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Changing careers in today’s economy can often mean returning to college to gain new skills to prepare for the evolving marketplace. Community colleges are often the first place career changers turn for assistance. Increasingly, Suffolk County Community College administrators and faculty members are reaching out to returning adult students with reassuring advice for them to comfortably return to the classroom.

“Non-traditional-aged students bring an additional level of motivation to the classroom environment. They also bring work experiences and prior learning, which adds to class discussions and enhances the learning for all,” says Dr. Suzanne Johnson, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Suffolk County Community College.

Coming back to school is a big decision that will produce both challenges and rewards. Balancing at-home responsibilities with new academic obligations is not uncommon for returning adult students. However, by being open to new opportunities and points of view, most students indicate having positive experiences. Here are a few tips for adults getting ready to return to the classroom.

Consult with college counselors to review your goals and plan a course of study. Advisors will help you understand if past college credentials and/or work experience can apply toward your goal. Consider the following questions: Why do you want to return to college? How will college help personally, professionally and financially? Are you ready? What is your commitment level?

Expect to see students with similar goals in class. You are not alone in considering college after working for several years. A large percentage of Suffolk students are non-traditional (over the age of 25). For all the work that college requires, most of them love it.

Scan the employment environment and know your marketability. Capitalize on current areas of need.

Do something you love. Selecting something you truly have an interest in will be intrinsically rewarding.

5 Ensure a good fit. Investigate the requirements for a career choice and see if it fits your interests, abilities and needs. If changing career fields, identify the transferable skills you already possess.

6 Have a support system in place. Identify who you can count on for moral support. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some colleges, including Suffolk, offer childcare centers and extensive student supports, including writing centers, tutors and career services, just to name a few.

Assess yourself academically. Depending on your length of absence from college and the classes you are considering, you may need to reassess your skills via placement testing. Don’t let this stop you. Suffolk offers classes at all levels.

Consider financial aid and explore scholarship opportunities. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available at fafsa.gov. Don’t miss out on valuable scholarship opportunities, including those offered through the Suffolk Community College Foundation.

Consider some online classes and flexible scheduling options. If you are concerned about returning to a traditional classroom environment, or are worried your schedule cannot accommodate going back to school, consider online classes or blended classes, which combine the best of in-class and online learning. You can also choose early-morning, evening or weekend classes. This flexible learning approach offers advantages for your busy schedule.

10 Realize how much you already know. The prior experience and knowledge you bring as a returning adult student will benefit your own and your classmates’ experience.

– Mary M. Feder

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