If you are one of a growing number of adults considering going back to college, you are probably well aware of the challenges adults face in meeting family and work responsibilities along with the responsibilities of being a student. While the obstacles you face may be significant, whether or not you achieve your goal may have more to do with how valuable you believe getting a college education is, the support you receive and your beliefs regarding your ability, based on previous education experiences. One critical step in achieving your long-term goal is to set shorter, more manageable and focused goals tied to measurable benchmarks.

Unique, But Not Alone

Despite family responsibilities and life circumstances that can interfere with educational success, adult learners are now a majority group in college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Today, a typical college student has put off education for a year or more, needs flexible, nontraditional modes of instruction, is financially independent, has dependents and is 24 years of age or older. The good news is that in an effort to retain students, colleges are looking for creative ways to help adults address their individual needs and value their unique life experiences by providing them with college credits for non-academic learning.

Setting Educational Goals

Many adults see education as the means to get ahead.
Many adults see education as the means to get ahead.

Adults pursue goals directly tied to advancement in their current employment, to switch careers or to pursue life-long learning for learning's sake. Regardless of what motivates you to enroll, you should expect colleges to offer alternative modes of instructional delivery, flexibility in scheduling and opportunities to design your own studies while meeting your goals. Unfortunately, traditional schools are slow to change, but thanks to for-profit institutions and community colleges that cater to adults, practices that were uncommon previously are becoming mainstream. You should be willing to investigate what potential colleges are willing to do to help you achieve your goals.

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Goals

Adults willing to learn new skills acquire skills for life.
Adults willing to learn new skills acquire skills for life.

Individuals find short-term goals more manageable and less defeating than distant goals, According to educational psychologist Dale E. Schunk. While setting a long-term goal may be easier, it is important to set goals of shorter duration in order to keep yourself motivated and prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Seek out advice from admission specialists, college academic advisers, and professors to assist you in establishing objectives that contribute to your overall learning proficiencies instead of focusing exclusively on long-term goals. Doing so will help you affirm your ability to be successful while focusing on skills that benefit you outside of academia.

Benchmarks

While short-term goals and benchmarks are sometimes used interchangeably, a benchmark is actually a means for measuring progress toward achieving a goal. Traditional benchmarks are good grades, but grades aren't tied directly to the goals. Instead, instructors at colleges with large populations of adult learners are turning to authentic assessments, which provide students with benchmarks they can refer to in measuring their success. Authentic assessments evaluate performance on specific tasks or creation of a product. Many of these assessments provide students with proof of skills not easily measured in standard tests, but which provide positive feedback on how students are moving toward achieving their goals.