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Going to College for the First Time: What You Need to Know

When students are going to college for the first time, they often have a lot of questions regarding which school they should attend, the application process, and the balance between school and other responsibilities.

Typically, there are two types of college students. Some of our students attend college immediately after high school as an extension of their education; other students are adult learners who have been working for a while and decided to return to school for professional development reasons. Working adults may have part-time or full-time jobs, or they might be on active duty in the military.

The Traditional Path of College Students

For those students who attend college immediately after high school, advance preparation prior to graduation is a good idea. Many students begin the application process late in their junior year or early in their senior year.

Getting accepted in a traditional college following high school can be competitive. Many students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) multiple times to earn the scores necessary to gain entry to a specific college.

Becoming involved in different activities is also a good idea. Some high school students become involved in community service. Other high school students might participate in student government and other student groups or play for sports teams.

Getting involved in student groups while going to college for the first time can be helpful in developing a network of friends, faculty members and classmates.

Online Learning for Working Adults

Online education has created opportunities for working adults to go to college while balancing their other responsibilities, such as full-time employment and a family. One of the biggest advantages of online learning for working adults is that classes are commonly asynchronous. As a result, students typically don’t need to be logged in at a certain time to attend online classes.

In our online classes, students are given a set of deliverables that are due by the end of the week. Our students can do their coursework at the time that is most convenient to them, whether that is late at night after a workday or early in the morning before children are awake.

For students who are going to college for the first time and want to take online classes, it is necessary to do research. Ideally, seek a program from a reputable and accredited higher education institution. For example, the University offers accredited, online degree programs in various areas to suit the needs of adult learners.

Related: Tips for Students Who Are New to Online Learning

PLAs Can Also Be Useful for Adult Learners Going to College for the First Time

For adult learners who want to use their experience to earn academic credit more quickly, the University offers the option of Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs). Prior learning assessments involve submitting a portfolio and demonstrating proof of prior learning. For example, a servicemember with decades of leadership experience may be able to earn academic credit through a prior learning assessment involving a leadership course.

Related: Why Is the Prior Learning Assessment So Useful for Students?

The Importance of Scholarships, Employer Tuition Programs and Grants

Seeking out various funding sources to pay educational expenses is useful for both traditional college students who attend college directly out of high school and working adults.

High school students, for instance, may wish to apply for scholarships and grants through local Rotary clubs and other community-based organizations. Other students could seek scholarships from the colleges to which they apply or through programs that help high school students locate and apply for scholarships online.

Working adult students may also seek scholarships or use employer tuition reimbursement programs and military tuition assistance plans to pay college expenses. For example, active-duty servicemembers or veterans may be eligible for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefits that provide a housing stipend in addition to covering tuition costs.

Many scholarships and grants require applicants to submit an essay justifying their qualifications for the scholarship or grant. This type of essay is a good opportunity to reflect on how past experience has provided preparation for the demands of college.

Besides Preparation, Organizational Skills and Effective Time Management are Key for Students Going to College for the First Time

Earning a college education is a major accomplishment in life. For students going to college for the first time, preparation, organizational skills and effective time management skills are key to earning a college degree.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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