Adult student looking to return to college to complete degree

I am an adult student in my 40’s and plan to return to college. I am an undergraduate with about 50 credit hours accumulated from colleges outside of NYS. Today I live in NYC.

My original degree path was Liberal Arts and my majors were Art and Music, but today I am not clear what my path is. It could be general business, real estate and biology.

My overall GPA is 2.9.

I am currently talking with a small college at SUNY that tends to accept adult students. I guess most if not all of my classes would be online.

I would likely qualify for some experiential college credit hours. And I guess my goal is to get an associates degree at minimum and a bachelors eventually.

I am confused how to pick a college,

I am confused how to select a major,

I think I would rather be connected to a very large school, but I struggle to figure out how to select the right schools.

Can anybody give me some pointers? I am really mixed up and would really like to get on track with my college education! Thank you


A practical question first: how old are your 50 credit hours? Some colleges won’t give credit for classes taken more than X number of years ago.

The second question is the key to all of the rest of your questions: what do you want from having a degree? Wanting it to have completed it is a completely legitimate reason! But are there other reasons, such as wanting to change careers, or a job that you want that requires a degree? Knowing your reasons & goals will help people on CC give more useful advice.

This is, btw, really do-able- and lots of people here will be happy to help!


In my experience many schools give credit for all classes taken decades ago. The exception would be a science class if you were doing nursing or similar.

There are many programs for degree completion, adult learner, continuing ed etc. You might also want to look at schools that give credit for life experience.

In my area, examples might be BU’s and Northeastern’s degree completion programs, Harvard extension. Lesley’s Adult Learner program, UMass University without Walls, UMass Lowell online, or a part-time student at UMass Boston. For women, Smith and Wellesley both have programs for non-traditional students. I could go on…

You can also try community or state colleges to save money then transfer. Another way to save money is to do CLEP’s (exams- google them- worth 3-6 credits).

You can go back to art and music, but if your interests have changed, or if you want something more practical, you will have to choose at some point but you still have time and room in your credits to explore a little.

Why not just stick with SUNY or CUNY?

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There are a lot of choices- for example, Excelsior is great for combining courses from different institutions and credit for experience. But the place to start is: what is the goal, and what is the reason/motivation for the goal.

If you’re in NYC then CUNY is right there. Unless you have money to burn I think you need to have a plan before you enroll. What are your career goals? If you don’t know, it might help to look through a course catalog and see what seems interesting.

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Collegemom, and everyone else,

My college credits are between 5 and 20 years old. I recently submitted a copy of my unofficial college transcript to a SUNY school for them to review and in about 10 days they will get back to me about what classes they will accept towards a degree. I suspect they would accept all of them but I could be wrong.

My goal with obtaining a college degree has always been unclear to me. I would hope to find a better paying job?

As someone that is already 40 years old with no college degree I can admit my job prospects are on the fringes of society. I tend to only land jobs without any upward mobility. Most people I observe in management positions have masters degrees.

I think a degree, even an associates degree may open up some new opportunities.

One reason that I lagged behind with obtaining the degree was that I wanted to be financially responsible and not be a debtor. Instead of paying my way through colleges I self taught myself with books at libraries and interlibrary loans.

I am self disciplined enough to construct my own educational path. I am an autodidact that essentially avoided a lot of the education systems.

Currently I am not in any debt. I am in the green. But going to college full time would probably end that green streak.

Thanks, yeah I have a good amount of potential for earning life experience college credits, and that is an important factor with selecting a college. I have obtained a couple professional licenses, and computer certifications, and I have a set of a scientific publications on record as well. So I really hope those achievements can speed up my time towards reaching a degree milestone.

My original career path and direction during college was just art and music, so they put me on a Liberal Arts path. Back then I think a Liberal Arts path was okay but today it is frowned upon as a useless career direction?

Things have changed, and so have I. Today I am not into music and I am more serious and business like. I have operated my own small business before, a cleaning service.

So there is this crossroad.

Here I am 40 years old and still on a pathway towards an A.A. degree, meanwhile, it is like I should be on the A.S. or B.S. road now. And! My problem with that is that once I switch from an AA to an AS (business administration) a lot of my credit hours that I have already accumulated would probably not remain applicable towards a business degree path (note: almost all of my elective courses were in Art and Music classes).

Thanks for replying with some college choices. I am confused why do you recommend out-of-state schools? Remember I am in New York and the out-of-state tuition would be over the top. Are those that you listed for mostly online-only platforms?

I would relocate to another state or even another country for a college degree.

Lastly, I wrote CLEP’s into my notes. Those are new to me.

You asked why do I want to stick with SUNY or CUNY? Honestly, I kid you not, I am somewhat dense about finding the school that is right for me. It’s overwhelming, and since those are both big college systems in New York, I figured that would be a place to start.

