It used to be that the term “college student” referred to those in their late teens and their early 20s. Yet, through the 1980s and 1990s, we saw a gradual increase in the number of students outside this age bracket. The numbers of these older students (age 25 and up) in colleges and universities continue to rise. In fact, according to research nearly 50 percent of all students now fall into the category of “those returning to education.” Up until now, you may have had reservations about going back to school, especially if it has been several years since you attended a class or cracked open a textbook. You may be nervous that you don’t have the skills or the know-how to excel among younger students. Yet, as an adult surviving in a fast-paced world, you already possess many of the skills you need to return to learning: setting priorities, developing goals, managing your time, and asking questions. Factor in ambition and a desire to learn new things, and you definitely have what it takes for success in the classroom. TODAY’S OPTIONS As a returning student, you are faced with many options. These include attending class in the traditional setting, enrolling in online courses or taking tests to achieve credit for life experience. Prior learning assessment is a method that colleges and universities use to evaluate the knowledge a student has gained through life experience. It enables college instructors to evaluate life experiences as potentially equivalent to courses taught at the college level. There are three common ways in which prior learning can be assessed: through prior-learning portfolios, standardized tests, and departmental credit. If you are not sure of the direction in which to go, you might want to test the waters. Take a few classes of varied subject matter. Participate in all assignments to get a feel for what will be required. Most people are pleasantly surprised at how well they do, how easily school can be incorporated into their lives, how much they enjoy it, and how much it enriches their lives. Then press on with the area of study that interests you the most. ITEMS TO CONSIDER Heading back to school is a rewarding and life-changing decision. Consider these points: Think about your reasons for going back to school. Is it to further your career, or do you just want personal enrichment? Identifying a reason can help you focus in on a definitive area of study. Remember that a degree offers transferrable skills that can be applied to life or a career. So earning one is good if you are interested in changing your career direction. Consider your well-being. Don’t further your education to keep up with the Joneses or to prove a point. And don’t overwhelm your schedule. Make sure you still pepper your days with events that keep you feeling good, like hobbies, family and social engagements. Talk to others about your feelings. Do you have a significant other or friends you respect? Get their advice about your education decision. They may provide the guidance and the push you need. Don’t be scared of the classroom. Many professors prefer older students take their courses because they add life experience to the lessons and classroom debates. For more information on adult education courses available, consult with a college or university in your area.