Dani Babb

Dani Babb

As students across the country head back to college in the coming weeks, some may be surprised to learn that fresh-faced high school grads aren’t the only group entering universitites this fall. Students 25 and older made up roughly 40 percent of all college and graduate students in 2009, and by 2020, 9.6 million older students are expected to head back to campus, according to theNational Center for Education Statistics.

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“When you are returning back to school, everyone is in the same boat,” says Dani Babb, a college instructor and the CEO of The Babb Group, which helps online professors find job opportunities. ““I teach returning students and I’d say the average age of my students is 39. The oldest student I’ve ever had was 82.”

Seasoned students who took time off from school often have unique academic concerns. Babb shared her tips for readers who are getting ready to return to the classroom — and finally finish that degree.

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Explore programs designed for returning students
“There are a lot of programs now that are geared towards adults,” says Babb. “Also, the instructors tend to be used to seasoned students; we know what the students are going through.” Babb suggests asking the schools you are interested in about programs for returning students. Often, universities have extension programs for adult students.

Brush up on your time management skills
One of the biggest mistakes Babb sees returning students make is underestimating the time it takes to finish assignments. “Especially with online classes, students think, ‘Oh, I’ll just type something up and hand it in,’” says Babb. “But actually, the amount of work required to finish an online class is greater” than what’s required of an on-campus course.

Talk to your boss
Balancing school and a full-time job is tough for even the most organized student. “The more you can explain your degree as workplace applicable, the better,” Babb notes. Before you chat with your direct supervisor, head to your Human Resources department. “Find out if your company has a policy for [tuition] reimbursement. What generally happens is that students have to get a certain grade to get reimbursed." Even if your workplace doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement program, Babb says she has seen companies use money earmarked for training used towards an employee’s classes.

Get your family onboard
One of the biggest obstacles returning students face is balancing parenthood and other family obligations with their studies. “I have had students who were taking two or three classes go down to one,” says Babb, noting that they needed to spend more time with their families. “One thing I tell students is to make sure you have family or friends who are fully supportive of what you are doing.” Babb suggests making a point of regularly talking about your classes and goals with your family.  “I think it’s a good idea to share your homework with your spouse and have both of you learn together.”

“Obviously your spouse can’t do your homework for you,” she continues. “But this is a good way to get them involved.”