Are you thinking about going back to college? Don't worry. You
aren't alone. There are more adult students enrolling in
postsecondary education now than ever.
Adult students often face different challenges than their
younger counterparts, since many adults are required to juggle
family, work and community commitments along with their schoolwork.
Making time for school and a family can sometimes be difficult, but
you can earn your degree and have a happy family life!
Here are a few tricks and tips for success:
Whether you're 18 years old and living with mom and dad, or 40
years old and ARE the mom or dad, the decision to attend college
affects your entire family. That's why it is important to involve
your loved ones - particularly your spouse or partner - in every
step of the process. Keeping your family in the loop will remind
them that they are important to you and their support will be an
invaluable resource for you as you work toward achieving your
Be sure to communicate your reasons for wanting to pursue your
degree, and clearly explain both the benefits as well as the
challenges of attending college. Ask for their feedback, and
encourage them to voice their concerns. Then identify ways everyone
can work together to overcome any obstacles.
Be up front in asking for their support as you work toward your
goals, and let them know you value higher education and the
opportunities it can provide for your family.
Create a Family Study Hall or Find a Study Buddy
If you're not the only student in your family, you may want to
create a family "study hall." Clear room on the kitchen table and
work on your homework while your kids do theirs. That way, you can
provide each other with "moral support," and the subjects you are
each exploring can provide great family conversation starters. Of
course, your commitment to your studies will also set a great
example for your children.
Don't have kids? Join a study group, or simply set aside time
with your spouse or partner to learn together. You can tackle
homework and class projects, and he or she can explore the
internet, read a book or magazine or practice a hobby. If you
prefer to study on your own, find a comfortable place and let your
family know you need some quiet time to focus.
If you attend classes on campus, you may want to take advantage
of study spaces available at the library or student center. Most
schools also offer free tutoring, so ask your RBA coordinator if
you'd like extra help in a particular class.
While you don't have to plan every minute of your day, it is
important to block out time for specific things you need to
accomplish. To-do lists are great tools and maintaining an
organized family calendar is a great way to keep track of your
family, work, community and school commitments. Making lists and
calendaring important events, deadlines and activities will help
you take inventory of your responsibilities and make it easier to
set goals. If you start feeling overwhelmed by everything you've
written down, create an action plan and break big projects or tasks
into smaller, more manageable steps. And remember, sometimes you
will simply have to say "no" to requests that don't fall in line
with your priorities.
Many adult students have more than homework on their minds. If
today's to-do list is getting out of control, take a breather and
then spend five minutes prioritizing. Consider how much time you
have left in the day, and then identify the top three most
important tasks left on your list. Take note of any items that
aren't so important (maybe cleaning out your car can wait until the
weekend). Do your best to accomplish your top three, and then
reschedule what's left.
Learn how to say "no"
Adult students are often very committed individuals - many have
active family, professional and community lives. Sometimes, you'll
simply have to say "no" to taking on commitments or
responsibilities that fall outside of your priorities (and
remember, homework is a priority too!). Of course, sometimes that's
easier said than done. Here are some tips to help you "politely
decline" invitations or requests:
- Be up front: Sometimes it seems nicer to say "maybe" than "no,"
but in fact, most people would rather have a clear answer than be
unsure of whether or not you will come through. Don't be afraid to
say, "I'm sorry, but I just can't take anything else on right now,"
or "Unfortunately I'm not available that day."
- Strike a deal: Let's say it's your turn to make cookies for the
kids' 4-H meeting, but you've got an exam this week and need to
spend time studying. Don't be shy about asking another parent to
help - but offer them something in return. For example "If you'll
make cookies for the meeting this week, I'll volunteer to help you
sell raffle tickets at the fundraiser this summer."
- Don't over-explain: If you need to tell someone "no," don't
feel the need to provide them with every detail of your busy
schedule in order to justify your response. Be confident that you
are doing what's best for you and your family, and leave it at
- Don't feel guilty: All you can do is your best, and you
shouldn't feel guilty about setting priorities and sticking to
them. And remember, taking care of YOU is important too - so if you
can't help sell concessions at the football game because you just
need a night to rest, don't feel bad about it.
Write it down and talk it through
Write down any concern (big or small) that you have about
returning to school. After prioritizing the items on your list,
create an action plan to address these obstacles and identify
resources that are available to assist you. Then tackle challenges
piece by piece, until your concern is no longer an issue.
This process will help you sort through challenges, and
identifying ways to solve problems will help you take greater
control of your education - and your life!
Get support at work
When you decide to go back to school, talk to your employer
about your decision. Explain how advancing your education will
assist you in your job and ultimately increase your value as an
employee. Many employers offer support for adult students, so talk
to your supervisor or your human resources manager about ways your
company or organization can help. Employers may be able to:
- Offer you an alternative work schedule for exam weeks.
- Allow you to use a work computer for your academic assignments
outside of regular work hours (ex. during lunch breaks, in the
evenings or on weekends).
- Offer tuition reimbursement or stipend programs.
Keep in mind that employers are not required to accommodate
adult learners. But remember, you can always pursue a degree on
your own time!
Stay focused on your goals
Every student faces obstacles, but don't let them derail your
plans. Go back to your list of goals and stay focused. Obtaining
your degree is important to you and your family. When things feel
difficult, talk to your family and friends about how you are
feeling and make a plan to overcome challenges.
And remember to reflect on your achievements and celebrate
successes. Make an A on a test? Order pizza with the family to
So what are you waiting for? There's never been a better time to
go back to school. But you've got to take the first step. Talk to an
RBA coordinator today!
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