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Tips for going back to school

Going back to school as an adult can be the most rewarding decision you make ... but also the scariest. If you haven’t been in a classroom in a while, it might be overwhelming to think about going back. We’ve gathered some tips we think might help! Our research and experiences have led us to believe one thing, but everyone’s experience is different. If you read through this list and still aren’t convinced, reach out to our admissions team to discuss your options. (For what it’s worth, we think you’d make a great Star.)

Why would I want to go back to school?

If you’re happy with the level of education you’ve received, this idea probably isn’t as appealing to you. If you’re not, chances are you’ve thought about this at least once before. Good news: The U.S. population is the most educated it’s ever been. Bad news: This raises the bar for everyone competing in respective career fields. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says those with a master’s degree earn salaries that nearly double those with only a high school diploma, and a bachelor’s degree will get you about 64% more in salary. It’s not all about what everyone else is doing, though. Furthering your education can help you grow as a person, leader, and employee. Studies show a higher education degree can increase satisfaction in a current job, promote a sense of community and philanthropy, and make you healthier and happier. (Who wouldn’t want all that?)

Where do I start?

Decide what you want to do. When you think about the job you’d most like to be doing in five years, what do you picture? Depending on your answer, there are several paths you can take to get there. Does the job require a bachelor’s, master’s, certification, or advanced degree? If you know someone with the job you want, ask them! Everyone needs a good mentor.

Once you have an idea of the degree type needed for your desired career path, you can use a handy-dandy Google search to find out which schools offer that kind of program. OCU offers more than 70 undergraduate degrees and more than 20 graduate degrees.

Choose a flexible degree/certification program

Of all the things COVID-19 has changed in our lives, one of the benefits might be the shift from traditional class and work environments to virtual or, at the very least, hybrid settings. What does this mean? Now is the best time to act on your desire to go back to school. There are more online-only programs offered now than there ever have been, and professors are more understanding than ever before because everyone has had a challenging time in 2020. As we shift to working from home and dealing with interruptions such as wifi outages and cats jumping on keyboards, we’ve all learned flexible approaches are the only way to deal with this transition.

Every situation is different, but students returning to school after some years off usually have work and/or household commitments they can’t drop to live out their dreams of furthering their education. Universities around the country are adapting their processes in an effort to support this balance. In fact, nearly 3.3 million students enrolled in exclusively online programs just two years ago, and we feel pretty confident in saying there’s no way this number didn’t increase this year. (Thanks, COVID.)

So what does this mean for you? Your options are abundant. If the idea of sitting in a classroom 20 hours a week seems unfeasible or downright terrifying, we’re here to tell you that it’s not the only way to get a degree anymore. Use technology to your advantage! (Tips on that below.)

If you want to be in a classroom to gain a sense of community and structured schedule, that’s great, too! Different people have different learning styles. Although several scholarships have a full-time schedule requirement, most degrees and certificates can be obtained on a part-time basis. If having to choose is overwhelming, don’t forget we’re here to help.

Get ready to go back (physically and mentally)

The most important part of completing any degree program is time management. If we’re being honest, it’s probably one of the most important parts of handling life in general. Deadlines come very quickly if you don’t stay on top of them, and pacing oneself is a skill that doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. Before you start your new classes, make sure you practice:

  1. Setting and meeting your own deadlines, i.e. having the dishes done by a certain time, actually putting the laundry away after the dryer finishes, getting gas today instead of before work tomorrow.
  2. Prioritizing tasks that need immediate attention and minimizing distractions.
  3. Overcoming procrastination by finishing projects early.
  4. Avoiding unproductive multitasking. Give your full attention to one thing instead of giving a fraction of your attention to multiple things.
  5. Using technology to your advantage by scheduling “downtime” and auditing your notification settings. (Do you need to know who “liked” your Facebook status every second of every day? Consider how often your attention gets torn away from what you’re focusing on when you receive a notification on any of your devices.)

We recommend using apps/programs to help increase your productivity. There are a number of ways to do this, but we’ve found that students are most successful when they get enough sleep and exercise, drink lots of water, organize notes in one spot, create study guides or flashcards, and have a good space to connect with each other. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you, but just know there is never a lack of resources at your disposal.

Set your expectations for a new experience

If you’ve never taken a higher education course (or have and it’s been a while), make sure you understand the technology you’ll be using. Even if you take a traditional classroom route, you'll still use an online classroom and several digital programs in your classes. Your professors will be there to teach you all about what they know best, but you have to be prepared to receive the information. More than 6.3 million students have taken an online course, which means tech literacy is at an all-time high.

Make sure you’re using up-to-date versions of your programs, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Adobe, and online classroom tools. (OCU uses D2L as its online classroom platform.) DO: Learn how to use Google and Microsoft tools to their full extent as you apply/enroll for classes and explore your online classroom as soon as you can log in. DO NOT: Wait until the first day of class to start learning how to navigate an online classroom. Once your class begins, double and triple check the syllabus for deadlines and assignment instructions. When in doubt, search YouTube and Google for tutorials. Most programs offer their own tutorials, too.

Most of all, don’t forget this experience is for you. At the end of each step and semester, you’ll have to decide if the pace and schedule you’ve set for yourself is working. Your advisers are there for you. Your professors are there for you. Your classmates can also be a great resource if you feel you’re not getting something. In summary, everything at our university is designed to help YOU succeed.

When you’re ready to start

You can talk with our admissions counselors, or you can apply here if you’re ready. And be proud of yourself! Making the decision is the hardest step. After you apply, all you have to do is keep the momentum going.

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