Guide to and through college

Here’s a guide to help you to and through college. Click below for each step on the journey.

1. Consider

If you’re thinking of going back to college, the considerations below will get you started. Thinking about these may not be easy, and uncertainty is okay. Being aware of the many choices and researching them to identify those that fit you best, is a challenge for anyone returning to college.


The reasons for obtaining a college degree are very personal. They may include professional growth, a new career, personal satisfaction in having completed a goal, or to be a role model. You are the only person who has the right answer for you!



The Bureau of Labor Statistics helps you compare professions on the basis of the size of the workforce, projected employment growth, compensation, the education needed for an entry level position, and opportunities for self-employment. EduTrendsTN. is a tool to help you compare the earnings of Tennessee graduates across colleges or academic majors.


A supportive social environment is critical to your degree completion: people who believe in you, who will help in a pinch and who will protect your time for studying and classes. Identify and locate your supporters, at home, at work and in your community. Ask your support network for help and line up the resources you need. Make a Reconnect Community Advisor a part of your support network, by contacting Tennessee Reconnect Community.


Degrees can be obtained in many different ways! Options now include online, in-class and hybrids where you will be in a classroom with classmates and the instructor and be expected to do substantial work online as well. Accelerated programs offer courses that last about eight weeks instead of fourteen, but deliver the same amount of learning. Accelerated programs often have courses that start every five or seven weeks, so your courses may not run concurrently. Adult online courses rely on engaged interaction with classmates and the instructor, either in real time (synchronous) or at a time that is convenient to the student (asynchronous.)


Finish Faster with TimewiseTN

Timewise TN, otherwise known as prior learning assessment (PLA), is a method of evaluating what you have learned outside school for college credit. Your past experiences and knowledge (from work, the military, volunteering, and other sources) may already account for skills that you would have learned in the classroom. If you can demonstrate this knowledge at the college level, many institutions in Tennessee will award college credit for what you already know. With TimewiseTN you can save time and money. Tennessee Reconnect Community Advisors can explain how you  may be able to earn college credits for these experiences. Ask your Reconnect Community Advisor and admissions officer about TimewiseTN.


While the media often highlights the plight of recent college grads with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, in our experience, these cases are not as common as the media would have you believe. Adult students rarely incur such debt. There are many affordable college options for adults in our region. Use to start estimating the cost of attendance at public institutions in Tennessee. Also check out the net price calculator at each college to estimate cost. Read more about your options for paying for college. There are many affordable college options for adults in our region, and most adults still qualify for federal and state grants and subsidized loans. Private loans should be a last resort as they have fewer consumer protections.

Need help thinking through costs and how to pay for college?

Be sure to ask about total cost, and don’t let yourself be pressured into signing for any loan. Tennessee Reconnect Community Advisors are very knowledgeable about federal and state financial aid, and can help sort out questions about costs and loans.

Eligibility for Financial Aid

Adults can and should apply for all federal and state financial aid grants and loans. To determine your eligibility and start the process, visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website at: Remember: FAFSA funds are replenished each year on January 1 and are allocated on a first come-first served basis, so it literally pays to file early. You will need to have your tax return completed before you file your FAFSA.


Defaulted Loans

If you have defaulted loans from previous college attendance, it doesn’t mean you cannot pursue returning to college. The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC)  can help you address your old college debt. Payments may be much lower than you expect. In addition to talking with your Reconnect Community Advisor you can gain information on ways to get out of default and back in the classroom, by contacting the TSAC loan hotline at 1.800.317.6809.

More Financial Resources

There are many scholarship sites. Some will require you to pay or give information up front. We urge you to use caution and common sense. You should never have to pay for information about a scholarship. is a reputable scholarship site that also contains information about loans, scholarships and savings.

Employer Assistance

Ask your employer if you are eligible for tuition benefits and reimbursements that can help you with tuition and related costs. You may learn about programs and opportunities available to you.


2. Collect

Financial Documents

You will need current and previous year tax returns for filing your FAFSA.



