8 Skills to Refresh When Returning to College

8 Skills to Refresh When Returning to College
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By Staff Writers

Published on February 25, 2021

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The number of students going back to college has trended upward in recent years. As reported by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nearly 1 million college students who dropped out between 1993 and 2018 had returned to earn a bachelor's degree or certificate as of 2019.

Returning college students can access many resources to help ease this transition. Below, we explore some of the most helpful skills to brush up on before going back to school.

Skills to Develop Before Returning to College

College readiness is imperative for new and returning students. In the same way that first-time applicants must satisfy prerequisites, returning students should refresh certain academic skills and knowledge before they reenroll. Applicants can take steps toward developing these skills on their own through various channels.

Many students start by taking classes covering the basic requisite subjects needed for their degree. Colleges routinely offer stand-alone classes in common subjects like math, writing, and computer programming. Students can also find a variety of free and paid classes, tests, and tutorials through sources like edX, Coursera, and Class Central.

If you talk to an academic advisor about your unique circumstances, they may be able to suggest specific resources that can help you succeed.

Students should also talk to an academic advisor to discuss their unique circumstances. Regardless of the school or program they apply to, students can benefit from learning how to emphasize and utilize their positive skills and transfer applicable credits.

Consider beefing up the following academic and career skills to go back to college.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension, or the act of understanding what you are reading, permeates most college-level coursework. Students with advanced reading comprehension skills often complete more efficient studying sessions by absorbing information quickly and efficiently.

While standard elementary and high school curricula build reading comprehension skills throughout a student's life, college students can benefit from a refresher course.

Resources like Dartmouth's reading techniques can help students identify and target areas of improvement for reading comprehension, while Meemli's free reading comprehension refresh course includes college-specific content. Additionally, The Princeton Review offers college-level reading comprehension homework help.


Like reading comprehension, writing skills are critical to success in a college program. While these skills may seem exclusive to students pursuing an English, literature, or composition degree, all students can benefit from being able to effectively express themselves through the written word.

Many college programs in fields like public relations, technical writing, and journalism include writing prerequisites and/or require students to submit scores specifically for the essay portion of the ACT.

FutureLearn offers free writing courses in accelerated formats online. Students with time to spare before heading back to college might also want to try a creative writing course through Skillshare to refresh their writing skills.


Some students are surprised to learn that math prerequisites are not limited to math programs in college. In fact, most students need to take at least one college-level math class to qualify for admission into their major, including a variety of professional and science-based disciplines.

College applicants must meet minimum high school math requirements. In addition, programs typically require at least one course in college-level algebra, precalculus or calculus, or finite math for admission. Majors with the most math prerequisites include accounting, computer science, biochemistry, and engineering.

Khan Academy offers mathematics classes to help students brush up on math skills, and edX features a series of math courses designed to prepare learners for success in college.

Public Speaking

Colleges stress the importance of public speaking to build communication skills and self-confidence among students. While public speaking is inherent in a communication or English program, majors like business administration and management also emphasize these skills.

Many of the best college programs include public speaking as career training for students in all majors. Employers consistently rank communication skills as one of the most desirable skills among prospective employees.

Students can learn to communicate with confidence on LinkedIn, practice public speaking through virtual reality at VirtualSpeech, or take a college class for credit at the University of North Dakota. International learners might consider studying English as a second language or taking an accent-reduction class to familiarize themselves with American college materials.

Computer Literacy

Computer literacy is not just for computer science or IT majors anymore. Computer literacy permeates nearly every major and college program, especially those offered online. Students can benefit from learning how to operate, navigate, and troubleshoot computer systems and apps for educational, personal, and professional use.

Colleges also help students develop computer literacy skills for the workplace, especially through online programs. Programs that require computer literacy — such as business administration, human resources, and accounting — may also train students to use software and apps specific to careers in these fields.

Organizations like Alison and ThoughtCo offer free online courses in computer literacy and IT for adults.


Students do not always learn to study the right way, even over a lifetime of education. Secondary education settings emphasize successful study habits, but college programs require a heavier workload and more advanced reading comprehension skills. Students who are out of practice should definitely work on improving their studying skills.

Proper studying habits benefit college students in any major. Learning to understand the material and meet deadlines develops healthy life/work practices. Successful studying can also help students improve their time-management, organization, and teamwork skills.

Sites like Udemy and LinkedIn offer paid online courses on how to study effectively and learning study skills, respectively. Resources provided by StudyRight specialize in building better study skills for students at any level.

Time Management

Time management is critical in any college program, especially for students completing online degrees. Colleges require students to manage their own course schedules and complete assignments based on set deadlines. Time-management skills are particularly critical in an online program, which typically follows a looser, more flexible format.

Reinforcing time-management skills in a college program can spill over into daily life. Even for returning college students who already practice efficient time management in their personal lives, brushing up on these skills in an educational setting can greatly help.

Platforms offering free and paid time-management courses include Coursera, edX, Skillshare, and Class Central.

Active Learning

Active learning, which involves asking questions, employing critical thinking, and staying engaged, is required for academic and professional success. After an extended absence, students may need a refresher course in applying active-learning skills in a college environment.

Programs in all majors require students to practice active learning; however, disciplines like education may also include courses that focus on teaching active learning to others. Students who can master these skills can maximize the benefits of earning a college degree.

Online resources offered by Actively Learn and Lumen approach active learning from the perspective of both student and instructor. Cornell University's Center for Teaching Innovation also offers unique insight into the importance of active learning in the college classroom.

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