Earning a college degree is no doubt different for adult learners than for those fresh out of high school, but being an adult learner has it benefits. At a younger age, while you may have had the benefit of more free time and less responsibility, you might have been less confident about what you wanted for your future and career. As an adult learner, you likely have more defined career goals accompanied by real-world and on-the-job skills and experience to rely on--all things that will come in handy in as you pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree.
If you are looking start or finish your degree but have fears about going back to school, stop and remember the following tips and information to remind yourself that you can achieve your academic goals.
Fear #1: I Don’t Have Room in My Schedule
For many adults, work, family and other obligations can make for a busy schedule. With the right amount of planning however, you can find time to fit school into your daily or weekly routine. When talking with school representatives, ask how many hours you can expect to spend in class and doing class work each week and if there is a set, regular schedule to assignments such as with many online programs. Then, create a plan for how to divide your time each day by looking through your schedule and seeing where you have opportunities. Simply knowing you have a plan can go a long way.
Beyond this plan, you’ll need support from those around you. Before you start classes, talk to your friends and family and see how they can help support you while you’re working towards your degree. Anything from babysitting, chores around the house or planning meals can help free up your time for school work. Their emotional support can be just as valuable in helping to keep you motivated.
If earning your undergraduate or graduate degree could enhance your current career, share your plans with your employer. Hopefully, they’ll offer encouragement and maybe flexibility in your work schedule. (Plus, there’s always the possibility of tuition assistance.) During classes, one way to save time is by relating your schoolwork to your job where possible. For example, for a class assignment, you might choose to create a business proposal that could be reused for your job.
Fear #2: I’m out of Practice Being a Student
In reality, your life and work experience will likely benefit you as a student. Instructors appreciate adult learners who ask informed questions and bring real-world examples to class discussions. Besides that, if you’ve participated in continuing education courses, learned new software, or had to prepare for presentations at work, then you’ve already been using many of the same skills you’ll need in school.
Today, nontraditional students are becoming the norm and schools often design undergraduate and graduate degree programs with adult learners in mind. As you research schools, ask how many adult learners are currently enrolled. See if they offer an orientation class to ease you into the swing of things or provide support staff and resources that will be readily available to help answer your questions. Once you’re in school, get to know other adult learners; you can swap study and scheduling tips, and make valuable contacts for after you graduate. Once you start, keep in mind it may take you a few weeks or courses to feel comfortable writing papers, conducting research and completing assignments again. However, once you are comfortable with the day-to-day aspects of your program, you may find that you are able to complete tasks quicker and with greater ease.
Fear 3: I’m Not Good with Computers or New Technology
Many careers require computer skills, so, while it might sound stressful, brushing up on your tech knowledge will be good for you. Orientation classes can help you get up to speed on the software you’ll need, and schools commonly offer software tutorials, tutoring, and webinars for those who want extra training. While online programs rely on an online classroom and may potentially include digital textbooks or a mobile app, these tools are designed for ease of use for a wide variety of individuals regardless of technological expertise.
Fear 4: I’m Anxious about the Cost and Time I’ll Spend
An important aspect of returning to school is knowing what return on investment to expect from your program. Tools like the government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook can offer helpful details about the value of education in specific fields. Beyond this, try connecting with alumni on Facebook or LinkedIn and speak with your manager and others in the field to understand how a degree might help you and justify your time investment. Some employers, for example, may offer a raise in salary for completing a higher level degree.
If you’re worried about the cost of degree completion, make sure you explore all options--including grants, federal financial aid, employer tuition assistance, military benefits, and scholarships from private and public organizations. If you’ve completed some college courses in the past, transferring credit from your past college experience, can help you save time and money. As you narrow in on your top schools, take the time to talk to their finance counselors about transferring credit and other options for making a degree program more affordable.
Moving Forward with Confidence
Remember, despite your fears, earning your degree as an adult can play in your favor. Life and work experience often teach lessons and skills that young students rarely possess--things like time management and not being afraid to seek help when it’s needed. As an adult, you’re likely more organized, responsible, and motivated to get your degree.
Along with offering a full array of academic resources and dedicated support staff for every student, South University’s campus and online programs are designed to accommodate the schedules of busy, working adults. To learn more about how we support adult learners across all undergraduate and graduate degree programs, contact us today.