Whether it’s been two years since you graduated high school or a decade or more since you’ve stepped foot in a classroom, going back to school can be challenging. Unlike younger students, who can give 100% of their focus to their studies, adult students typically must juggle their time and energy between school, a full-time job and family responsibilities.

These challenges make it very difficult for some adult students to cross that finish line and get their degree. And with no degree, they find themselves stuck in unfulfilling jobs that leave little or no room for advancement.

Don’t worry, though, because we’re going to share some very simple and practical tips that will help adult students be successful in college so they can reach their full potential.

The Biggest Benefits of Earning a College Degree

Before we dive into those tips, let’s first talk briefly about some of the benefits of sticking it out and getting your college degree.

  1. Greater Earning Potential – Perhaps the biggest and most obvious benefit of higher education is that studies show an advanced degree can increase your value and earning potential.
  2. More Job Opportunities – The majority of today’s employers are searching for candidates that have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. Earning your degree is a great way to stand out from your competition and get the attention you deserve.
  3. Better Employment Benefits – Studies have shown that college graduates are far more likely to receive more robust employer-provided benefits packages than employees without a degree.
  4. More Job Stability – The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that having a degree can make employees more valuable to a company and less likely to be laid off during recessions and other economic downturns.
  5. A Positive Impact on Your Family – Earning your degree can help improve the quality of life for your entire family.

What Does Being Successful in College Look Like for Adult Students?

If you asked a typical 18-year-old what “college success” looks like, they’re apt to mention the importance of making new friends and attending lots of social gatherings (AKA parties).

But college success looks very different to a busy adult who has gone back to school to obtain their degree. For these people, success is determined by three main factors:



For adults, one needs to make sure they finish their program so the newly earned degree can help them make more money, and be happier.  That’s the goal! Success is, first and foremost, about crossing the finish line with degree in hand.

As we noted at the beginning of this article, adult students face more challenges with their busy lives and schedules than full time students coming out of high school.  We’re more sensitive to cost and time.

BUT! As you’ll see with our tips below, it’s actually never been more accessible and affordable for the busiest of adults to get their degree.

Not Riddled with Debt

According to a report by Lending Tree, of the total 2018 college graduates, 69% took out student loans and are now carrying an average debt of $29,800. It’s hard enough to recover from this kind of debt as a single person with no dependents; it’s unthinkable as an adult with a mortgage and children.

One of the goals should be to avoid overpaying and to lower the cost of college as much as possible.

The good news is that there ARE ways you can go back to college, obtain your degree and do it in a way that is totally affordable for you. It’s hugely important for an adult student and we’ll also share how you can earn your degree and potentially save BIG time.

Not Stopping Your Entire Life

Adult students have numerous responsibilities and must juggle other life roles while taking college courses including that of employee, spouse or partner, parent, caregiver to their own parents, and community member/volunteer. It is impossible for adult students to stop their “real life” so they can obtain a degree.

Success then means being able to easily balance the adult life with their coursework. And before you start to panic, assuming you’ll never be able to balance your life and schoolwork, it’s absolutely possible today.  We are going to be sharing tips that will put your mind at ease in just a moment. So keep reading!

7 Tips to Being Successful in College in 2020

So here they are…and it’s good news: there are a number of simple and realistic ways to make sure you’ll be successful in getting that degree.  If you are currently an adult student or are thinking about going back to school, there’s never been a better and more accommodating time to achieve that.  These are some foolproof tips that will lead to your success:

1. Choose an Online Education

To us, being successful means not disrupting your current family, job or life, and still getting that degree to improve your livelihood.  Online education has completely revolutionized how students earn their degree, allowing them to take advantage of higher education without throwing all kinds of wrenches into their life.

No longer do you have to move to another state to attend the college of your choice. You can earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree from the comfort of your living room.

Don’t have a lot of time? Online education fits your schedule; you learn whenever is most convenient for YOU.

And finally, thanks to the explosive growth of online degree programs, it’s easier than ever to obtain your degree through an accredited institution that has met established educational standards. This means in the eyes of your future employer your online degree is just as valuable and valid as a traditional degree.

The bottom line is, online degree programs mitigate the main roadblocks that come with a traditional education.

2. Know Your Why

Anytime you face a challenging goal, it’s important to know the WHY behind it. It’s not enough to say to yourself, “I am going to get my bachelor’s degree.” That’s the goal, but WHY do you want or need to reach that goal?

For many adult students, their WHY might be to set themselves up for career advancement and potentially earn more. Others’ WHY may be to make themselves more valuable in their employer’s eye to hopefully avoid the ax come layoff time. And still others may want to go back to school to change careers completely.

Find your WHY and you’ll find the motivation you’ll need to reach your goal when things get tough.

3. Lower the Cost of Your Degree

As we mentioned earlier, most students graduate from college carrying a ton in student loan debt, and they’ll spend years (and sometimes decades) paying it off. The thought of carrying this kind of debt is unthinkable to an adult student who has a mortgage and children.

For an adult student to truly be successful, they must alleviate the anxiety attached to student loan debt, and make the degree as affordable as possible. You’ll then be able to reap as much benefit as possible from your new success This will entail some tactics to pay less for college.

Is it possible? Absolutely.

Are Scholarships the Answer?

