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Fact vs Fiction: The truth about going back to college

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May 24, 2018 | Dr. Michelle Horton, Director of the Complete Florida Program

From financial constraints to family obligations, there are many concerns that make adult learners reluctant to go back to college and complete their degrees. The top five concerns facing adult learners who are thinking about returning to college are:

  • time commitment
  • finances
  • family obligations
  • convenience and
  • the ability to apply previously earned credits to getting a college degree.

These concerns are real and justified for many adults looking to go back to college and finish their degree. Separating the facts from fiction, regarding college, can be difficult. Too often the thought of “I can’t” is embedded in the minds of adult learners when, in reality, the thought should be “I can and I will.” Let us, here and now, do away with the fiction and embrace the possible, by examining each of the top concerns, one by one.

Time Commitment

The top concern for adult learners thinking about returning to college is the time commitment. Adult learners have busy lives, filled with family and work responsibilities. The concern then becomes having enough hours in the day to take care of the family, go to work, and complete a degree. Parents often put aside their education to focus on making sure their children receive the best education they can offer. There are also those parents that say they put an extensive amount of time into keeping up with their children’s busy schedules, and managing the household that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to focus on themselves.

However, even with busy lives, there is no time to waste in getting started on the journey to finish your degree. There are ways to make the time commitment to getting your college degree. Complete Florida coaches and other resources provide tips, tricks, and strategies to help adults fit school into their busy schedules. Parents who model good time management, and show what can be accomplished through it, set a good example for their children. In going back to college and completing their degree, parents show their children anything is possible at any age.


The financial obligations that come with going back to college are the second greatest concern adult learners have when thinking about going back to college. The myth of a degree being unaffordable is too often what stands between an adult learner and a college degree: many adults have the perception they do not qualify for financial aid, and they also do not want to accept financial aid. Adult learners have strong beliefs about being financially independent and are often uncomfortable with asking for help. But the truth is, there are many different financial aid assistance options available to adult learners including federal Pell grants, scholarships, and work-study grants and it really is okay to ask for a little assistance. After all, according to NerdScholar, around $2.9 million of federal grant money went unclaimed in the last academic year. Complete Florida can help adult learners find the money they need to help pay for tuition and even the cost of books and other school materials.

The truth is, the cost of a degree is more affordable than one might think.

Family Obligations

A third major concern of the busy adult learner is the strong commitment to their family who might not always entirely understand the desire to finish a degree. Having family support, along with the understanding of the reasons for returning to college (career goals, personal goals, or want to finish what was started) is critical. The need to take care of their family financially, and manage a household comes before their desire to go back to college.

The truth of the matter is, adult learners don’t have to sacrifice their desire to complete their degree because of family obligations. Tangible progress is made by setting smaller goals, as larger ones can seem daunting. More modest goals, such as completing at least one semester of courses, can also set adult learners on the path to believing they can ultimately complete their degree. It also helps to have someone to help them along the way and to keep up the motivation. Complete Florida coaches, are there from application to graduation to help adult learners know there is someone on their side rooting for them to finish. Having a sounding board to help think through priorities, commitments, course scheduling, and time management can help adult learners be successful in juggling competing obligations.


A fourth roadblock, so many adult learners, feel they cannot overcome when going back to college is being able to find courses that are offered when they can take them, such as at night or on weekends. Convenience is a must for adult learners with busy lives. Online learning provides access to higher education for adult learners who cannot attend traditional classes. Learning online allows flexibility to adult learners who have busy schedules. As an added benefit, many courses are now available in short timeframes (i.e., 6-, 8-, 12-, 14, or 16-weeks) so that multiple classes can be stacked together to earn more credit each term than might be found in traditional schedules.

Utilizing Previously Earned Credits

Finally, adult learners are hesitant to return to college because they believe they may not be able to use previously earned credits towards their degree program. Just because they are old earned college credit doesn’t mean they may not be able to be used in a new program of study. Depending on the course, the institution, and how old the credits are adult learners may be able to complete their degree in a timelier manner.

Through accelerated options, available at many institutions today, adult learners may also be able to put previous work experience to use in attaining their college degree. Some accelerated options allow adult learners to test out of courses if their previous college credits, or work experience, reflect what they will learn in the coursework ahead. Working closely with partner institutions, Complete Florida coaches, can identify pathways for completion based on work experience and already earned credits.

There are often myths, expectations, and assumptions made about returning to college as an adult learner. But with the right tools and the right motivation, adult learners can not only go back to college; they can complete their degree.