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A Guide To Returning To School Or College

Today, more and more adults are choosing to return to education. Whether you never got the chance to go to university after high school and have decided that it’s finally time to get your degree, have not been sure what you wanted to study up until now, have decided that now’s the best time to think about continuing your education and earning further qualifications to improve your career prospects, or want to pursue a complete career change, there are many different valid reasons for deciding to return to college life as an adult. 

However, attending college as an adult is different from studying when you’re straight out of high school. Chances are, you won’t have all the freedom that you had back then, and you may have important commitments that you’ll need to continue upholding like paying a mortgage on your own home or making sure that your rent and bills are covered.

You may have a full-time career that you don’t want to lose or children who are your number one priority. The good news is that even with all these adult responsibilities going on, it’s become easier than ever to return to school, fit studying around your busy life, and be successful with it. We’ve put together a complete guide to preparing yourself for returning to college life as an adult. 

#1. Consider Studying for Your Degree Online:

Today, online degrees are growing rapidly in popularity and they have provided the perfect solution for busy adults who are worried that they’ll struggle with committing to their studies on top of everything else.

Studying online allows you the freedom to decide to get down to working on your degree at times that suit you best, whether that’s during the day when the kids are in school or in the evenings and on weekends when you’re not at work.

There’s no set timetable with online study, making it a very flexible, self-led option that allows you to work it around your schedule compared to campus-based studying, where you’ll need to fit your life around the studies. 

In addition, studying online means that you can work from wherever is the most suitable location for you. If you’re a busy mom or dad, this means that there’s less of a need to worry about getting childcare, as you can simply flip open your laptop and study in your living room or kitchen or settle down in your home office or study.

Or if you prefer to get out and about and have a laptop that you can rely on, you can choose from a local library, coffee shop, co-working space or anywhere else that you can comfortably focus and work. Today, there are thousands of online study options available for you to choose from, whether you’re looking to get started with a foundation degree or improve your nursing career with an FNP certificate

#2. Time Management is Key:

If you’re planning to add a college course to your busy life, whether you’re studying online or on campus, then it’s important to put as much effort as you can into improving your time management skills.

Improving your time management is not always easy, but with the right amount of effort, it can definitely be done. If you’re planning to study for your degree online, then one of the best ways to boost your time management skills is by creating a personal schedule for yourself.

A plan or schedule in place gives you a reason to hold yourself accountable and keep track of where you are up to and what needs to be done. 

To put together your personal study plan or schedule, look at your days and weeks and fill in when you are working, when you need to dedicate your time to childcare such as picking your kids up from school, and when you have other meetings and appointments.

It’s also a good idea to distinguish which of these tasks occur on a weekly recurring basis, and which are one-offs – this will help you better determine how much of your time you have to dedicate to studying. Once you’ve penciled in your commitments, look at how much time you have left and work out when is best to set some time aside each day to dedicate to studying.

How much time you will need will vary from program to program, and if you’re not sure, your tutor will be able to offer you advice on putting together a personal schedule that works well for you. Generally, if you are working towards a 3-credit class you’ll need to set aside three hours per week at least. 

#3. Be Flexible When Returning To School:

Whilst it’s good to stick to a personal study schedule, bear in mind that one of the main benefits of online study is the extra flexibility that it brings. So, if you’ve decided to return to college online, then being as flexible as possible will help you get the most done.

It’s good to keep in mind that even when you have a set schedule, things can easily fall apart and there are bound to be things that arise which will throw you off your schedule and leave you rushing to get everything done. Whilst this can be a frustrating experience for any student, it’s important to try not to worry – instead, look at your schedule and see if there is anything that you can rearrange. 

Similarly, you don’t have to stick religiously to your schedule when it comes to getting things done. If you’ve found yourself with some extra spare time on your hands, then it’s always worth getting ahead of your work if you can. If you’ve got an hour to spare now, it’s worth seeing what you can get done – whether you’re moving onto the next class, working on an assignment, or revising for an upcoming test. 

