For one reason or another, you’re considering going back to school. You’ve been out for so long you’re not sure you can do it. Sure, you’re older and wiser now, but you’re still going to feel out of place among all of those 18-year-olds. You won’t have much in common with them, and you’re not sure how you are going to balance school, family and career.

Before returning to school, you need to consider how committed you are and the amount of time you have available. Are you willing to give up your free time so you can study? Do you have the time to juggle everything? Being able to focus and stay committed will give you a better chance of success. If you are hesitant, you might want to start with one or two classes and see how things go from there.

Deciding to return to school is just the beginning. You will need to select a program of study and a degree. You could get a certificate, indicating you have completed a number of courses in a specific area. You could get an associate’s degree, indicating you have completed two years of full-time academic study. You could get a bachelor’s degree, indicating you have completed four years of full-time academic study. Should you want to continue your studies further, you may get a master’s or a doctorate degree. The latter is the highest level of academic study a person can achieve.

The school you attend will depend upon where you plan to live and what’s available in that area. You could select a school and move there, or you could stay where you are and choose among the schools there. Community colleges are designed for two years of study and award associate’s degrees. They cost less than four-year colleges, often have less stringent admission requirements and may offer certificate programs and job training programs.

Vocational colleges offer a variety of training programs in areas such as business, the culinary arts, paralegal training and fashion design. Public and private four-year colleges and universities award bachelor’s degrees in a number of subject areas. They cost more but compensate for that with more financial aid.

If sitting in a classroom doesn’t appeal to you, there are other options. You could study at home through distance-learning schools. These offer classes and assignments online. You might also look into the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). You may earn three to 12 college credits by taking the CLEP exam and demonstrating knowledge in a particular subject. Keep in mind this must be backed by work experience, published works, specialized training, military or community service, or certification or licensing.

Before going back to school, make sure you have researched all your options and know your limitations. Talk to other older students. Ease yourself back into the process by taking a few classes that interest you. Attend any campus orientations and learn everything you can. Remember, you are going back to school because you want to, so relax. It won’t be easy, but you just might enjoy yourself.

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