When Adults Go Back to School

Today, with the increasing popularity of quality online degree programs, and the realization that it sometimes takes “more than a bachelors degree” to land certain desirable jobs, many adults are returning to school. Usually on a part-time basis, these ambitious adult students often continue working a full-time job while pursuing their studies at night. As I am presently one of these students, I feel I can impart some wisdom I have come to discover through personal experience as well as the accounts of my peers and research in the area. Regardless of your reasons; whether it be following your passion, chasing a dream, or striving for more, congratulations on your commendable initiative to return to school. I hope these tips will help ease your transition and keep you focused on your goals from registration to graduation.

Tips for Adults Returning to School

1) When You’ve Been Out of School for Ages: one of the toughest challenges for adult students is returning to a classroom after a long hiatus. For some students it could be years, even decades since they’ve been in a learning environment resembling “school.” Questions and concerns you may have are whether the structure has changed, what the expectations are, how you’re going to sit there and listen, or stay focused on the material when adult life has blessed you with a slue of other priorities. How will you sit still, or get back into that strenuous groove of caffeine and studies. Step one: take a deep breath. There is no one answer to these questions as every course is different and thus comes with a unique set of demands and expectations. These will of course be made explicit on the first day or week of class by your instructor. Listen carefully during these lectures so that you will know precisely what is expected of you and can plan accordingly. It takes time to adjust to that student life again, but if you are motivated to reach your end goal, you will inevitably adjust and get back into “study mode.”

2) Adjusting to An Online Academic Setting: online settings could be daunting, particularly because they are unfamiliar. Although we do live in a digital age where computer literacy and web proficiency are steadily increasing, learning through an online forum is not always an experience everyone is familiar with. The best way to adjust and make yourself comfortable, is to plan in advance. Regardless of the program or course you are taking, there will likely be advisors available to support and guide you. Take advantage of this great service and don’t be shy to get all your questions answered. If you have concerns, voice them and take note of the advice you receive to overcome them. As they are often made available to students before the course’s start date, take the time to orient yourself with your online forum before the course begins, so that you will feel more comfortable at showtime. Preparing in advance and getting ahead is the best way to establish comfort and build confidence in an unfamiliar setting.

3) Back to School for Parents: my hat eternally goes off to those brave and driven individuals who return to school while raising a family. Yes, it is possible, and it is remarkable. Don’t kid yourself though; proper planning, foresight, and preparation is crucial to success and the maintenance of good health throughout. Being ambitious and confident in attitude is not enough to get you through your studies when you have other central priorities; raising your children. Before you even consider accepting admission, or registering for continuing studies, be sure you have a steady support system and plan in place to help with childcare and the many responsibilities involved in parenthood. What time of day or day of the week will be allocated to your studies? Who will take the children to and from school and their activities on those days? How will you manage mealtime and necessary family time? Not to mention self-care and “me-time,” as this too is essential to maintaining good emotional and physical health, thus also influencing your academic success. These are all important variables you must consider when you plan on returning to school as a parent. I have seen many individuals do it successfully, albeit with the occasional bouts of overwhelm, but they all had a regimented system in place to which they unfailingly adhered. Make a detailed plan, and stick to it. This is the only way to ensure success.

5) Stay Goal-Oriented: it is easy to become overwhelmed with mounding adult responsibilities on top of your school work, as well as resentful of the free-time spent relaxing, investing in hobbies or important relationships, and socializing that will inevitably be reduced when you take-on an academic project. I must make it clear that taking the time to unwind, spend time with the important people in your life, and engage in social activities are all important facets of maintaining good overall health, but it is understood that the time you dedicate to these domains will lessen. When you begin feeling resentful and discouraged about this, or the amount of schoolwork on your back, remember to keep your goal in mind. Remind yourself of why you are doing this, and of the payoff it will have in the end. A good way to stay goal-oriented is to create a “vision board” of sorts. This could take the form of whatever you would like, from a collage of images to a personal mission statement, to a mantra you tell yourself when you find yourself slipping off course. There is a reason you chose to further your education. Keep it in the forefront of your mind and you will see the fruits of your hard work in time.

6) Encourage and Reward Yourself: let’s face it, being in school isn’t always easy, regardless of the additional responsibilities you may have. It’s demanding, requires much mental, emotional, and even physical energy, and getting down and dispirited are not uncommon occurrences among students. Performing beneath the standard you hoped for is one way such feelings could arise. If you find yourself beginning to feel low, practice positive self-talk. Similar to the strategy of remaining goal-oriented, remind yourself of why you are doing this, but go one further by telling yourself you are capable of doing it it. Literally coach yourself by internally (or externally in the appropriate setting) reciting positive encouraging phrases such as “I know I can do this, I am an able person capable of success, with my skills and attitude, success will be inevitable, I can and will get through this,” and so on. Setting a clear and important goal for yourself, paired with the knowing attitude that you are capable of achieving it, is the recipe for success. Beyond this, don’t forget to acknowledge your successes, however big or small, by rewarding yourself on occasion. Take a study break to see friends, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting, or simply take a moment to appreciate the progress you’ve made, and the success that will follow if you continue on this path.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you in your return to academia. Everyone’s academic path is different, but in the end, those who stay focused on their goals and ambitions, are those who go on to succeed, making the sacrifices, and the long, challenging journey worthwhile.