Emma Ferguson, 50, reads in class at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006. Now, like more than 80,000 "nontraditional" students across the country, Ferguson, a grandmother, is going back to school full-time to earn a bachelor's degree. (AP Photo/Nancy Palmieri)
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When "back to school" means heading back to college with classmates the same age as one's grown children, it can be daunting.

When the decision is dictated by a need to find a new career or a better way to pay the bills, it can be overwhelming and stressful.

It's easy to feel alone and self-conscious and odd. It can also be more easily done than one would think.

There are a multitude of programs available at most universities and institutions, even some designed specifically for the non-traditional, older student.

LDS Business College has an advisor, for instance, whose job is to counsel and assist the non-traditional student, whatever the circumstance.

The college has a one-on-one mentoring program, known as the STEP program that makes sure at-risk students get the help they need.

Brigham Young University offers a fully accredited Bachelor of General Studies degree that can be finished at home anywhere in the world through independent study courses.

Previously earned credits count. The major is General Studies with an emphasis in American Studies, English, family life, history, or family history.

The University of Utah's program "Returning to the U" has staff prepared to help adult students identify their options and become connected to areas of resource and support.

The "restart" process includes making an appointment with the program administrators, meeting with advisors and campus agency spokesmen who can help with specific needs including financial and social and registration.

Adrian Juchau, Director of Student Support at LDS Business College, said those students coming to the college newly single, coping with a job loss or a divorce or major life shift, can find a home at the college.

He said scholarships are available as well as flexible class options, even day care at many institutions.

He said advisors work closely with new students to make their re-entry easy, including offering testing-out options and the opportunity to get credit for life experience and job skills already acquired.

In his experience, traditional students welcome the input and creativity older, diverse, experienced people bring to student groups and projects, Juchau said.

He had some advice for anyone considering going back to school:

  • Ask for help before a situation gets too serious. Take advantage of programs designed to help.
  • Make friends and build social support.
  • Make decisions early. Register at the first opportunity so as to have the best class options.
  • Take advantage of orientation opportunities. Visit the campus.
  • Look for ways to pay the tuition. (At the University of Utah, depending on funding availability, RTU Scholarship awards are available to qualified RTU students enrolled in the program. The LDS Business College also offers a full-tuition scholarship with a stipend as do most schools.)
  • Recognize and factor in time constraints that come with employment or family obligations.
  • Make study time a top priority and insist that others accommodate and respect that need.
  • Get sufficient sleep.
  • Consider online courses.
  • Bring up technological skills.
Juchau said those students willing to work hard and accept help have a fairly high success and finish rate.

This article was paid for and produced by LDS Business College.