Make a Plan
IT STARTS WITH A PLAN.
With so many colleges and program options, finding the best program and lining up financial resources can seem overwhelming. It doesn't have to be that way. Keep your eyes on the end goal — a college degree — but realize the best way to get there is a by following a series of small steps.
One of the best first steps, we feel, is to come to the Graduate! Philadelphia Center and develop your plan with one of our advisors. To ensure that we are available to help you, we suggest you make an appointment. If that isn't convenient, you can talk to our advisors on the phone or by email, or utilize our resources completely online. We've outlined the steps below to make it as easy as possible.
And remember, if at any point you need assistance, just call, come in, or email. We're here to help.
1. Define your educational goals
Before you can begin researching colleges and programs, it's best to identify your motivations and interests. Knowing what you would like to achieve, including what your degree will be in, will make it easier to select the college and program that's right for you.
2. Start assessing your schedule
Whether you are a first-time college student or one who is returning, it is important to establish how much time you will be able to devote to pursuing your degree. This will help you identify which college and program is right for you. It will also help you start planning how to balance your life, work, and college schedules.
3. Secure your workspace
Another important aspect to consider is defining where you will be able to do your course work and homework. Make sure you are comfortable, that your study habits and needs are met, and that you have a place to put all your notebooks and textbooks where they will not be disturbed.
4. Establish your connection
A computer and high-speed broadband internet connection are now essential for succeeding in college. You will need these for everything from applying for financial assistance to managing your course selection, to communicating with teachers and classmates, to researching and writing assignments. If you do not have adequate access to a computer and internet, you can visit the Graduate! Philadelphia College Access Center which is equipped with a computer lab with high-speed Internet access.
5. Develop your support system
It is important to identify one or more support people in your life who respect your desire to return to college. Try to line up a network of supporters: from backup babysitters if you have children, to a colleague at work with whom you can talk about classes and stress levels, to a good friend who won't let you skip a class because it's cold and raining and the car's broken down.
These people will be your support for when "life happens" and things, inevitably, get rough. Tell this person about your plans and ask them to help you stay focused on the big prize — your degree.
6. Count your credits
Now is the time to make a list of all the college credits you already have, along with a list of non-credit courses and certificate programs, as some could count toward your degree. Graduate! Philadelphia will guide you through the steps of obtaining an official college transcript and help you to understand ways in which you can maximize your transfer credit options at your chosen college.
7. Reflect on what you've done and what you know
Recognizing that adults are accomplished people with many achievements, most colleges offer college credit for learning that occurs outside the college classroom. Our staff will help explain what this means for each college. At some colleges, students can "test out" of a course; at others, students develop a portfolio of evidence. But is a worthwhile exercise to start reflecting on, and listing, major life achievements and what you have learned from them.
8. Begin identifying colleges and programs
Begin with the basics. Focus on the degree you'd like to earn and your career and life goals for after you graduate from college. Remember, you do not have to finish the original degree you started, and there are many new, exciting, and rewarding careers and jobs that require specialized degrees that didn't exist even five years ago. Although our staff is not trained as career coaches or job developers, Graduate! Philadelphia career workshops can introduce participants to some of these hot new jobs.
After defining your preferred degree and potential colleges, look to see if financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available, especially for adults, and how course offerings align with your life and work schedules. Again, remember, many colleges now offer evening and weekend courses, online and hybrid (online and face-to-face) courses, and accelerated programs where courses last five to eight weeks instead of the traditional 14-week semesters. Additionally, investigate whether or not these colleges will accept the credits you have earned already by calling the college contact.
As you narrow your list of colleges, look beyond the basics. What can you learn about the culture of the college from its website or what other students are saying about it? Do these feel comfortable to you? What academic supports does the college offer its adult students? Is there easy access to tutoring, learning centers, and computer labs? What about a lending library and bookstore? What non-academic services does the college offer compared to what you'll need? These could include childcare, easy access to transportation, used book trading, counseling services, and more.
Ready to start searching? Graduate Philadelphia has made it easy. Search colleges now. After you have identified your top colleges, call to make an appointment with the admissions office to figure out the steps you'll need to take to apply.
9. Make your decision
Evaluate academic program offerings, college services, financial aid packages, and other criteria to select which college you will ultimately attend. Once you have decided, notify the college, request a college catalog if one has not been provided, and schedule an appointment with an academic advisor.
Graduate! Philadelphia can help connect you directly to academic advisors at many area colleges. Contact us
10. Apply for federal and state financial aid
Very few can afford to pay for college out of pocket. Many need financial support. The good news is: it's available. You just need to apply for it. But there are some deadlines, so it's best to start the application process early.
There are several important deadlines for financial aid, and in order to be eligible for federal or state aid, you must have filed your taxes prior to the financial aid deadline. Learn more here.
11. Complete your applications
Complete and submit your applications as you receive them. Along with your college application, you may need to provide transcripts from previous colleges. Most colleges do not require adults for recommendations and SAT/ACT scores. Ask the college(s) you are considering exactly what you will need to provide to them, before you proceed.
For official transcripts, you will need to contact your previous college's registrar offices. Graduate! Philadelphia can help you with obtaining transcripts as well.
To request official SAT and TOEFL scores, contact Educational Testing Services, the company that administers these tests. To request ACT scores, contact ACT.
If you have attended previous institutions, you will need to ask the college(s) you attended to send an official transcript to the admissions office of the college(s) you are now considering.
There will be a fee for each application you submit. However, if you register with Graduate! Philadelphia and are interested in applying to any of our nine partner colleges, your application fee will be waived. Register now
12. Meet with an advisor and establish an academic plan
Work with an academic advisor to finalize your academic plan and schedule your classes. Your academic plan should give you a clear timetable for degree completion. Although your academic plan does not have to be set in stone, it is a plan of action for you to work toward.
When scheduling your classes, it's best to begin with classes you will like. This will help boost your confidence and help you get back into the swing of college.
13. Attend orientation
It's always good to attend orientation. This will allow you to find out about the campus and the community and learn about the support services available. Contact your college's admissions office for an orientation schedule.
14. Connect to Graduate! Philadelphia
Even if you've applied and been accepted on your own, we still encourage you to make an appointment with Graduate! Philadelphia. We offer a wide range of programs, services, and workshops to help you succeed in college. From study skills, to time management, and more, Graduate! Philadelphia is here to help you get back to and through college. We are here when you need us.