Some years ago I registered with CUNY. It took forever for them to accept my application. I did become a registered student with CUNY but then it was like the whole dream fell apart before my very eyes. Maybe it was bad onboarding, or bad guidance and planning, who knows really.

My path at CUNY was business administration and I wanted to pursue their masters degree program in real estate at Baruch College. My application for CUNY included letters of recommendations from two recognized professors, one of them international. Their decision surprised me, that I was not accepted into Baruch. They placed me at a lower level, at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

At one point I was a new student at BMCC and ready to buy books, and fully devoted to attending full time, but it seemed like there was a missing link in the financial aid area. Well there I was, an adult student signed up with a full time schedule at their college, but then I was like, uh, how am I going to pay rent and buy any food? Something was amiss there and it seemed to me that their financial aid department shafted me. I was devastated and then dropped out of BMCC.

Today, I cannot tolerate amateur college admissions staff. I am a mature and professional student. I need to have skilled professionals in my corner, so I am steering clear of CUNY for now.

No amateurs.

Collegemom and Austinmshauri,
You are right on the money about needing to clarify my goal. That is paramount.

I signed up at this message board because I am admittedly confused and overwhelmed how or why to proceed, but I need to do something with myself! I have a big and active mind on my shoulders!

The thing is that a lot of my attempted career paths do not fully require a college degree? I could be wrong, you see,

Music and Art for the most part can be self taught. A person could possibly learn more about music by just jumping in a doing the real thing in real life settings and not just sitting safely in college.

Real Estate? Who are we really kidding here: Real Estate is mostly about having the right connections or just having tons of money to get started. I have neither of those yet!

Other than that a person could probably do like I did: get a real estate license and pursue the career with grit, but look at me, my results with trying it that way speaks for itself. I am gritty and hardworking and it never landed me an entry level career in real estate sales, or property and asset management.

Not even an office job at a real estate firm.

I tried getting my foot in the door with real estate appraisal as well. What I often found was that Catch22 with people telling me I needed experience just get get my foot in the door. So that was a troublesome quagmire.

You are reading this from someone that has applied for literally an incredible amount of jobs. I have given it a whole lot and a significant chunk of my time has been spent unemployed and underemployed, always applying and applying and applying, and struggling through lower end survival jobs.

Meanwhile I meet people with careers who I can just size up and tell that they likely did not experience as much turmoil getting their foot in the door and getting the ball rolling. Somebody helped give them a leg up. Or maybe they just got a college degree and that did most of the talking for them.

So maybe college is something I have always considered just a safe place away from the real world? It is like a place to go learn and bide time while just hoping to meet the right people while studying and form valuable professional connections. In all actuality there are not too many topics I cannot learn on my own if I really had to I could, but meeting the right people is more important in my opinion.

That brings me to other factors like: wouldn’t I be in a more fertile learning area at Columbia University School of General Studies? To me that is a school that says something important printed onto a college degree. Columbia says you were immersed in a rich environment. Harvard says the same thing. But these places are also insanely expensive.

Question: How can I gauge my return on investment from each school, and each degree?

Also how can I fine tune a clearer picture or a timeline for how long it will be until completing my degree?

And how on earth can an adult student afford to just attend a full-time schedule of classes without producing any income to support theirselves? How do you pay rent and eat?

Also I would study abroad if I could… I would prefer to learn abroad.

What programs offer internships?

My primary interests are business, real estate, and biology. I am at the stage in my life where I do not necessarily want to pursue my hobbies so much as something that will produce significant income.

Lots and lots of questions…

Congratulations on your return to school! Based on your interests and your comfort level with online classes, I’d recommend you consider National University! They are a very adult friendly and returning to college for adult focused institution.

You can take the classes 100% online even though the physical campus is in San Diego, California. You’d only need to go there if you wanted to walk across the stage. They send you your diploma upon graduating. They have an array of options and are career focused. Brainstorming…

  1. You could do their Associates of Science in Business and take your Real Estate exam and determine if you want to do residential, commercial or a combination of properties.

  2. You could do their accelerated Bachelors in Biology degree

There are so many options for you with this university. I recommend you look into National University and just going to a virtual info. Session will spark some ideas as to what you might major in.

That was really helpful, @Class123.

One general note (as somebody who has gone back to school 3 times): the older you are the less patience you will have for things that seem nonsensical or irrelevant. 100% you will have to do at least a few things that seem absurd to you before you get a degree- take classes that seem ridiculously easy, do an assignment that doesn’t appear to teach you anything at all, deal with admin things that are repetitive and irritating, manage a prof who seems to know less than you do- whatever. Get your head around that now, learn how to roll your eyes, and keep your eyes on the prize. If nothing else, it is good practice for the first jobs that you will get after you have a degree.

