A Guide to Returning to College After a Break: Tips & Advice

Last Updated on September 6, 2021 by David Shaw

happy graduate student

Attending college requires a great deal of effort and time commitment, especially for those who wish to return to college after taking a break. Not everyone has the privilege of time and money, while some people face financial, work, family complications while attending college, it could be something that can hold them back from college.

When you’re ready the next time, will you be able to resume your college progress after taking a long break?

Generally, returning to college to complete a degree after a break is very feasible and easier than you think. Although you could be facing new challenges navigating college due to different circumstances, there are things and steps you can prepare differently to ensure a successful transition back to college.

Depending on how long you took a break from college and the commitments you have in your personal life, reentering college might pose certain challenges due to the time commitment you need in college. Regardless, there are certainly some smart ways and preparation to help you succeed in college when you return after a break.

Checklists for College Re-Entry

College is not just about getting good grades, there are things you should prioritize and keep in mind ahead of your return to ensure a smooth process. As a good practice, the earlier you sort out certain issues before attending class, the more prepared you can be for college. Among the few important checklists are mainly:

1. Apply for Financial Aid

Financing challenges might be the main setback for students to drop out, continue or return to college. If you’re ever in such a situation, always make the right decision on financial aid plans according to your financial needs. Depending on where you’re studying, always learn and find out if you need to file for FAFSA or UCAS to help finance your expenses needed for studying.

Don’t forget to also find all scholarships available which you’ll be eligible for. To get started, you can use Scholarship.com to help you find a handful of scholarships opportunity by many well-known organizations. From there, exhaust all of the available options, and you’ll likely get scholarship funds from a few if you apply to many.

2. Choose the Right Major

According to National Center for Education Statistics in 2017, about 30 percent of undergraduates had their major changed at least once.

College is not an easy task for everyone, especially if you’re facing the pressure of society’s expectation to graduate young. To ensure you don’t waste time and tuition dollars switching around majors, invest a modest amount of time to decide your major according to your interest.

To help you find a major based on your personal interests, try taking this major and career quiz or another career quiz by CareerExplorer to help you give you some idea.

If you don’t wish to continue the major you were initially pursuing, treat this opportunity as a second chance to reevaluate whether do you want to change your major. Once you’ve settled on a choice, focus on completing the degree and don’t get tempted to make bad decisions that may hinder your degree progress.

3. Check for Course Changes

As a student returning to the same college which you’ve previously attended, it is necessary to check if their courses and sequence have changed when you took a break from college. If you’re returning to college after some years, certain major coursework might’ve undergone changes to its prerequisite course patterns.

By diligently checking if any course content or prerequisite requirements have changed, you’ll be able to formulate academic plans while avoiding unwanted surprises or last-minute changes. Along with a solid academic plan, you will be able to calculate how much expenses as well as the number of units you would still need in order to graduate.

Access and Use Your College Credits

As someone returning to college with pre-existing academic history, another important thing you should do is to check whether if your college credits are still valid. Even if it’s been a few years since your break from college, you’re not likely starting anew because the grades you received from previously taken classes in a college could still apply and stick to you.

By accessing credits you previously earned in a college, you can choose to transfer your credits, easily switch majors, or continue from where you left off.

For instance, if you’ve previously taken Electrical Engineering classes and you want to switch to a computer science major, you might come to find that both majors share a few similar prerequisite classes, which allows you to switch majors conveniently without having to waste time.

Transfer Your Credits to a Different College or University

This method might be helpful if you’ve obtained an Associate’s Degree or if you’re close to completing one. If you left college or university after completing at least 2 years of college, you can choose a different pathway by transferring to another 4-year university to complete your Bachelor’s Degree.

In the US, many students prefer transferring from community colleges to 4-year universities after 2 years which carries over your college credits. This way, students can save tuition dollars in college while receiving higher-quality lectures after transferring.

To discover all available pathways for you, make sure to communicate well with counselors of both universities if you wish to study in and the previous one you’ve attended to let them help assist you with the credit transfer process

Will College Credits Expire After a Few Years?

If you ever worried about your college credits expiring or will no longer be valid, the good news is that you probably won’t need to “start new” when you return to college. College credits you previously earned from a college typically don’t expire.

Even if certain classes are longer offered in a college anymore, the college would still count the credits you have taken from the classes towards your degree program requirement. In short, credits you previously earned in a college do not expire, so returning to the same college wouldn’t require you to retake any classes you’ve previously gotten grades for.

Nevertheless, if you wish to attend a different college, you can also have your credits from your previous college transferred and articulated at a new college, or simply start new with a clean GPA. Keep in mind that this is optional, as transferring over your credits also means you’re transferring over your GPA.

