Returning to college as an adult can be both exciting and daunting. You may find that you need to adapt to significant changes on campus, plan a schedule for learning online, or juggle school and life responsibilities for the first time. Whether your decision to return to college is for personal growth or career development, here are five strategies to ensure you continue your journey successfully.
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1. Identify opportunities for nontraditional students.
If you have not yet selected a school, incorporate “programs for nontraditional students” as a search term while you browse. If you have selected a school, explore its website or contact the Student Life office to inquire about such opportunities. The ratio of adult learners to standard undergraduates, as well as other environmental factors, may be important to your experience. Programs provided especially for nontraditional students can have a positive impact on your time at the institution. For example, specific social events to assist you in acclimating or scholarship options tailored to your situation may be available to ease your transition.
2. Explore the school’s online database and your student account.
Colleges use online resources now more than ever, which may represent a big change for you. It’s critical that you devote a period of time to examining the online databases for your school. These typically include platforms to log in to your student account, submit assignments, participate in class discussions via forums, and search for credible sources to perform research. You’ll save yourself a great deal of stress later on if you explore these platforms now to ensure that you will not be scrambling to determine how to submit a paper on time. It will also make you aware of virtual opportunities to interact with classmates about assignments or study groups. Plus, understanding how to navigate your student account is integral to many tasks you will need to complete throughout your time at the school.
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3. Reacquaint yourself with the format of textbooks and note-taking.
Colleges still use traditional resources, and getting back into the swing of following a textbook may require more effort than you would initially believe. You may find that you are not in the habit of reading the specific format of chapter-based textbooks. Purchase the required texts for your courses as soon as possible, and familiarize yourself with the various sections of each chapter. There are likely portions devoted to key terms and definitions, concept review questions, and other resources to ensure you comprehend the material. Also re-examine how you most efficiently take notes—and, more importantly, what kinds of notes are easiest for you to study and retain. Delve deep into your first chapter of note-taking to determine what comes naturally to you, and decide afterward if it is something that will benefit you long-term throughout the semester.
4. Create or identify a study space separated from work and life distractions.
Just as you have an office to complete your job’s work, it is a good idea to pinpoint an excellent study space where you can be productive in your schoolwork. Certain individuals may have a home office they find useful for this purpose, but this can pose problems if it is too highly associated with career-related work that may distract you. Locate a place that will not be interrupted by family as well. You will need a specific area that you can depend on to allow yourself to focus completely on your education and mentally remove yourself from the other aspects of your life. This may be another room in the house, a local library, or perhaps the school’s student union. Anywhere that allows you to fully feel like a student is best.
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5. Keep your original motivation at the front of your mind.
It can be easy to lose incentive when a class assignment is keeping you up late into the night and you have various family and work responsibilities on your plate as well. You may feel out of your element and wonder if this endeavor is truly necessary, but fight those feelings! Whenever you are in your study zone, constantly remind yourself why you have registered for these classes. This was not a decision you made lightly, and you have an end goal that is important to you. Do whatever it takes to ensure that the end goal stays apparent at all times—at your desk, within your notebooks, and in your mind.
Cathryn Sloane is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a private tutoring service in Los Angeles and 20 other markets. She is a graduate of The University of Iowa with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Creative Nonfiction Writing.
Do you have suggestions for other students who are about to go back to school?