How to Make a Degree Completion Plan
DEGREE COMPLETION PROGRAMS | 4 MIN READ
Returning to school after an absence, whether to begin college for the first time, to finish your degree or to change careers, can feel intimidating and overwhelming. Adult students may have different needs and concerns than those who enroll straight from high school.
That’s why it helps to start with a plan.
If you haven’t already narrowed your focus to a particular area of study, this should be your degree-completion plan’s launching point. To help define your goals, you may want to try personality or career-counseling tests such as the Strong Interest Inventory, the Career Assessment Inventory or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and CareerOneStop are solid resources that track employment trends, earnings information, and educational and training requirements for various occupations.
Pick a Program that Meets Your Needs
Once you’ve settled on a degree, it’s time to select a college. Here are a few things to keep in mind, beyond ensuring the school offers your academic program:
- Transfer policies: Some colleges are more generous than others when it comes to accepting transfer credits; in addition, professional experience, certifications and military training sometimes can allow you to skip over certain coursework.
- Financial aid: Again, some colleges are more generous than others, though federal and state aid and employer-sponsored tuition-reimbursement programs can be tapped regardless of the school you attend.
- Scheduling options: Depending on your needs, you may prefer traditional, semester-long classes, or you might like accelerated eight-week programs; many schools offer both online and in-person options as well as evening and weekend programs.
After outlining your priorities—and collecting all of your transcripts and other relevant information—set up an appointment with the admissions office of the college you are considering. This is the best way to get definitive answers on how to complete your degree.
In fact, it could be worth the time and effort to visit more than one school. Every college is different, and course requirements, costs and time to completion can vary widely.
Lean on an Admissions or Academic Advisor
An admissions officer or academic advisor will be able to help you compose a degree-completion plan so that you will stay on track, on time and on budget to earn your degree. You’ll list the courses you need to take and when they can be taken. Often, there’s space to record grades and tabulate your GPA as you go.
“I consider it a privilege to help students navigate this part of their academic journey,” says Shaheen Wolff, director of Elmhurst University’s Management Program, which was designed for adult students. “There’s no greater reward than enabling a student to succeed.”
School advisors can also tell you whether you qualify to take any exams to “test out” of certain requirements, or if you can enroll in preliminary courses at a lower-cost community college. You also want to keep in mind the importance of setting up a schedule and workload that is manageable with your current job or personal obligations.
A degree-completion plan has the added benefit of being a visual reminder of your progress if you hit a rough patch or feel overwhelmed. It’s a tangible indication of where you are on your educational journey, how far you’ve come and how close you are to meeting your goals.
And when your plan is complete and you’ve checked all the boxes for graduation, hold onto it. In addition to reminding you of all the hard work you put in, the plan can live on as an easy reference for when you apply for jobs, discuss promotions or explore other educational opportunities.
Go Back to School at Elmhurst University
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