#4. Get Rid of Distractions:

When you’re studying for a college degree as an adult, there are plenty of things in your life that could quickly become a distraction for you away from your studies. This is especially true if you’re studying for your degree online, where you’ll have all the distractions of your home right there.

But, think about it this way – if you were attending classes at a bricks-and-mortar college, would you be talking, browsing the internet, watching television, or playing games on your phone? Of course not! Similarly, you wouldn’t be getting up to complete household chores like vacuuming, doing laundry or making dinner. You’d be giving your undivided attention to the tutor and focusing all your energies on your class. 

When you are taking an online class, you should do your best to give it all the attention that you would if you were in a physical classroom. To make this easier, you may want to designate a certain room into your home for studying; this could be a home office if you have the room for one, or you could set up a desk in another room in your home that you’ll use for your online classes.

And, try to schedule your study time when you will have the least amount of distractions. If you’re struggling to study at home without getting distracted, then it’s worth finding somewhere that you can go to focus – local libraries are a great choice as they’ll usually have a strong Wi-Fi connection that you can take advantage of, along with charger ports and printers you’ll be able to use. 

#5. Build a Strong Support Network:

As an adult returning to school to study, you’ll have a growing number of responsibilities and commitments to juggle, particularly if you’re a parent who’s planning to work full- or part-time too. So, one of the best things that you can do to help yourself make the most of your new venture is to build a strong support network up around you.

This could be family and friends who will be able to help you with housework or childcare when needed or other online students who you can turn to if you need emotional or academic support. 

If you’re studying online, then you might be struggling to socialize compared to how you would in a traditional, classroom-based setting. However, the good news is that there are plenty of ways for online students to mingle with their peers and meet new people as they study.

Social media is one of the best ways to do this; you might want to consider searching for and joining Facebook groups for online students on your program or at your college, or maybe you’ll be able to find people who are in the same boat as you on LinkedIn. One of the best things about online learning is that you’re not limited to only meeting new people from your classes.

Using the internet to meet new fellow online students means that you can get to know people from all over the world who are studying at a variety of different colleges and on various programs. 

#6. Don’t Rush Yourself When Returning To School:

One of the worst mistakes that you can make when returning to school as an adult is trying to get through everything too quickly or trying to cram too much work in around your existing commitments.

It’s far better to graduate a little later than you expected or take a little extra time to get the work done at a pace that’s better suited to your lifestyle, rather than trying to do too much with too little time and ending up feeling exhausted and burned out.

Taking your time will mean that you’re able to better focus on your work and improve your grades; quality is certainly better than quantity or speed in this instance. 

If you’re studying online, then this is more self-paced than a classroom-based program would be, allowing you to go at a pace that suits you best. And since online learning is so flexible, it will usually allow you to either speed up or slow down your studies depending on what is better for you at the time.

You can accelerate all or part of your degree program if you have the extra time available to do, or put in fewer hours per week if you’re juggling too much. 

#7. Ask for Help When Returning To School:

Finally, don’t try to do everything all by yourself! Juggling returning to school with your adult commitments can be a very difficult process and there are always going to be times where you could use a helping hand.

Whether you’re asking your boss to reduce your hours in order to give you more time to study, calling your mom or another relative to come and help you with the kids so you can have some quiet time to revise or study for an exam, or speaking to a professional to help you better manage any stress that you are experiencing as a result of juggling so much at once, there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to reaching out. 

As a mature student returning to school, there’s plenty of help available for you; all you need to do is ask for it. If you are worried that you will be struggling financially, you may be able to take advantage of grants and other funding available for students who are on a low income, a single parent, or in another situation where money could be tight.

There are also a number of charitable organizations who can help you better manage any debt that you may be struggling with whilst you are studying, or even when it comes to affording food and other household essentials.

Finally, if you feel that you need help with your mental health and well-being, asking for support can be the best thing that you will do.

Turn to your tutor as they may be able to put you in touch with college mental health support staff, or let your doctor know how you are feeling so that they can refer you to the right professional. 

If you’re planning to fit studying for a degree around your busy adult life, it won’t always be easy. But, if you have the right approach, it’s certainly possible to be successful.