Emma Cunningham always regretted not getting a post-secondary education.
Instead of college or university, she went right into the workforce after
high school. Throughout adulthood -- a job, marriage and motherhood -- she
never lost the dream of getting her degree.
A few years ago, burnt
out from her job and looking for something new, she decided it was time to
start over. Her son was old enough to take on some added responsibility around
the house and she was ready for a change. She's now in her final year of earning
an undergraduate degree in honors anthropology and women's studies.
hasn't been easy. Cunningham struggled to afford school. She had to learn
to be a student again after so many years out of practice. However, she says
it's all been worth it.
Cunningham isn't alone in her quest to continue
her education well into adulthood. Many adults in the United States return
to school later in life.
But how can an adult prepare to return to
the world of reading, writing and 'rithmetic? For Cunningham, the biggest
learning challenge was brushing up on her reading and writing skills.
say she's not alone. Adult learners are often nervous about maintaining their
basic academic skills when they return to school. Many education programs
assume students are familiar with the basics. But if you've been out of school
for a while, your reading and math skills could be a little rusty. That's
why rebuilding basic academic skills can be an essential part of preparing
to return to school.
A good first step, according to Cunningham, is
getting the materials you'll need. This might require a trip to the bookstore.
a good dictionary, thesaurus and a reference book...has been essential," she
Cunningham also suggests putting aside any fears about seeking
help and asking questions. She's had to relearn such basic classroom skills
as speaking up for herself when she has questions or comments.
of the biggest academic skills that I've had to brush up on has been to ask
questions -- even the so-called 'dumb' questions," Cunningham says. "I've
learned more that way than from any reading or writing that I've done. Getting
feedback is the best learning tool there is."
Augustine BarÃ³n teaches
in a department of psychology at a university with many older students. He
agrees that anxiety over having lost skills like math and reading is typical
among adults returning to school -- but there are remedies, many of them available
at your new school's campus.
"Many adult learners worry that their
writing or math skills won't be up to par," BarÃ³n says. "Students should tap
into learning skills services as early as possible. Many universities have
a writing center or courses to assist students."
Other schools offer
"first-year" courses and orientation programs created specifically for adult
students, says Jane E. Hudak. She's the associate dean at a college. In fact,
she suggests that adult learners seek out these sorts of features when they're
researching potential schools.
"Adult students should look for schools
that are 'adult-student' friendly, with convenient class times, using pedagogy
appropriate for adult learners, evening office hours, etcetera," Hudak says.
"They should feel welcomed by the institution." Also, it helps to tap into
organizations and resources that are aimed at helping adult learners.
for example, found a group at her university called Adult Learners, Part-time
Students. As its name suggests, the group provides support and services for
adult and part-time learners.
These kinds of organizations are becoming
more common, says Cunningham, and "are a great resource for people wanting
to come back to school."
The admissions office or counseling office
can help you determine which adult learning resources a school offers. Many
post-secondary institutions include this information on their websites. Other
students can also point you in the direction of the assistance you might need.
There are a number of resources students can use outside of campus
as well. Books can be a huge help, Cunningham says. She recommends scouring
second-hand bookstores and garage sales for discarded textbooks, which can
help students reacquaint themselves with the world of academic reading, and
allow them to refresh skills in reading, math and other subjects.
says the Internet has plenty of material, such as assessments and tutorials
on algebra, statistics and writing. There are also online writing centers
on the Internet. These allow students to submit writing samples to an online
tutor for feedback. For students nervous about their writing, this can be
a good way to get some helpful feedback in a relaxed situation. Having others
comment on your writing is an excellent way to improve without the pressure
of worrying about grades.
Andy Edelman is a professor of education.
He agrees the Internet can provide nearly limitless help for mature students.
are tremendous new and exciting Internet-based sites that can offer incredible
opportunities for learning and growth," Edelman says. "Virtually any subject
can be reviewed and brushed up on by a motivated learner. In fact, many online
universities offer vast numbers of tutorial programs and library research
tools designed to help returning adults meet with academic success."
these students have to do some remedial coursework to catch up on their skills,
Edelman says. But this isn't uncommon, and students shouldn't feel discouraged.
"If a learner must take remedial coursework, the learner should look
at this as an opportunity to relearn past skills for achievement rather than
a punishment for lack of proficiency," he says. "In nearly all cases, students
are then able to meet with success in the regular college classroom."