Focus On Building Connection With Professionals

student internships

If you’re an adult returning to college, you might find it difficult to blend in with your peers who are younger than you. That is if your age presents a social stigma in college, it is a good idea to focus on building connections than worrying about blending in with the younger peers in college.

Join a club, be a committee, or maybe run for a student government body. Since you’re potentially more mature and older than most peers while pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree, use this aspect of your character as the advantage to take up more important roles in college. This way, you can naturally attract like-minded peers who are willing to work with you and also connect with professionals in your college or from other campuses.

Other than establishing on-campus connection building, you can take a step further to attend or participate in activities organized by other universities nearby your university. Often in these public events, you’ll more likely find people who share similar interests and social backgrounds. When you’re well connected with people who wish to engage in a professional relationship with you, it can significantly help prepare you in many ways for entering the working society after graduating.

College Resource Success Tips

Not everyone returns to college with similar motivation and high spirit as when they first started. Some people might need a new or different source of motivation to help them get through college. Fortunately, colleges and universities are always equipped with tons of resources and services to assist you with any challenges you will face in college. Hence, getting yourself in the right mind and informed of these resources is crucial to help you succeed in college.

– Take Advantage of Office Hours

Some classes or materials can get difficult to understand, which is why lecturers provide office hours to help resolve or answer questions students have. Many students take office hours for granted and forget the benefits they can get by just visiting their lecturer’s office hours.

In some cases, some lecturers will drop hints about the upcoming exam materials for students who show that they are hardworking, passionate about their class during office hours.

You don’t just have to ask homework questions during office hours, you can also establish a closer relationship with your lecturers by giving your feedback, talk about your common interests, and also discuss ask about research ideas and subjects. If you also have a good relationship with your lecturer, they will be more than happy to write you a recommendation letter if you need it for your future endeavors.

– Visit Campus Tutoring Centers

It is very normal for people who might need a little assistance with homework especially after taking a break. Don’t hesitate to visit tutoring centers on your campus where you can find good tutors for free.

Tutoring centers in college and universities are here to help you with homework. No need to waste additional money on private tutors when you can possibly find someone who can do the job as well for free.

After all, it is helpful to know that you’ll learn or recall things best if you teach or learn from peers. Perhaps if you would like to practice your knowledge, you can also sign up as a tutor to help recall your old knowledge for a little side income.

– Keep a Few Updated List of Your Academic Plan

Sample Academic Plan

To ensure you graduate within the expected or planned timeframe, it would be reasonable to keep an academic plan and stick to it. Although colleges often offer an academic scheduling tool on their website, it would be helpful to keep multiple versions of your personalized academic plans.

You will find having multiple versions of academic planning helpful when certain classes aren’t offered in a semester or quarter. In the unfortunate event that requires you to retake a class, you will be flexible to changes that can still help you graduate in the expected timeframe.

– Utilize All College Events and Resources

One of the few college resources which students heavily neglect is the counselor and advisors department. At any given college, you can easily expect to find these departments that offer their services free to students. You don’t have to go through college alone, anytime you’re facing any issues and need help in college, these departments are there to help you.

– Remind Yourself Why You Started

Even the most determined or hardworking people can be tempted to give up, and that means you can also be burnt out from college stress at some point. To combat such situations, I find it effective by reminding myself why I started, and who am I doing it for to keep myself motivated.

College isn’t easy given that no single secret recipe to success, so be ambitious, and let your aspirations be your source of motivation. Always remind yourself why you started, what are you working for, and what are your goals. Break down your goals in a bucket list of accomplishments, surround yourself with positive energy and hardworking people, and don’t forget to know when to take a rests.

Final Take

motivation quote

In most cases, if mature-age students return to college, they might find it hard due to the social pressure on top of the commitment and responsibilities they have to bear. Hence, it is important that if you’re returning to college after a long break, keep yourself disciplined, clear out distractions, and stick to your schedule to ensure things go as planned.

A good tip is to keep yourself surrounded by productive and supportive people sharing a common interest with you. Always put in the effort to make few academic backup plans so you don’t waste time and money in college. Embrace reality, and focus on the outcome rather than the process. Know that the effort you put into a college degree will make a difference and will be worth it in the end.

Related questions

Do college credits expire? College credits typically never expire even if the class is not offered anymore. While some classes that you previously earned credits for are not offered anymore, colleges still can count these credits towards your degree progress.

Can you transfer your college credits earned to another college? Generally, you can transfer your credits earned in a college to a different college or university with the help of an academic counselor. Make sure to seek your academic counselor’s assistance as they have the tool and authority to help you with that.

Can I be a part-time student? You can definitely be a part-time student if you are working while attending college. Many colleges allow students to become part-time students, which does not require them to have a minimum number of enrolled units.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

Recent Posts