If you attended college in the past, those courses can be evaluated for credit this time around. Gather all transcripts from colleges you have attended in the past—no matter when and how long you attended. Sometimes colleges do not place time limits on transcripts. It’s best to collect them from all of your previous schools. Do NOT open official copies, but ask for an unofficial copy (which should be provided for free).


Certificates and Samples of Prior Learning

Collect all Certificates of Completion from places of employment, training, the military, volunteerism, and documents of credit from ACE, Dantes/DSST, CLEP, etc.



Prepare for your meeting with your college advisor by writing down questions that will help you make a decision, such as:

  • Total costs per course, per semester, and per year, as well as fees and any hidden fees, from start to finish.
  • Majors, minors, and courses.
  • Credits that will transfer into different degree options, including the number of transfer credits, and how, when, and where they will transfer into your program plan.
  • Time to degree completion.
  • Time and delivery of courses: in class, online, day, evening, weekend.
  • Offices and individual contact information for those you need to contact prior to attending classes, such as: admissions, veterans affairs, financial aid, , registrar.

3. Compare

There are several tools to help you compare college choices. Tennessee Reconnect partner colleges are adult friendly institutions and offer options such as day, evening, weekend, online, and accelerated programs. Research other institutions in Tennessee at allows you to see where your prior credits will make the most impact on your future studies. Create a profile to begin comparing your options.

Buyer beware! Earning a degree is great for many reasons, and most colleges and universities are legit, but know the facts: This site explains why some institutions are not legit and how to identify them.

4. Commit

Once you have found the college program that fits you best, commit to your future, and enroll!


Apply to the college(s) of your choice. Most colleges have an online application, but some require paper applications for specific programs.

Some colleges require applying students to test their skills prior to enrollment in order to qualify for college level courses. If you are required to take a test before taking a class, do consider preparing well in advance. You will be glad you did. Even a couple of hours of preparatory study can make the difference between almost-passing and passing the test.

While you may need to refresh your skills in a developmental course, it’s best to minimize the number of these courses you have to take, as they do not accrue credit toward your degree. Even a couple of hours of preparatory study can make the difference between almost-passing and passing the test.


Call and schedule a meeting with your college advisor at your school of choice to review all materials. Bring all your questions and the information you collected, as listed above.

5. Continue

Congratulations! You are back in college. Adult students have found these tips helpful:

Be aware and meet all deadlines for registration, course selection, and ongoing tuition and fee payments. Don’t derail yourself by forgetting and missing an important deadline. If you must miss a deadline, talk to the appropriate department at your new college and explain your situation. Try to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Remember to file annually for financial aid and keep all related paperwork up to date.

  Be sure to have your books in time for class. Online sellers and used books offer better prices than campus bookstores. Act early to find the best deals.

  Identify and use campus resources: If the school offers an orientation, make sure to attend. Skipping orientation is a common mistake adults make. So much important information as well as shortcuts and tips are shared at orientation, and you might find people you know, or get to know people with the same goals and course schedule. Also find the library and the learning center, and use tutoring services.

  Meet with your college advisor at least once a semester to be sure you are on track with your program and coursework. Make sure you understand the required courses, course sequence, and credit requirements for your degree.

  Develop a good relationship with your professors. Professors appreciate the perspectives adults bring to the classroom. Don’t be afraid to contribute! Contact your professors at office hours or by email if you need help.

  Try an online course; you may find it gives you more flexibility with your schedule.

  Periodically check your career goals to see if they are still applicable.

  Monitor your financial aid status with your college financial aid office or the appropriate person at your college.

  Seek assistance from your support network if you need help. Tennessee Reconnect Community Advisors are always available: [local contact info]

6. Complete

At this stage you are just around the corner from having the degree you worked so hard for. There are only a few items left to check off your list:

  • Order your cap and gown.
  • Ensure that all forms for graduation are completed and submitted by the deadlines, with required signatures from you, your Advisor, and other college personnel.
  • Ask your professors for letters of reference for your future studies or career moves.
  • Hand in all final assignments and make sure you have all your grades.
  • Mark your graduation day on your calendar.
  • Enjoy graduation events and festivities.
  • Update your resume to reflect all the skills you’ve gained and things you’ve learned
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