As you know from our article on scholarships, we showed how they probably aren’t worth the investment of time you must spend to apply for one. The math of effort in VS reward out simply doesn’t add up. However, there are other ways to lower the cost:

Free Courses for Credit

OnlineDegree.com’s offers courses that could apply credit towards your degree, saving you potentially thousands of dollars toward your education and finishing more quickly…for FREE.  Yep, free.  All part of our goal to help you save on tuition. You can take as many of our courses as you’d like…online, from anywhere, and at your own pace.  You can learn about robotics, criminal justice, psychology, computer programming, marketing and many more from excellent professors around the country. We’ve then worked out relationships where participating universities across the country can give you credit for the courses you’ve finished.  Complete the courses, enroll at the university, save time and money.

Community College

Community college can still be a good avenue to save in some cases.  The potential tuition savings spending 2 years at a JC as opposed to a 4-year university are definitely there.  A main problem though is that it still comes with costs and fees for books,  and is not always accessible to accommodate busy schedules.  If you have to leave work early 3 times a week to attend class at a JC, it’s not that helpful for an adult.  But, it should definitely be considered as part of an overall approach to save since its cheaper than full tuition.

Tuition Discounts

People don’t realize that there are ways to save towards universities through tuition discounts.  A discount instantly lowers your total cost of education without all of the work in applying for scholarships.  They’re typically anywhere from 5% to 25% depending on the school, and could equate to a huge amount of savings.

Where do I find these?

As part of our mission to make college more affordable, we’ve organized numerous discounts at colleges and universities across the country. All free to utilize when you register. Just another way you can save big while earning your degree.

4. Believe in Yourself

At some point along your journey toward your degree, you will most likely stop and question what you’re doing and if you even have what it takes to handle everything. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to believe in your own abilities. Stop that critical voice in your head that says, “I can’t” and replace it with “I will!”

Visualization is also very helpful. Many pro athletes use visualization to help them face the challenges on the field or court. Seeing themselves in their mind’s eye making the shot over and over again helps them make it happen in “real life.”

There have been some interesting accounts of people using visualization and getting amazing results. For instance, Natan Sharansky was a computer scientist that spent nine years in prison in the USSR after being accused of being a spy for America. He wanted to do something interesting with his time while in solitary confinement, and so in his mind he played himself in mental chess. In 1996, when he was released from prison, Sharansky went on to beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!

Mental training works, so visualize yourself succeeding and getting that degree, and before you know it, one of your loved ones will be throwing you a graduation party.

5. Time Management is Key

How can a busy adult with a full-time job and family responsibilities possibly fit coursework into their life? By staying organized and managing their time wisely.

As we mentioned above, online degrees are excellent because they provide so much flexibility for you to get your degree on your own schedule and from home.  But to be successful, you’ll still need to manage your time wisely.

If, in the past, you have struggled in this department, here are some tips to help you manage your time more effectively:

  • Use a Daily Checklist – Hands down this is one of the best time management tools you can use to stay on track. You don’t have to use any kind of fancy software to make this checklist, a good old-fashioned pen and paper will do. The idea is to simply spend a few minutes each night writing down the next day’s “TO DO’s”. These items will include any household errands, regular work and also schoolwork so you can see in a visual way what you need to accomplish. You’ll not only stay on track, you’ll also feel awesome every time you can cross an item off the list.
  • Be Ruthless with Prioritizing – Now while you are making that checklist, you are apt to schedule 20 things for the following day when you will realistically only have time for 12. If you want to manage your time wisely you must absolutely prioritize and be ruthless about it. What do you ABSOLUTELY need to accomplish tomorrow as opposed to what would you like to accomplish in the coming days and weeks?
  • Get Rid of Distractions – These could include social media or even your children. While we certainly aren’t suggesting you get rid of your kids, we are suggesting you make it clear to them, your spouse or partner, and any friends and other relatives, that certain blocks of time are set aside for schoolwork and schoolwork only and that you are simply not available or to be disturbed. The fewer distractions there are, the more you will be able to focus and accomplish your daily goals.

6. Take Online Learning for a Test-Drive

If you’ve never taken a course online, you’ll definitely want to try it out and familiarize yourself. It’s different (arguably better, but different) than taking courses in a physical classroom.

One of the reasons we created OnlineDegree.com was to help busy adults transition into college and be more prepared with how modern learning happens. For instance, you don’t want to start figuring out a modern learning management system for the first time at your eventual college.

With our online programs you can get your feet wet for free. You’ll become comfortable with watching videos and lectures from your computer, following study modules and taking quizzes online. By the time you’re ready to head to college, you’ll be a pro at online learning.

7. Choose the Right School

And last but certainly not least, it’s incredibly important that you choose the right school that will support your goals and efforts in every way possible. For adult students, that means choosing a school that offers online courses, is adult-friendly with flexible schedules, offers student support, a solid acceptance policy from prior credits like a community college or an online degree, and offers an education you can actually afford!

Bottomline, the support that you can receive from a university that understands adult learners is critical to your success!

How do you know if a school is adult-friendly?  Take a look here: we’ve partnered with numerous well-respected and adult-friendly colleges to provide you with a pathway to obtaining your degree.

Are You Ready to be a Success?

Remember…you can do it!  There’s nothing stopping you from earning that degree and enriching your life and the lives of your family members.

Now that you know how to be a success in college in 2020, you can take the first steps to save and be successful.  At OnlineDegree.com we’re here to help you on that journey and make college affordable and accessible for everyone.



About the Author
Grant Aldrich

Grant founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Thrive Global, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.