Returning to School as an Adult

“Make a New Year’s resolution to get that education or training you know you need to improve your current career or create a new one.”

College Campuses are now registering students for spring semester classes.  As the new year approaches and unfolds, resolutions and plans may include returning to college to complete a degree or certificate or add new credentials to a previous degree or certificate, or going to college for the first time as an adult.  Some of these adult learners have recently completed a GED and discovered they are eligible for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship—but only if they go to college right away.  Many of these prospective students are terrified.

I assist and reassure many people in making good choices about their careers, including short-term and long-term goals, attainment of new credentials and training, choosing the type of education, including their majors, and how to finance their education.  Prospective students who start classes in January are at the back of the line when it comes to financial aid and scholarships.  Academic years are fall to summer. Financial aid and scholarships were applied for and determined between February and June.  Spring students can still get Pell grants, an occasional scholarhip and student loans via FAFSA (, if they are eligible.  Then, they should complete their past year’s tax returns as quickly as possible and start applying for the next school year soon after Spring classes start. Federal WIOA programs will also help fund education and training for new careers. Santa Fe’s WIOA is currently administered by SER Jobs for Progress. Orientation/information sessions are ongoing. SFCC Career Services always posts the dates and locations of our Job Postings and Career Events web page.

I often advise students who wish to start in the spring to take fewer classes the first semester, if they don’t have sufficient funding.  Then for the fall, they can apply for school scholarships, Federal Pell grants, state grants and student loans via FAFSA, along with other scholarships like the Mana del Norte scholarship for Latina women who are non-traditional students, such as single heads of household, re-entry women and first-generation college bound.  Unemployed people and veterans may have access to other school funding resources, determined by their individual situations and their local Department of Labor (Workforce Solutions in New Mexico, ( and Veteran’s Affairs (, respectivel)y.

Despite terror (and doubt), the adult students I meet are far more focused and/or determined to develop a plan for success than teenage students.  Adult students have the advantage of life experience and usually experience in the world of work as well.  Adult students also have usually developed better communication and time management skills.  Adults, who thought they were stupid based on past struggles, often realize they are actually quite smart and capable students.  Most adult students who take advantage of the financial and academic support systems available to them develop new confidence in themselves and dare to dream even bigger than they had initially.

I’ve met and encouraged people in their 40s and 50s planning to pursue PhDs and become doctors!  I’ve also met people in their 60s and 70s seeking careers that are so rewarding, they’ll continue enjoy working for a long time.  Taking college classes or pursuing certificates and degrees isn’t easy.  But success in those arenas is very attainable for the adult who is ready to learn.  This remaking of one’s self later in life is actually part of a whole movement now being called Encore Careers.  You can find links and more information SFCC’s Encore Careers web page.

Make a resolution for this year to get that education or training you know you need to improve your current career or create a new one.  All you need is a great strategy, resources and a strong belief in yourself.

Originally published at on December 14, 2012. Updated January 24, 2019.