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Tips for professionals returning to school

When a new school semester starts, children and young adults may not be the only ones who are returning to the classroom. Many adults resolve to expand their professional horizons by returning to school even after they have established themselves in their professions. Some may aspire to develop skills specific to a particular job, while others may want to make it easier to transition to a new career.

The number of adult undergraduates continues to grow. The National Center for Education Statistics says 33 percent of the 18 million undergraduate students in the United States are over the age of 25. Students over the age of 30 make up 22 percent of the student body in colleges and universities. The NCES also projects a continued rise of older students through 2020.

Going back to school can be an exciting time, but one that also comes with a bit of trepidation. Many adults may not have been in a classroom in more than a decade. Many things have changed with regard to academia in recent decades, and adults may need some extra time and help to make their transition back to student go smoothly.

• Schedule a campus visit. Choosing a school is an important decision, and even though you might not be spending as much time on campus as you did when you were younger, don't overlook the importance of a campus visit. A member of the admissions faculty or even a current student may be able to offer a guided tour, explaining the layout of the campus, amenities and resources. He or she also may point out parking areas, study locations and the best way to navigate the campus. This will help alleviate a fish-out-of-water feeling the first day of class.

• Secure financial aid if necessary. School is expensive, but keep in mind that scholarships and other forms of financial aid are not exclusive to younger learners. Speak with a financial aid counselor about programs that might be available to you. In addition, check with your employer to see if they offer incentives for returning to school.

• Brush up on school skills. Start reading more to refresh your vocabulary and other language skills. College involves critical thinking and reasoning, so explore free online courses or games that cover critical thinking skills. Refresh your memory on basic writing rules if essays and reports will be part of your curriculum. Honing your academic skills in advance of returning to school can help you start off on the right foot.

• Create a support system. Going back to school will require you to rearrange schedules and make certain sacrifices. Such adjustments may require the assistance of friends and family. Stop by your school's student services department and ask if they have help in place for nontraditional students. They may have guidance on balancing work, life and school. Such departments may also assist you with scheduling classes at the times of day that fit best with your work schedule.

Many adults return to school for personal reasons or to advance their careers. Having a plan in place can make the transition go smoothly.