Thinking About Going Back to School. Where to Start?

Updated on February 07, 2011
R.B. asks from Decorah, IA
9 answers

I have been out of school for 15years. I never went to college after graduating high school. My son would have been a week old and I thought being a mom to him was more important. Well now 15 years later, my youngest kids are 2 and 3. I have been thinking alot about what Im going to do when they are both in school. I want to become a grief councelor. I have no idea where to even begin to start looking for schools. Are online schools just as good? That would be easier for me, but will it be a waist of money? Is it better to start at a community college then transfer? I really don't want to take a bunch of "general" classes that I wont need for what Im going for or is that just part of the journey and I have to? Im wondering where can I go to get loans/ grants that type of thing. Im pretty sure with my hubby's income and 5 kids we should qualify for some kind of help.

Back in the day my guidence counselor would have answered all of these questions in high school... now Im hoping some of you can! lol
Thank you

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answers from Seattle on

Step 1) Fill out a FAFSA (unless you plan on paying 100% out of pocket and not applying for any scholarships, grants, or loans).

Getting your FAFSA in is the first step for financial aid, and financial aid typically has to be applied for 9mo before your first quarter (deadlines for financial aid paperwork to be "in" in most schools is February or March the preceding year.

Step 2)Figure out which school you're going to go to.

It's almost impossible to be accepted into a university if you've been out of highschool for more than a year or two and don't have any college credits. What most people do is a "transfer degree". You go to community college and get you AAS, AA, or AS *transfer* degree, and then do the 2nd half at university entering as a junior. Your diploma, upon graduating from university is identical to students who attended the university since freshmen.

NO online schools are NOT as good accredited state and private schools. They may be someday, but in *most* places/fields they're still regarded with suspicion to out and out "joke" degrees. Like the difference between a priest and someone who was certified online as a minister. Both can marry people. But they are *regarded* very very differently. SAME TOKEN, it's a LOT harder (to out and out impossible) to get outside funding (grants, scholarships, and govt subsidized loans) for online schools. HOWEVER every university, and the majority of community colleges offer online classes as well. It's possible to get the vast majority of your classes done online... in many schools the only ones one cannot take online are the lab science and art classes.

Step 3) Go to the school websites for information on application, registration, degree programs, and financial aid.... apply & register. Don't forget the "womens & minorities" & "family services" department. They often have programs and funds earmarked for students with children that the financial aid office won't know about / that are applied for seperately.

Step 4) Meet with an advisor through the college to discuss degree path, class info, etc.

My strong recommendation about your first quarter is this:

- Take one class (an interesting one) only to get back into the feel of things
- Have it be in person
- DON'T take a remedial class your first 1 or 2 quarters (math is the most notorious... and classes listed BELOW the 100 level are wham/bam/thankyouma'am knock your socks off fast/hard. Math 98/99 has brought more people to tears than I can count.)
- DO take a writing course your first year. College level writing is persnickety, so much so that professors usually outline *exactly* what they want in a paper and do a mini-crash course in paper writing in the beginning of every class that requires papers because they get reeeeeeally sick of badly written papers. DO take advantage of any professor who has an "early" date to turn in your paper to get revision notes (they will be ruthless), as well as the writing lab.

But most importantly, 1 class your first quarter, and have it be a "fun" one, and do it on campus.

That way you have time to acclimate (I only EVER do 2 classes a quarter, even though 3 is a full load... because I can't balance school/home life with more than 2 classes, but some parents can) AND you start to develop a relationship with the school / can learn their bureaucracy (you will never be more often in the office than your first and second quarters). PLUS if you have prereq classes, you'll get notes from other students on which professors are "good" ones, and which to avoid.

Personally, online classes aren't my favorite. Arranging childcare for the 4-10 hours a week I needed for school let me actually talk with grownups/ have some me time/ sanity time. Online classes needed the same amount of time, but I didn't get a break. Since only 2 of the 25 odd classes I've taken had required attendance, I could miss class as needed, when needed... so online classes were in no way more flexible. I still needed to arrange childcare for them, just not on a regular basis... so we never got into a good groove/routine. Most in person classes are 1-2 hours twice a week. Online classes vary between paper mill classes (you have x number of papers to turn in... no teacher contact aside from assigning textbooks and papers) and "chat" classes where you have to be "chatting" in an online forum either on a daily basis or on a biweekly basis in addition to the papers and assignments. My personal preference is to do that in person... but I have friends who only step on campus in order to pick up their financial aid check.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Albany on

Hi R., I hope you don't mind, I've read your past posts. I'd like to say that embracing what you've learned from your own grief and using it to help others is a beautiful noble cause. I hope you will go for it, keep your eye on the prize, so to speak. You will inspire your own children (Oh My Goodness, FIVE of them) to better themselves and the world, and you will be My Personal Hero!

