Going Back to School

Adults in College: 10 Secrets to Success if You Haven’t Seen a Classroom in Years

Use these tips to help yourself succeed if you haven't been in college for years.So you’re going back to college as an adult? Good for you!

Today’s competitive, global economy should inspire more of us to post-secondary educational achievement. Fortunately in the U.S., returning to college is for anyone, not just a select few.

As an adult returning to college, this is a tremendous opportunity for you to:

  • Develop your untapped potential
  • Enhance your employability
  • Acquire new knowledge

If it’s been awhile since you sat in a classroom or hit the books, however, it’s natural to feel a tiny bit of trepidation along with your excitement. Adult students, in particular, wonder about things like taking tests, developing study habits and finding balance between work, home and school responsibilities.

Well, wonder no more.

Here are 10 secrets to make your college encore a rousing success.

    1. Find the right fit. A study from the National Survey of Students in Continuing Education found that adult learners prefer post-secondary education that is affordable and close to home or work. The study also found that adult learners prefer nontraditional services as part of their post-secondary education experience, such as childcare, expanded degree options and highly developed online learning programs. Figure out what’s important to you first. Then pick a college or university tailored toward adult learners that offers things like easy access, reasonable tuition, seamless transfer of credits, and innovative delivery options such as evening or online classes.
    2. Get guidance. Choose a school that will help you with degree mapping. A degree map or pathway is a detailed list of coursework requirements for completing your degree within a specific timeframe. It will help you understand where you are, where you’re going and how long it will take to get there. Having a sure path lets you focus on your life and studies, not administrative hassles and hoops.


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  1. Set your desk up for success. Like working from home instead of at the office, going back to college as an adult requires adapting to a new environment. Create a comfortable, well-lit, designated study space that’s all your own. Not only will it keep your study time separate from your home or work life, it will serve as a physical reminder to others to let you focus without interruption or distraction.
  2. Devise a study routine. There’s a reason for back-to-school routines for kids: they work. Establish your own routine at the beginning of every quarter or semester to help you keep up with your coursework, improve your time management and protect your other commitments. Even the simplest routine, when executed consistently, can help ensure that you get the most important things done.
  3. Embrace the change. Any significant change, whether it’s returning to the workforce, having a baby or going back to college, means shifting your priorities. Because everyone has the same 24 hours to spend each day, adding classes and studying to your life may mean you have to say “no” or “not now” to some other things. Recognize that while you’re in school, you’ll have to make short-term tradeoffs with your time.
  4. Ask for help. Superheroes are for Hollywood, not families and classrooms. If there’s an area in which you’re struggling—at home or at school—ask for help. Enlist your family’s assistance with chores and errands. Tell friends what they can and can’t do to encourage you. Reach out to fellow students for lecture notes and homework help. Talk to professors and faculty about assignments and coursework, especially if you have questions or don’t understand. Seek out resources to help improve study habits or test taking. Contact student services about scheduling, books or technology needs.
  5. Make connections. It’s tempting to isolate yourself from others in order to keep on top of a busy schedule, but don’t. Social connections with others inside and outside the classroom can help you enjoy school and life more. One of the side benefits of going back to college as an adult is being exposed to people you might otherwise not interact with. Relish the opportunity, allowing these new relationships to enrich both your college experience and the quality of your life.
  6. Create margin. All work and no play can make anyone dull and desperate. Be sure to work some downtime, pleasurable activities and breaks into your life. Resist the urge to overfill your schedule; instead, leave some margin in your day for exercise, sleep, helping others or just relaxing. These things will help boost mood and productivity.
  7. Revel in your accomplishments. Take a moment to recognize your successes and relish your achievements. Aced the test? Acknowledge the hard work it took to get there before you put your nose back in the books. Finished your first semester? Mark the milestone with dinner and a movie. You’re working hard now, so don’t wait until graduation day to celebrate.
  8. Adjust as needed. Even the best-laid plans won’t work forever. Plan monthly, quarterly or biannual assessments of your schedule, habits and commitments. Tweak or even overhaul your plans whenever your schedule or life circumstances change.