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Returning Students: Finish Your Undergraduate Degree

Returning Students: Finish Your Undergraduate Degree

Susan Aaron | The Learning Coach

Life on a college campus is a relatively carefree time for students entering from high school. But there’s a more stressful side to campus life for transfer or returning students – many in the midst of career changes and some with families – who enter with partial degrees from other schools, or having completed preliminary work at a community college.

Shelly Brown, transfer services counselor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), helps these students sort out campus life. And after you read Brown’s history, you’ll understand why she’s so qualified for the job.

Learning to Build a Career

“I was 29 years old, getting divorced, and I’d never gone to college,” Brown says. “I have three kids. I just knew there was no way I would have much of a future. I had other jobs that were decent, but they would never pull me out of — not working poor, but just barely getting by…I didn’t want to depend on having to get married again to support my kids.”

Brown enrolled in a community college and moved her family in with her mother. After earning her associate’s degree in two years as a full-time student, Brown transferred to UCI and completed her degree in three years while working part time.

More Learning Stories

As a counselor, Brown hears many reasons why prospective students want to complete their degrees. Sometimes a pivotal event leads them to make a change. Some who left school develop a need to return and finish what they started. Some students, Brown among them, want to set an example for their children about education’s importance. Others feel they’re “missing out on something intellectually.”

“Most salient is that people are finding they can’t progress in the jobs they want, or they can’t make any more money unless they have a degree,” Brown says.

Financial Hurdles

Many universities understand the needs of returning and nontraditional students and have developed ways to accommodate them.

-Housing: Brown used UCI’s housing for students with families. “I was able to get an apartment on campus that was significantly below market,” she says. In Brown’s case, the savings totaled about $1,000 each month, making it possible for her to work part-time while studying.

- Subsidized Daycare: Students can find infant-toddler care, preschool and after-school programs inside UCI’s family housing area.

- Financial Aid: “A lot of reentry students have no idea how much money is out there,” notes Brown. She recommends visiting financial aid and transfer offices before enrolling to understand what they can do for you. She also recommends applying for all the scholarships you can — a strategy that let her attend school for five years and leave with only $5,000 in debt.


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