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Excel as a Nontraditional Student

Returning to school after a long period away from the classroom may present additional challenges. Take the right steps to stay focused and on track to earn your diploma as you balance your work, home and military life.

Planning your re-entry into school can save headaches, time and money. Consider the following suggestions as you prepare to return to the classroom.

Use industry-leading assessments. Assessments can help you make best-fit education and career choices. Assess your values and skills using MySECO self-assessments, which may include Career Key and Strong Interest Explorer.

Narrow your interests. Use the MySECO Research Occupations tool and the Occupational Outlook Handbook to find job descriptions, work environments, education/licensure requirements and salaries for hundreds of occupations.

Investigate programs and schools. Review the articles Choosing a College: The Basics or Resources for Choosing a School. Use College Search and the College Scorecard query tools to narrow your search.

Do your financial homework. Use the Know Before You Owe Shopping Sheet to develop an education budget. Check your eligibility for the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship. Search for scholarships, loans and financial aid using the following:

Locate a mentor. Look for a mentor in your career field through Blue Star Families to discuss schools, programs, suggested coursework, internships and activities. Be sure to also check out the Military Spouse eMentor Program, where you can receive personalized career guidance, advice, support and inspiration from more experienced military spouses. For more information on finding the perfect mentor for your specific needs, view the Military Spouse Mentoring Programs article on MySECO. 

If you are working, have a family or are returning to school after a long period away from the classroom, your challenges may differ from a high school student going directly to college. Set reasonable expectations and goals.

  • Start slowly. Avoid the temptation to overload your schedule. Get a sense of course work and exams schedules throughout the term. Consider less demanding courses until you get in the groove. Take fewer credits and excel instead of struggling with too many courses.
  • Structure your schedule. Know your syllabus, follow it closely and use it to plan your calendar. Schedule regular study times each week. Carry reading materials or homework for those extra minutes waiting for a doctor's appointment or the end of your child's practice.
  • Set reasonable expectations of yourself and others. Your family may take time to adjust to your new schedule, a new sitter or take-out meals instead of home cooking. Enlist their assistance, address their concerns, be patient and reward them (and yourself) as you meet your milestones.

Ease your transition back to school by using the following tips and resources:

  • Develop new study skills, relearn past coursework and/or become familiar with new technologies.
  • Academic, Test Taking, and Study Skills Readiness offers practice tests, study guides and tips and coursework on a wide range of subjects to get you started.
  • Technology Tutorials provide a range of courses for refreshing or learning technology skills.
  • Tutoring support, study guides and study groups may be available to you in person or online. Check with your academic advisor, teacher or fellow students for information.
  • Visit your installation's adult education center for additional guidance and information. Use the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS tool to search by installation, state or program to find the information relevant to you. Select 'Adult Education Centers' under the 'Select a program or service' drop-down menu and your installation or ZIP code to find a point of contact.

Finding time for education in your busy routine takes planning. Setting reasonable goals and making wise use of resources can help you succeed. Prepare for challenges before they occur, but if you get overwhelmed, call a career coach for support at 800-342-9647.

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