Going to school as an adult has some advantages. Mature students have had additional time to consider what they really want to pursue. They’re often more focused on their studies than they might have been as a teen or young adult and they usually have extra motivation to get through their courses and to do well in them. That said, mature students also tend to have added responsibility over and above their studies, which is why finding work life balance is paramount. Here, we explore strategies for balancing work and school and for keeping your head above water as an adult learner.
Don’t worry about not fitting in
Some returning students feel pressure to fit in with the younger college crowd. They get caught up in trying to be part of the group. While there are certainly instances when students need to collaborate on a project or when it might be helpful to study with others, adult learners need to keep their main goals in mind. Older students usually have a set reason for going back to school and have additional responsibilities outside of their courses. Getting bogged down by the college atmosphere adds unnecessary distraction. Before you begin your studies, ask if the institution offers an orientation specifically for mature students so that you can get acquainted with all the school has to offer to adult learners.
Remember your strengths
Adult learners sometimes feel they’ve spent too much time away from a classroom environment. They worry that the learning skills they had in their youth have been lost along the way and that they’ll struggle balancing work and school alongside younger students. What mature students need to keep in mind is that their years out in the real world have provided valuable experience in other areas that they can put to use in the classroom. For example, life teaches many lessons in how to analyze situations and formulate plans and keeping a work-life balance in your regular day-to-day activities teaches how to budget time. These are merely two assets that adult learners bring to the table.
Be honest about any technical limitations
Mature students sometimes worry that they won’t be able to keep up with the technology used in colleges today. To overcome this issue, be upfront about your abilities. Let instructors know what you are and are not comfortable with and find out if there are resources available to help you if you’re falling behind. Many instructors are thrilled to have focused adult learners in their classrooms and are happy to help or point you in the right direction.
Make time management a priority
Many young students have the luxury of leaving assignments until the last minute. They often don’t have a lot of bills to pay or a family to take care of. Working in college, particularly if it’s full-time, adds a whole new element of stress. Having outside responsibilities means that staying on top of assignments is a must for balancing work and school. Organization is the key; schedule time for each of your obligations and stick to it as best you can so that life doesn’t get ahead of you.
Consider part time schooling
Be sure to assess the time obligations of your chosen courses and your current schedule ahead of time to determine whether or not it can all fit together. If the commitment seems too overwhelming, visit your college’s Career Center and find out whether there is a part-time study option available. While part-time study means you will be in school longer, it may be a better option to keep your life in balance so you don’t feel burned out.
Reach out to other adult learners
Having other people around who are in a similar situation to your own can help alleviate feelings of isolation and stress. Find out if there are any groups at your institution specifically for mature students. If not, consider starting your own or simply strike up a conversation with older students you see in your classes or wandering around campus. Sometimes it helps just to commiserate about your struggles with working in college. Other times you may find that others have solutions to the issues you’re struggling with.
Making the decision to go back to school as an adult is exciting, but it also requires some extra focus on work-life balance. Keep your goals at the forefront of your mind and remember that, while your time spent working in college won’t be easy, the outcome is worth it.