That said, I agree with some of the others who suggested your local community college is the best place to start. Cheaply. Start with ONE class, see how it goes, once you're a student there, the Grants/Scholarship opportunities will be all around you and easier to understand. At a CC, you can come up with a plan and get all those crappy classes that don't interest you out of the way inexpensively (Bleck, college level Algebra for a Grief Counselor!).

Good Luck. I am cheering you on!!


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

Hi R., I am a returning student after 15 years and seven children later. Yeah it was rough the first semester but it all came back after awhile. I started at a community technical college and this was the easiest and the cheapest way to go first. Im getting my associates degree and then transferring over to a university to go for my bachelors. As far as the financial part apply for fafsa once you've picked a school you may want to attend. Best to call a couple schools to and have them send you some papers on what their programs are. Oh and stay away from the online classes for now because they are way more expensive........Good Luck on your new venture......

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Go to the websites for schools you want to attend. I suggest starting out to get all your general education credits at a community college and then transferring (it is much cheaper). BUT make sure you talk to counselors at the schools you want to complete the bachelors at to make sure you are taking what you need. I would stick to schools that have online programs but are reputable (like Pennsylvania State University or U of Maryland have great online programs, though maybe not for what you want to do -- I am sure other schools do as well). Stay away from the for-profit proprietary (i.e. Westwood College) that have been in the news and investigated. Do talk to the financial aid offices as the community college and bachelors degree program school to see what scholarships, grants, etc. that they may have available so you don't miss deadlines and also COMPLETE THE FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that is how you get federal grants you do not have to pay back, federal stafford loans at low interest rates that can be consolidated after graduation, etc. Best wishes on continuing your education!

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answers from Houston on

I would go to a community college. You can set up a degree plan so you get the essentials. Also a grief counselor needs to take all of those basics, so you may as well get those out of the way.

Many online schools are very expensive and many classes won't transfer to a legit university, so if it were me, I'd go to a community college and ask what classes will transfer with your local university for when the time is right.

Also, most community colleges offer plenty of online courses, you usually have to go in for an orientation and sometimes for testing, but the bulk of the course is online.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Harrisburg on

Go to the websites for the school you wish to attend, see if they offer the courses you need, call the registrars office and they should be able to direct you on your options

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

R., congratulations on thinking about going back to school! I can't tell you how many times google has helped me out. When I'm looking for a college that has a program that I am interested in, I just search for that course of study plus the degree. So google "Bachelors in grief counseling" or "Masters in Psychology," etc. Schools that offer those programs, or something similar, will be right at your fingertips. For me, that's always a great place to start, then you can research each school's programs and see which one would be the best fit for you.

Best of luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Danville on

Hi R., I think it is AWESOME that you are trying to go back to school!!! I am doing it myself. When I first thought about going back to school, I checked out some online colleges. They were great but not for me, much too expensive. Also, I found that on line classes can be very demanding. And it sometimes requires more time than being in a regular class. I guess you would have to check that out to see if that's really better for you.

I later found myself interested in another field, so I looked up my community college on line. They were offering the course that I wanted to take. I also filled out the FASA.

I know every college is different but these are the steps I had to take. Once I turned in my application, I had to sign up for the Compass test, which consist of Math (all kinds), Reading and Writing. None of which really have anything to do with the course that I am taking. After taking those test, I had an appointment with the Guidance counselor. The guidance counselor will go over your scores (if these classes are needed for the course you are going into to). Example: If the course you are taking requires that you have Algebra I as a class, then the counselor will look at your math scores and place you in the appropiate math class. If you have a low score in math, you may have to take a general math before taking the actual math class that your course requires.

At first I didn't think I would feel like going to class after working. However, it is so different. I take night classes, so it's more laid back but very informative. I take 3 classes. One is an on line class. I have really enjoyed going back to school and I am so happy that I made the choice to do something for me.

Be blessed and I hope it works out for you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Hi R.,

From what I can tell, Riley pretty much covered everything and I am in full agreement. You may get a grant that covers all of the community college expenses (my dh did). Make sure you note the required units for part time vs full time when you are filling out the FAFSA form. You can also see an advisor at the community college but they are usually terrible (from my experience).

I just went back to school and it brings so much joy into my life. You will not regret pursuing this! I wish you the best!

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