Whether you are trying to finish the degree you started all those years ago, or you are pursuing an advanced degree, you are not alone: you are one of the thousands of adult students returning to college for the first time in years – maybe even decades.
This is a big step, and an important one – but it should not be a source of fear.
Here are four tips for adults returning to college
1. Times and Technology Have Changed (A Lot!)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the internet revolution has not passed you by altogether. But you may be unaware the extent to which technology has changed not just the classroom, but the entire educational experience for all ages and grade levels.
If you’re taking online classes for the first time, please take advantage of every possible tutorial and training opportunity provided by your school. Don’t feel silly for asking lots of questions about even the most basic functions. If you get behind on the basic operations of your school’s online learning platform, it will make the actual coursework that much more difficult. Even if you have taken online classes at another institution, be sure you understand the specifics of your new university’s online world, as it may differ significantly from what you’re used to.
Here’s one specific thing to keep in mind, even if you’re taking classes in a more traditional classroom environment: communication expectations. If email was not around when you were last in school, remember that it is now the primary means of communication between students and teachers. Professors may choose to provide updates via email (or through an online learning platform) in between class times, and will expect you as student to be looking for them. “I didn’t know” is no longer an excuse in a world of smartphones and wireless internet access.
2. Dust Off Those Old Skills
We are referring specifically to disciplined reading and writing. No matter what you are studying, there is a good chance you will have a large volume of reading to complete each week, and frequent writing assignments due. If you are not in the habit of reading on a schedule and organizing your thoughts in writing (and let’s face it, not many of us are if we’re not forced to do so!), then this may be one of the most difficult parts of the transition back into the classroom.
Again, take advantage of the resources your school provides, such as writing tutorials and study skills seminars. If you are not disciplined from day one, you will get further and further behind in your assignments. Don’t get scared when you look at the course syllabus for the first time and see that you are expected to complete 100 or more pages of reading per week and a several page essay. That’s normal. Those are the expectations that come with being an adult in school, especially if you are pursuing a graduate-level degree.
Which leads into our next point…
3. Adjust Your Expectations
Don’t misunderstand us here. You were accepted into your school for a reason – they believed you were capable of the work necessary to complete your degree. So, have some confidence in your abilities and work hard to prove them right.
You also need to be patient with yourself, especially early on. If important things like writing papers do not come naturally to you, then you might find the first few weeks (or even the first few classes) to be a bit challenging. That does not mean you are in the wrong program, or should not be in school. That means you need to give yourself more time, ask your professors to work with, and (as we said earlier) take advantage of resources from your school to help you. Above all, have patience with yourself.
Don’t be surprised if you receive constructive criticism on your work. Your professors intend to challenge you and improve your professional development; they will not give you anything without you working for it first.
Putting your best foot forward with every assignment would certainly show that you are a student dedicated to learning and improving. If you aspire to simply pass the class and get your degree, then you are robbing yourself of an educational experience that will enrich your mind and your career. But, if you are doing everything you can to get the best grades possible, and you are still coming up short of your own perfect standards, then it may be time to give yourself a little grace. Perhaps that is its own kind of lesson, right?
4. Protect Your Schedule
Adults returning to college may have many pressures that they wouldn’t have had as an 18 year old entering college – work and family, just to name two of the most common. Unless you have the (rare) opportunity to take a career break to pursue your education, you likely have to keep working in order to support yourself. For example, if you have a family the kids aren’t going to back and forth from school by themselves, dinner will not get cooked by itself, and the grass does not magically cut itself. Older students returning to college know that those things have to happen whether or not they’re in school.
Whether you’re pursuing your degree online and have a much more flexible class schedule, or you’re taking classes at a campus location, you still need time to read, write, and complete assignments outside of class. That may (and really should) involve structured, protected time in your schedule for that work. It’s up to you to decide when that is – early mornings, late at night, on the weekends, or sometime in between. Regardless of when, you need to make it so, and try to let nothing interfere with it. Education is an opportunity, and without the time to really give it your attention, you are missing out on all that your classes can offer you.
One final piece of advice about this. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “Don’t take your work home with you.” Well, here is some advice related to returning to college: “Don’t take your work (as in your job) or your family, or any other of life’s little stresses into the classroom with you.” Whether that classroom is virtual, or you go into a building on a specific day and time, make sure you are truly “present” when you are in class. If your mind is elsewhere you may not be able to properly focus on what you’re learning. Enjoy your education!
Returning to college as an adult is a challenge, and you should be congratulated for taking it on. Don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it, work hard, and -whenever possible – have fun!
Point University’s College of Graduate and Professional Studies is one of the best colleges for adults returning to school. Point University offers flexible degree options for working adults through its Hybrid program. Classes are offered at six campuses across Alabama and Georgia, as well as Online.
Point University also offers two flexible Graduate programs, a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Transformative Ministry. Both degrees are offered in fully-online formats to make them possible for busy working adults. For more information on those programs, please visit https://online.point.edu/online-programs/?degree=master.