Returning to College: Tips for International Students

Returning to College: Tips for International Students

According to the Lumina Foundation, around 37% of undergraduate students in the U.S. are above 25. Additionally, 26% of those students have children and 40% of them are working full-time. So, if you have apprehensions about returning to college, you are not alone.

This guide has advice and effective study tips for international, adult students like you.

What you should do before returning to college

1. Determine your goals

Why are you going back to college?

Is it because you want to…

  • Swiftly climb up that corporate ladder?
  • Switch careers?
  • Earn the big bucks, so you can buy that dream house of yours?
  • Finish what you started a few years back?
  • Inspire your kids?

Whatever your reason for returning to college, write it down on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you will see it every day.

On days when you feel like giving up because of the mounting coursework, family commitments, or work pressure, take a deep breath and look at your goals. It’ll get you fired up to keep going.

2. Do your homework before choosing a college

Completing your degree while juggling your professional and family life can be an uphill task.

So, choose a college that offers some flexibility.

  • Does the college offer online, evening, or weekend classes?
  • Do they have special support systems for adult students?
  • Can you submit your coursework online?

Once you’ve shortlisted a couple of colleges:

  • Go for a tour, or on open days to get a feel for the campus
  • Chat with the faculty and students there
  • Set up a meeting with the department head to discuss what your degree offers. This will help set your expectations right

3. Scout for colleges that have a PLA system (Prior Learning Assessment)

One of the best things about returning to college is that you can earn college credits for your life experience and use them as a shortcut to your graduation.

Prior-learning assessments (PLAs) award college credits for your nonacademic experience. These could be skills that you’ve acquired while working, serving in the military, or even volunteering.

How can you earn credits?

  • Pass the CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) or DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests).
  • Enroll for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).
  • Use the professional certifications and licenses you’ve acquired during your career.
  • Put together a portfolio of your learning, along with documentation. This is especially relevant for courses like photography, art, and design.
  • Submit proof of attending leadership seminars and other corporate training.

4. Get your finances in order

Paying bills isn’t fun. Especially when you have a mortgage/rent, college tuition, and childcare expenses to think of.

So, how do you handle your finances?

5. Set a monthly budget

  • Account for all your academic and household expenses.
  • Use student budget calculators (from and to track your income and expenses.

6. Apply for financial aid and scholarships

Check with the admissions office, or your student advisor about whether you are eligible for any financial aid, scholarships, or grants.

A few scholarships for non-traditional students include:

  • Ford ReStart Scholars Program
  • Alpha Sigma Lambda
  • Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST)

What should you do after getting into college?

1. Master time management

Returning to college can get hectic if you don’t know how to manage your time.

We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve, though.

2. Download scheduling apps or day planners

List down all your to-dos for school, work, and home, so that you’ll always know what your day looks like.

iStudiez Pro, myHomework, and Todoist are a few noteworthy apps that can help you track and manage your class schedules, grades, assignments, and deadlines.

3. Prioritize your tasks

What should you attack first? Your work deadline, or that 1,500-word essay?

List everything that’s coming up in the next few weeks or months. Then, you can categorize each task according to priority, so that you’ll know exactly what task to tackle first.

4. Use your time wisely

30-minute bus commute to your college? Reply to a few work emails.

Lecture done with 15 minutes of class time left? Get a jump start on your math homework.

5. Time-block your schedule

Allocate specific blocks of time each day for all the activities in your life: study time, office time, family duties, etc.

6. Organize your supplies

Place everything you need in your study corner, including pens, pencils, calculators, notebooks, thumb drives, and textbooks. Use folders and bins to keep your workspace clutter-free

7. Automate your life

Who picks up the kids from school?

Who cooks on Tuesdays?

Who’s setting up playdates for your kids?

Sit down with your partner and split all the household duties, so that you don’t spend too much time arguing and negotiating. Once both of you know exactly what to expect from each day, it becomes a whole lot easier to get everything done.

8. Take up study skills classes or refresher courses

When was the last time you wrote a term paper or solved some algebra?

Fine-tune your rusty areas with a few refresher courses.

Most universities offer study skills classes including time management, test-taking, and essay writing in their libraries. All you need to do is ask.

9. Use the library

For starters, you paid for it! It’s included in your tuition.

The best part about using the library is the quiet, distraction-free time that you get to study. Choose a book, pick a spot, and you’ll be surprised how much learning you can do in the right environment.

Tip: Figure out how to log in to your college’s network from home, so you can use your online library resources anytime.

10. Build a support network

So, you’re older and wiser than the last time you were in college, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need help from time to time.

Whom do you turn to when you need advice or encouragement?

11. Engage with your peers

No one can understand your struggles more than your peers. Don’t hold back just because they’re younger than you.

Invite them for a coffee, or organize a study group. Anything to help you excel in your degree.

12. Know your professors

Want to get a few inside tips on how to ace your tests?

Stay back for an extra five minutes after class and have a chat with your professor about the course work.

Forming a great rapport with your professor can make all the difference, especially when you’re applying for jobs. From dishing out interview advice to giving you rave recommendations, your professor can be your biggest support.

Use your campus resources such as career counselors, campus writing centers, and academic advisors.

When you’ve hit an academic roadblock, reach out to these resources and seek their help.

Study tips for adult learners returning to college

If you’re heading back to college later in life, you’re probably wondering how to get back into the swing of things.

How do I write this term paper? How do I memorize everything that the professor just taught us?

Here’s how:

1. Don’t just take notes, interact with them

During class, jot down the most important information.

Once you’re back home:

  • Review your notes.
  • Fill in the missing bits using your memory and textbooks.
  • Edit areas that need revision.
  • Highlight important information.
  • Write down points that you need to clarify with your professor.

This will help you retain information better, and will be a lifesaver during your cramming session pre-exam time.

Tip: Hand-written notes not your thing? Try apps like OneNote and Evernote.

2. Engage with your coursework


  • Have a cousin who’s an Economics whiz? Discuss your notes with him, and seek out helpful tips.
  • Listen to podcasts or news stories that are related to your study material.
  • Look up case studies and real-life examples of the principles discussed in class.

3. Experiment with different learning styles

You could:

  • Use flashcards.
  • Form study groups (both in-person and remote).
  • Try mnemonic devices like songs and acronyms.
  • Create quizzes.
  • Do practice questions.
  • Use a study guide.
  • Seek tutoring services.

4. Carve out your study routine

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Figure out when your brain works the best, and carve out your study time during this period.

Make sure your family knows your study time, so that you can keep the distractions to a minimum.

5. Take baby steps

Ominous assignment looming?

Split it into parts. Tackle one part every day, and you’ll be done before you know it!

6. When it comes to exams, be calm as a cucumber

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Scan through the instructions and questions.
  • First, tackle the questions that you’re confident about.
  • Then, return to the tricky questions later.

Things to remember during study time

  • Don’t attempt to multitask. No checking work emails or your child’s homework during study time.
  • Block out distractions. No aimless scrolling on social media, no phone calls, texts, or games.
  • Keep all essentials handy. That includes your water bottle, coffee mug, quick bites, and whatever else that’ll keep you going.

Keep these tips in mind, but most of all, remember that you can do anything you put your mind to.

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