Strategies for Navigating Return to School

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Are you grappling with the decision to return to school? Balancing education with work, parenting, deployment, or caregiving? If so, consider yourself an “and-er.” These students juggle their studies alongside other life commitments. And if you fall into this category, you’re in the right place!

Returning to school might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are compelling reasons to pursue further education: job security, career growth, career changes, and the promise of increased earning potential.

Densie Brandt, a key member of the Strategic Partnerships Workforce Education Solutions team at National University shares the journey of returning to school and to introduce the valuable resources available at National University.

Online or On-Campus Program?

Whether you consider yourself an “and-er” or not, returning to school can be challenging with a busy schedule. If you choose the online route, you’ll benefit from schedule flexibility, lower tuition and boarding costs, increased networking opportunities, and overall greater accessibility. On the other hand, if you prefer a distraction-free environment, hands-on learning experiences, a commute to class, and a more structured schedule, then on-campus programs are the way to go. It is important to keep in mind that the on-campus route typically has higher expenses, but if you want that in person experience, this is the way to go.

What it’s like to be an Online Student

Are you new to the world of online learning? Well, we are here to tell you about that experience a bit more. While online education offers schedule flexibility, it also presents unique challenges. Here’s what you should know:

  1. Stay Motivated: Without the structure of a physical classroom, self-discipline becomes crucial. Set goals, create a study routine, and stay hungry for knowledge.
  2. Home Distractions: Working from home can be distracting. Find a quiet space, minimize interruptions, and maintain focus during study sessions.
  3. Limited Peer Interaction: Online courses may lack the face-to-face interaction you’d have in a traditional classroom. However, virtual discussions, forums, and group projects can help bridge this gap.
  4. Engage with Professors: Reach out to your instructors via email or virtual office hours. Building a connection with them enhances your learning experience.

Time Management Tips for Success

Whether you choose the online path or the on-campus route, effective time management is crucial. We all aspire to achieve success, so here are some valuable tips. First, steer clear of multitasking, as it can lead to loss of focus. Next, create a daily or weekly to-do list to maintain organization. This can help you keep track and stay on board with assignments and other commitments in your life. Seek out a quiet environment—whether at home or in the campus library—to minimize distractions and stay focused during work sessions. Lastly, avoid procrastination by starting your assignments well in advance of their due dates. By doing so, you’ll avoid last-minute cramming, which can result in your work not being done to the best of your ability.

If you’re someone who needs help staying accountable, consider downloading one of these apps to manage your time and assignments: 2Do,, Evernote, myHomework Student Planner, MyLifeOrganized 3, or Remember the Milk.

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Ask for Help and Support

Having a strong support system is crucial for achieving your goals. Support manifests in various ways. Financial assistance, provided through scholarships and financial aid, helps ease the burden. Academic support includes free tutoring, access to the writing center, and an academic success center. Career guidance is available via Handshake, other mentoring networks, and career services. Additionally, family and community support encompasses flexible programs and student clubs. The student clubs would allow for you to connect with peers, who could become a great support system. Lastly, social and emotional well-being support is offered through free mental health counseling, local support services, and student mentors.

Finding a mentor is important. Whether this be a co-worker, fellow student, a family member or a friend, being able to look up to someone and lean on them for support will only benefit you.

Applying For Financial Aid

Financial aid and scholarships help minimize the financial burden going back to school causes. Whether you are an Undergraduate or Graduate, there are multiple options for aid. If you are an undergrad, there is the Cal Grant, Pell Grant, Scholarships, and student loans. If you are a Graduate, there are scholarships and student loan options. Take advantage of these awesome tools to make going back to school less stressful. Check with your employer. A lot of employers offer financial assistance as part of your benefits package toward the cost of your education if it’s for a job-related course.

Going back to school doesn’t have to be daunting. Despite the challenges, there are several reasons why it’s manageable - and rewarding! Remember that you’re not alone on this journey; you’ve got support from those closest to you, your employer who wants to see you grow your career, and through support services you may have access to work mentors, education coaching benefits, and your manager. 

Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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