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How To Go Back To School As A Recovering Adult

Is it a good idea to go back to school as a recovering adult? Of course, it is!

But as with anything regarding a promising future, going back to school while in recovery requires planning, relapse prevention techniques, and a set of goals.

Pursuing higher education is going to bring about a whole bunch of stress that might trigger old coping mechanisms for recovering students, but that doesn’t mean fulfilling this life goal isn’t possible. If you want to go back to school, then you have the power to do it. All you need is a plan.

Whether you’re trying to finish your undergraduate degree or are getting ready to apply to a university/college/vocational school for the first time, we here at Ocean Breeze Recovery encourage you to follow the steps below on how to plan for a bright future, wherever that may lead you.


back to school recovering adult

Before you embark on the journey that is continuing your education, you first have to have a clear reason of why you want to go back to school. Chances are if you’re considering getting a degree, you have a sense of the field you want to pursue, but you’ll need to set more specific education goals.

Some questions to ask yourself could be:

  • Why are you going back to school?
  • What degree do you want?—and programs do you need to enter to receive it?
  • Do you need to get your GED or can you start college right away?
  • Do you have any transferrable credits?
  • Do you have time to be a full-time or part-time student?
  • Do you want to take online classes or learn in person?
  • Can you take classes during the day or only nights and weekends?
  • Do you have enough finances to pay through college or do you need some aid?

For people with more complex educational backgrounds, such as people who went to multiple schools or students who dropped out to get alcohol and/or drug treatment, My College Guide has an extensive FAQ about different, personal scenarios adults face when going back to school.



Now that you have your education goals set, it’s time to evaluate whether now or later is the right time to pursue them. Many recent recovering individuals tend to experience a form of super-confidence after completing their treatment programs and feel inspired to achieve all the things they sacrificed for previous addictions, which is great in theory, but not always safe in practice.

Going back to school with other non-sober students all around you may be a difficult, triggering environment to live in during the early stages of recovery, which is why it is recommended potential recovering students should wait at least a year before returning to college. Relapse rates increase in high-stress environments, so jumping right back on ship to cram for finals, take five or more courses at once to catch up on credits, and staying up all night to finish 10-page long reports may not be the safest decision for someone fresh out of rehab.

Another indication as to whether or not you’re ready to go back to school is if you have structure already set in your schedule—as in, do you regularly attend recovery meetings? Going back to college does not mean that you quit going to your meetings—in fact, it’s the opposite! Recovering students who regularly attend their meetings, interact with their sponsors on a daily/frequent basis, and make friends with other meeting-goers are more likely to successfully fulfill their education without relapsing. So until you’re comfortable with your schedule, hold off school for a little bit.



Now it’s time to do some research. Based on your education goals, you’ve already narrowed down what you want to look for in a school, so it’s a matter of finding your top 10 choices. made a list of the top schools for older, returning students and also has an extensive database of 7,522 colleges. Their database provides tuition costs, acceptance rates, and can be filtered by state, degree, online/campus, years of study, and more.

Other factors to consider are:

General Education Development (GEDs) – If you haven’t received a high school diploma, then you will need to pass a GED exam to apply for higher education. Local communities will often provide GED preparation courses in various locations, such as in high schools, libraries, and community centers. Visit your city’s website to find out where you can take a GED course in your area. You can also take a GED prep course online.

Sober colleges/universities – Sober schools are becoming a growing trend across the United States, with colleges and universities across the nation vowing for sobriety and providing safe spaces for recovering students. While not all colleges label themselves as a “sober school,” many colleges also provide sober dorms, sectioned off dorms for students who do not want to be triggered into relapse or other addictive behaviors. provides a list of the top 10 sober schools in the US, as well as a database of other sober schools in the country.

Online school – What’s more convenient than studying from the comfort of your own home? As the technology age advances, receiving degrees via online education is becoming more and more accepted by the day, especially for older adults. If taking online courses fits your lifestyle better than commuting to campus every day, just make sure that the online college and/or university is accredited appropriately. You don’t want to do all that work and find out your degree isn’t valid! And for those without a computer or consistent online connection, feel free to use your local library as your personal classroom. All you need is a library card!


After researching which schools you want to attend, apply! It’s recommended that you apply to at least three schools, so don’t be ashamed if you cast a wide net to see where you get in. If you apply to a school, you would be happy if you get in, right?


While every school has different requirements for their application process, most colleges will expect the following:

  • Previous school transcripts, from both high school (or equivalent) and other colleges
  • Test scores (GED, SAT, ACT, AP/IB exams, etc.)
  • Personal statement essays
  • Recommendation letters

Requesting transcripts is an easy process, but may require a small fee and some time in advance to be received for the application deadline. It is not advised to lie or omit previous educational history as you could face expulsion from the college/university should they find out. Colleges/universities tend to be more understanding toward returning students, so don’t worry about lengthy gaps you may have.

If able, contact the potential school adviser on whether you can transfer some of your previous college credits. Understand that not all (or any) credits may be accepted, which means you may have to retake courses. Taking community college courses may be a financially better option for your general education courses or other prerequisites before transferring to your school of choice.

Some recovering students also feel the need to mention their addiction past. This is not always necessary—nor should you feel obligated to do so if you are uncomfortable. It does depend on the institution, such as for nursing schools, but most universities will not prompt you for previous history with substance abuse.



Even if you don’t need financial aid, apply for financial aid! Why spend money if you don’t have to?

Plenty of organizations—nonprofit, private, and governmental—offer opportunities for potential students to receive grants, scholarships, and financial aid. It will require a bit of work on your part, but it’ll be worth it when you’re not drowning in thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt.

For recovering students trying to balance their work life with continuing education, you might want to ask your employer if your company offers tuition reimbursement and other education opportunities. Some companies are willing to pay for their employees to receive higher education to obtain better-qualified workers. This also means your company may require you continue to work for an extended period of time (one or more years) after graduation or you’ll have to pay the tuition back—so don’t try to pull a fast one on your employer!

Here are some quick resources, but definitely do some scholarship digging on the internet on your own:


Many recovering individuals come out of treatment without knowing what they want to do with their careers.

Choosing a life path can be daunting, but sometimes the best calling in life is to give back to others what people gave to you.

Ocean Breeze Recovery offers an exciting program for people to become Certified Addiction Professionals via their Recovery University. Potential students can train to become a Certified Addiction Counselor or a Certified Addiction Professional, learning counselor development techniques, how to work with clients with substance use disorders, clinical evaluation, and more.

Some of the best counselors are people who’ve been through what their clients are going through. So if you’re looking to take an active participation in the recovery community, come back to school at Ocean Breeze Recovery!

To learn more about Certified Addiction Professional program, read the information packet here.


Ocean Breeze Recovery wants the best future for all our clients. Our treatment plans offer life skills training and recovery planning to all our clients so that they can best plan for their futures, whether it means going back to school or becoming a Certified Addiction Professional. If you, or a loved one, are struggling with a substance use disorder, feel free to call one our agents at (866) 327-4550 and find out how you can begin your recovery today! Lines are available 24-7, so no matter when you find the courage to talk to us, we’re always ready to talk to you.


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