I don’t see any point in your going for an AA/AS at this stage (and there isn’t enough difference between them to worry about which).

So, contact Excelsior, which was originally set up by the NY Board of Regents specifically for adult learners (it is now a private non-profit). They have a range of ways for you to get the credits needed to get your degree: your existing credits, professional qualifications, relevant experience, etc.

Look at their BA/BS courses- start with the BS in Business- and read all of the different options and requirements for each. Pick the program that has the most things that make you think “oh, that would be interesting to do” “I could do that” etc… Then check out the “start with more credit” tab on the website and work your way through all the different ways to get credit and see which ones you can make a credible claim for (a BS from Excelsior is 120 hours, and you have 50 to start with). Then look closely at the Financial Aid pages. For example, as NY resident you are eligible for grants. When you have done all of that, contact the admissions team for a conversation. They will be able to help you figure out a timeline and the costs.

CUNY is still probably a better bet for you (their credit hours are only $305, v $510 at Excelsior). I think you had some misunderstanding of how colleges financial aid works- no community college has the financial aid to support you while you are attending full-time. The way people pay rent and buy food while going to college full time is with help, mostly from family. Almost certainly you are gong to be working full time and going to school part time. And, remember that part at the top at dealing with frustrating things as a student? college admin is one of them. There is no such thing as a college admin that is not -frequently!- annoying and frustrating. Even Columbia and Harvard.

You asked about internships: colleges will help you by posting opportunities, but it is up to you to apply and get the internship on your own.

Finally, I don’t see you as a great study-abroad candidate at this point: ones run by US colleges tend to be mostly an adventure for the students, and ones run by the international university require you to adapt to their way of teaching, which is very very different.

For study abroad, look into Germany. Tuition is free, but you will still need to support yourself.

What certifications do you already have? I was going to suggest a project management certification to compliment your AA since you expressed an interest in management. I’d suggest finishing your AA instead of switching because you’re almost finished, just to get some letters behind your name.

Apply to Berea College (free tuition and a campus job), they accept a few transfer and non-traditional students.

I think classes and learning are the easiest part. It’s everything else that makes no sense.

I recently read reviews about the small school at SUNY and it made me not want to attend there. I do not want to be marginalized.

I do not want to be involved with a small no name school.

Why am I stuck with only one school on my list of choices?

Do most colleges reject adults?

How does a person select the right school? I am missing too many pieces of the puzzle.

Where do I even begin?

How do I avoid getting hustled by bad colleges?

It is like learning and passing exams is the only easy part but dealing with the colleges administration staff is the real difficulty.

Again: it’s back to why you want a college degree, and what you are willing to do to get it.

Except for the for-profit schools, colleges don’t ‘hustle’ students. They offer a service and you choose whether to buy it. in the world is going to have annoying rules, systems and processes. Most of them are geared to moving 18-22 year old students through as smoothly as possible, so some of the rules, systems and processes are going to be extra irritating to you, because you are used to being an independent adult. Don’t waste your time or energy worrying about it- roll your eyes and move on. You have a goal: getting a college degree. Don’t let bureaucratic annoyances distract you.

The real difficulty for you is that you don’t really know what you want yet. That’s ok- CC is a place for talking it through. But a general idea that a degree will help you get better jobs isn’t enough “pieces of the puzzle”. As you figure out what exactly you want from college (a degree that will help you get better jobs? the whole immersive college experience? a subject that is really interesting to you? a specific job or industry sector that you want to be a part of?) it will get easier to figure out how to get it.

You are offended at the idea of a ‘small, no-name school’- but it might be the most affordable way for you to get a college degree. Sometime pragmatic is the best approach.

I think it’s great that you want to go back to school at 40. If I’m understanding your situation correctly, you amassed 50 credits at out of state colleges in your 20’s then moved to NYC. Your cumulative GPA is 2.9 and finances are an issue. Your initial major was art/music but you’d like to switch to business, real estate, or biology. Is that right?

Going to college as an adult student usually involves working full-time and taking classes as you can afford them. Since finances are an issue and you’re already in NYC I think a CUNY school would be your best bet. @sybbie719 understands the CUNY system really well and can tell you how to get started.

I think you need to learn how college funding works. I doubt BMCC “shafted” you. When you enrolled at BMCC did you file the FAFSA to apply for the federal Pell Grant? If you’re low income and only used 4 or 5 semesters you might be eligible for some money there. Did you file an application with HESC to apply for the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Grant? I don’t know the eligibility rules, but if you’re a NYS resident it’s worth applying.

I have given it a whole lot and a significant chunk of my time has been spent unemployed and underemployed, always applying and applying and applying, and struggling through lower end survival jobs.

