, there are some things you may be able to do to reduce the cost of your education as well as some additional ways to pay the bill.
Reduce Enrollment Level
Consider reducing your enrollment level for a semester. This is an option if your tuition is calculated per credit hour. Be sure to discuss this with your financial aid office before proceeding as a reduction in enrollment level could lead to a reduction in financial aid.
You can save a substantial amount of money on textbooks by starting your shopping early. Three or four weeks before classes begin, visit the school bookstore either in person or online to find out what you need for the upcoming semester. Write down the ISBN numbers for your required textbooks and use this number to shop online for your books at web sites such as Amazon and EBay. It is unlikely that you will be able to purchase all of your books online, so beginning early will ensure that you have time to make a second trip to the bookstore. Be sure to look for used textbooks at the bookstore that may be purchased for a slightly reduced cost.
Prior Learning Assessment
You may be able to receive college credit for skills and knowledge that you already possess. Many colleges offer prior learning assessment method(s) in which the skills and knowledge that students obtain outside of the classroom, through employment, community involvement, volunteer service, and other life experiences, may be evaluated for academic credit. While there are several different methods, the most common include standardized exams such as College Level Examination Program or (CLEP) Exams and individualized portfolio assessment.
In the standardized exam method, students may receive college credit by earning a qualifying score on an exam related to a specific course, such as college writing, basic computer skills, history, etc. There is generally a cost associated with the exam; however, it is typically considerably less than the tuition that the student would have to pay to enroll in the corresponding course. As an example, the CLEP Exam is currently around $72.
In the portfolio assessment method, students prepare and present a collection (portfolio) of information about their past learning and accomplishments. The portfolio must represent measurable learning that is equivalent to that usually obtained in a college course. Designated faculty members will assess the portfolio. It is important to follow the process set by the school for portfolio assessment. Some schools require completion of a portfolio development course before proceeding.
In addition to other standardized tests, colleges sometimes have their own customized exams and other methods of evaluating prior learning. Contact your academic advisor for more information on prior learning assessment methods offered at your school.
Tracking Expenses and Budgeting
Now is a good time to track and review your current expenses and develop a budget. Begin by tracking every expense for a month or two. This will give you a realistic picture of what you are spending. Then take a look at your list and determine which of your expenses are flexible and consider reducing them.
The next step is to prepare a budget. You need to make a plan for spending so that you control your spending and it does not control you. Remember, the amount that you budget cannot exceed the amount that you earn. If it does then you will either have to earn more or spend less. Consider reducing flexible expenses to make your budget work!
FAME has a variety of free resources and tools to help you understand the important elements of successful money management.
Family Development Accounts (FDA’s) are a great option to consider if you are planning ahead for your college education expenses. These accounts provide a 4:1 match on savings for certain specific purposes – education, starting a business or first-time homeownership. For more information on FDA’s, contact Women, Work and Community.
Tuition Payment Plans
Many colleges offer tuition payment plans to help students finance their education. These are short-term financing plans that allow students to spread their payments out over a semester or year, thereby reducing the need for loans. Most plans charge a nominal participation fee. Contact your financial aid office for more information.
The NextGen College Investing Plan® helps Maine students and families prepare for college expenses. Although NextGen is most commonly considered by families planning ahead for their childrens' college expenses, the program provides special benefits for Maine residents as well as a tax-advantaged way to save money for college, making it an excellent option for adult learners as well. For more information on the NextGen College Investing Plan®, visit the NextGen web site.
Alternative Student Loans are credit-based private education loans that may be obtained through a participating lender. Interest rates and terms vary from lender to lender. Often the loan will require a cosigner. It’s important to note that alternative student loans are not federal student loans and do not have the same repayment or cancellation provisions to benefit borrowers that the federal student loan programs have. Use these loans as a last resort only.
There are several State and Federal tax benefits available for educational expenses. Visit the following sites for more information:
Tax Information for Students
Publication 970 -- Tax Benefits for Education
Educational Opportunity Tax Credit (Opportunity Maine)
There are many education benefits available to individuals who are interested in or are currently pursuing a military career and to veterans and their dependents. For an overview of the various military education benefits and financial aid programs, including college and career exploration resources, please visit FAME's Military Students and Families web page.
You’ve done your research, applied for financial aid, and have been accepted to college – congratulations to you!! Before you begin, make a plan that will allow you to be successful as a student that includes your life, the people and other responsibilities that are important to you. Here are some areas to think about before you begin:
Make a Plan:
- Study Space
- Do you have an area or room set up that will be your study space – does it have adequate lighting, heat/cooling, electricity, computer connectivity, etc?
- It's also important that your study space be appealing to you.
- Organize your Time
- Make yourself a schedule.
- Study Time – Standard rule of thumb is two hours of study for every hour of class. This may be more or less for you, and, is likely to increase around exam time and semester end.
- Work Time – Do you work a set schedule, does your schedule vary from week to week, do you have any flex time? TIP – Schedule a vacation day during exam week. You may need it to study, and, if not, you can use it to regroup.
- Play Time – Make sure that you schedule some “off” time, especially important if you are going to work while you are a student. Scheduling the time allows you to truly take it without feeling like you are skipping out on your studies. You are doing exactly what you planned to do, relax.
- Prepare Yourself
- Take a study skill course and/or refresh your reading/writing skills. TIP – Adult education courses are a great way to do this. For more information, check out Maine Adult Education.
- Computer and Internet – Is your computer in good working health? How is your internet connection? If you are taking online courses, check your connection(s) to the course website.
- Organize your materials – notebooks/folders.
- Prepare your Family
- Talk about your plan to study – when, where, and what is expected of them when you are studying.
- Reallocate household chores, cooking, etc.
- Talk about your plan to play (free time) – it’s important that your family knows when you’ll be available.
- Locate your Resources
- College Success Course/Workshop – Schools often offer either courses or workshops on various skills that will help you to succeed.
- Find out if there are any tutoring or study groups.
- When is the library open?
- Are there any online resources that are open to you as a student – sometimes students have free access to otherwise expensive web material. The school librarian should be able to provide more information.
- Find out when your advisor and/or professors hold office hours.
- For a list of other resources that may be helpful to you, visit FAME's Important Links page.