Adult Learners

Exploring a postsecondary degree?

When you picture the “traditional” college student, you might think of someone who has just graduated from high school. But 40% of American college students are adults returning to the classroom. You might be wondering how to balance school with your personal life or responsibilities like work or family. This page will help you consider all of your options and access available resources in order to make an informed decision as you further your educational journey as an adult or young adult.

As you begin making a plan, here are some questions to consider:

Do you need your GED before progressing to college?

If you would like to go to college but have not yet graduated from high school, you will likely need to prepare for and take the GED. Passing the GED will earn you a state high school diploma that is recognized and accepted by nearly all U.S. colleges, employers, and universities. Head to the PhillyGoes2College GED resource page for a number of free and local programs that will help you study for and pass the exam. 

Do you have employment obligations? What is your schedule like?

You might consider a program that offers evening classes, accelerated programs, or online courses. Check out the list of Philadelphia-area schools below that are sensitive to the needs and schedules of the adult student, and take a look at this guide for balancing work, life, and school. Time management and reminding yourself what you’re working towards are key!

If you have children, do you have child care?

Contact the Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) to see if you qualify for subsidized care.

Do you have regular access to a computer and the internet?

This will be necessary in order to research and complete assignments, take online classes, and connect with professors and classmates. If you don’t have home access, you can use Wi-Fi for free at all Philadelphia public library locations.  Check out locations and operating hours here. To purchase affordable internet at home, try Comcast’s Internet Essentials or their Affordable Connectivity Program. Finally, head here for City of Philadelphia options for obtaining free or low-cost laptops and computers.

As an adult learner, you have many options to consider when searching for your next learning opportunity. Be sure you are choosing the perfect fit for you.

Some of the options include: online; in-class; hybrids (both in-class and online components); and accelerated programs (offering courses that last about eight weeks instead of fourteen but deliver the same amount of learning).

Not sure about online courses? Many adults do well in accelerated and online degree completion programs, but need a gentle introduction. Graduate! Philadelphia offers workshops to ease adults into online learning.  

Call 215-498-1504 or email to ask about the next workshop.

To find the right college fit, you can visit College Board.

Types of Degrees

Bachelor’s Degree

Generally, four-year colleges offer this degree and it is designed to take four years, but can take longer. Students typically graduate with a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), B.S. (Bachelor of Science) or B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts).

Associate Degree

Generally, community colleges, and some four-year schools offer this degree. It typically takes two years to obtain a credential, but can take longer. There are many options for areas of study, and you can study something very broad or very specific.


Two- and four-year colleges, as well as certificate-only schools offer this credential. The amount of time to obtain a certificate can range from two weeks to two years, with an average of six months to one year. Certificates are specialized and technical. The purpose of a certificate is to find work, or build a career in a specific area.

Local Resources

Here are some local resources to help you find the best fit, make your plan and finance your degree:

Graduate! Philadelphia

Graduate Philadelphia offers free advising and guidance on filling out and filing financial assistance forms, getting academic support, navigating your work and family schedules, completing your paperwork, improving your study skills, and staying in school. Browse their online guide to get started or set up an appointment with an advisor by completing the intake form

Graduate Philadelphia also partners with Philadelphia-area colleges that have excellent support systems and degree options for adult students, such as accelerated programs, and flexible schedules.

Schools for Adults

Below is a list of local schools that are sensitive to the needs of the adult student. Many of these schools partner with Graduate!Philadelphia.

Ready to Learn about Financial Aid?

Understand what resources are available to help you pay for and reduce the cost of college. 

Looking for a college preparatory program?