Thinking About Returning to School? University College Busts the Myths
Going back to school at any time in life—whether it’s to finish your bachelor’s degree, earn an advanced degree, or complete an academic certificate—is an exciting but daunting prospect. When you’ve been away from college for a while, you might think setting foot on a campus again, or even joining an online class, will make you feel like a fish out of water. But will it really?
We talked with University College’s Andrea Gross about this and other common myths she hears in her role as assistant dean of enrollment. University College serves nearly 3,000 students who are completing their bachelor’s degree, earning a master’s degree in one of 16 different areas, or pursuing one of the more than 100 academic undergraduate and graduate certificates they offer.
Students in the bachelor’s completion program, says Gross, typically didn’t finish their degree due to some circumstance—maybe a health problem or a financial setback, or something else that required their time and attention. “They’re coming back because they’ve always wanted to finish—or maybe they’ve promised somebody they would,” she says. “We also hear a lot of, ‘It’s my time now. I’ve raised my kids or worked hard for my family, and now it’s time to focus on me.’”
Students in all three groups are also often returning to advance their careers—to make a career change, get a better job or update their skills (“upskilling”). The average age of a University College student is 32, Gross says, but student ages range from the 20s to 60s.
Regardless of their background or reason for returning to school, Gross says, students succeed when they know “their why.” “It doesn’t matter what the ‘why’ is – maybe it’s a lifelong goal, or they want a promotion at work, or hope to pivot their career. They know things will come up—work projects, caring for parents, a pandemic—but they have something that keeps them going,” she says.
Still hesitant? Here’s what University College has to say about the common fears prospective students have and why returning to school is not as daunting as you may think.
Myth #1 – I’m just so busy. I don’t think I can fit it in.
Some students think they must enroll full-time — and that they won’t be able to take a break from courses. But University College programs are built for busy adults. So, if a student needs to take a quarter or two off for a wedding or a big work project or something unexpected comes up, they can. Students choose how many courses they take each term, so they can fit their education around their personal and professional lives. As a general guide, students spend around 10 hours a week on each course. That may sound like a lot, but it’s doable. Once students start and find their groove, most of them are like, “Oh, I got this.”
Myth #2 – Even if I have time for classes, managing the whole process will be too much.
We know the last thing students need, when they’re working or may have a family, is another thing to manage. We make sure students’ goals are met and that they are supported from start to finish. We call it the “concierge approach.”
We give students a one-stop way to get help. Students have an academic advisor all the way through their program who is there to help plan a schedule, register for courses or assist with any questions.
Myth #3 – I don’t have a background in the area I want to study.
Many people thinking about a master’s degree or graduate certificate believe their undergraduate degree should be in the same discipline, which is not the case. Let's say a student wants to pursue environmental sustainability and their bachelor’s is in business or psychology. They don’t need academic or professional experience in sustainability or the environment. They have a bachelor's degree, showing they can learn and think critically—that’s the important thing.
Myth #4 – It’s too hard to start over to complete my bachelor’s degree.
Many people don’t complete their bachelor’s degree because they think their previous college credits will not apply or that they expired. This is not true; undergraduate credits never expire. University College accepts credits from any regionally accredited institution and sometimes credits from non-regionally accredited schools. Also, students transfer their credits, not their previous GPA, so they get a fresh start.
Myth #5 – I don’t know if I can or want to be on campus for classes—and I’m worried I won’t like online learning.
The bachelor’s completion program and many of our master's degrees and certificates offer online and on-campus courses, so students can choose if they want one or the other, or both. People who have not taken an online course before often have misconceptions about learning online, including limited opportunities to engage with their instructors and peers. But University College has offered online programs for nearly 30 years, and we have a team of adult learning experts and designers who develop engaging and interactive learning experiences. Coupled with instructors who know how to build community and deliver an exceptional learning experience, some students find their online courses more engaging than on-campus courses they took at other colleges and universities.
Myth #6 – The work will be too hard.
Some students who are changing careers or who have been out of college for a long time feel they won’t be academically successful. But most of our classes are hands on, and a lot that they’re learning they’re already doing in the workplace — or will be doing. For example, we had a student in our communication management program who worked for the Botanic Gardens, and in class he created a social media campaign that he actually ran. Our classes are also taught by industry experts who are working in the field, so they know what’s applicable right now — and what employers are looking for.
Myth #7 – I’ll do all this work, and it won’t make a difference in my career.
We make sure students are meeting their goals and what they’re learning is applicable in the real world, but we also help students learn how to speak about the skills that they’re learning. We partner with DU’s Career and Professional Development to show students how to look at the classes and the programs they’ve done, the skills they’ve learned, and how to frame that on a resume, in a cover letter or an interview. We also ask if students have everything they need — do they need to add a certificate? How do students pick electives to make sure that they're filling in their “tool belt”? Going back to school is an investment, and we want to make sure that it's going to pay off.