I wouldn’t worry about prestige or studying abroad. Your goal is to get an education that will help you increase your standard of living, so that’s what I’d focus on. I don’t think being a biology major will get you there. @blossom can probably give you some good advice about how to find a major. I think that once you settle on a career goal and sort out funding the rest will fall into place.


Thank you for the additional reassurance. It helps. It helps A Lot.

This week I openly spoke with a few people about college. And then another thing that came up was the concept of working somewhere that encourages employees to attend college and even offers some perks for their student employees. Does such a thing even exist anymore?

Yes, I am also reconsidering CUNY and plan to place some telephone calls with them next week.

Thank you again to everyone! You all surprised me with offering such strong encouragement and guidance.

Yes, some employers help with tuition. For examples

Also colleges may offer discounted tuition to its own employees after a year of employment.

Fantastic for you!

This story about a 62 year old new college grad might provide inspiration.

With Intersectionality I check off zero of the check boxes required to get anywhere. The same check boxes are on job applications, especially in New York City. If they will not hire me for an entry level position at Whole Foods, Best Buy, Target, Home Depot, FedEx and on and on and on (I have literally applied for several thousand jobs like those,) then why would any jobs that require a college degree not do the same thing?


Learning and taking classes is the simplest part of the education equation.

Also I do not have a car or the money to maintain one so with everything put into consideration it is like there are no options for me unless financial aid was granted.

There is a tremendous amount of roadblocks. Many that I have already attempted to navigate multiple times.

The classes and exams and showing up on time and being professional is the only easy part.

So I am lost, and time pressed. Where do I apply? And why?

The federal Pell Grant and NYS Tuition Assistance Grant are need based aid. People are either eligible based on income or they’re not. There aren’t many grants for transfer students and the ones that do exist usually seem to have a merit component. A 2.9 is a solid GPA, but probably isn’t going to get you merit aid. I don’t think you’re going to find enough aid to cover all your expenses for full-time study. Most students can’t.

If finances are an issue then your best bet is probably going to be finding an affordable school in NYC. If you can get an associate’s degree it might open up more work opportunities. Then you could focus on getting a bachelor’s. Since you’ll likely have to work while attending school you’ll probably want to target schools near where you live. Another option is to see if any of the CUNY schools offer online degree programs. I know some of the SUNY community colleges do, so the CUNY system might too.

I think you need to think about what your primary goal is. It seems like your main goal is to get an education so you can have a career and a better lifestyle. I’d focus on that and let everything else go. It’s easy to get distracted by the noise, but if you want a degree it’s really important that you set clear goals and focus on them.


I have revised everything thus far into these sections: my Student Profile, my Goals, Questions, and Roadblocks…

College sophomore
Has 50 credit hours
No college math completed yet
2.9 Overall GPA
On Liberal Arts (AA) path
Originally majored in Music and Art
Today more interested in Management, Entrepreneurship, Real Estate, and Biology.
Non-traditional student
Adult, 40 years old
Lives in New York City
Would probably take most classes online
Would prefer in-person classes
Needs a college that accepts experiential credit hours
Wants to begin classes Fall 2021 and continue until completion of a degree (Associates minimum)
Will relocate, or stay in New York, whatever is best
I have no family assistance with financing an education
I am estranged from family
No support system of people at all
I have housing instability issues
I would probably be working full time and school part time
I would prefer to be at school full time and work part time
Interested in colleges with internship opportunities
Also seeking employers that offer benefits that are supportive of student employees

To meet the right people
To improve job prospects
To get a degree as soon as possible, even if it is just an Associates

How do I select the college that best fits my criteria?

How do I select the right major?

How do I get excellent college guidance?

What are my expectations for getting a diploma?

Can an Associates degree open up many doors?

Will FASFA/Pell grants pay for all of my credit hours to get a Bachelors?

Does FASFA stop giving funds after a student completes their Associates or Bachelors?

What are some examples of a college goal?

Is Liberal Arts a useless career direction for me?

Can I keep on a Liberal Arts path and major in management or business?

Is it possible to get traction on a decent career without a Bachelors degree?

Are there any careers that a person can navigate around CRT or is CRT going to ruin everyone with my profile?

How can I estimate my return on investment?

How can I get a clear timeline for how long it will take to get an Associates degree or a Bachelors degree?

How do adult students afford to attend college full time without any income?

How will I pay rent and eat when I attend college?

How do I find the right college that has internships? And furthermore, how can I identify internship opportunities that are likely to block me from gaining entry? (So I can avoid them in advance)

Incompetent administration staff
Inadequate guidance counseling
Admissions departments that purposely slow-walk applications
Administrations that sabotage students
Inadequate career planning
Incomplete vision

Enroll in a night school course at your local community college. You do not need to keep setting up obstacles or unattainable goals. Get a course completed with a decent grade while keeping your current job, and go from there.