Let’s begin this post with enthusiastic congratulations! Seriously, going back to school is a great decision. A degree or diploma, whether it’s your first one ever or the first one in a new field, can greatly improve your job prospects and further your career.
As a mature student, you will have a lot of advantages: you have experience in the working world, you have transferable skills, and you have a goal. There are several things you can do to make the most of your education and make the transition back to school a little easier.
Re-entering the World of Academia
The transition back into the world of academia doesn’t have to be hard. A few things may have changed, but as you already know, change is a good thing—that’s why you are seeking it out for yourself.
The biggest change for someone who hasn’t been to school for a few years (or a few decades) is probably in technology. It affects the way teachers teach and the way we learn. It is very likely that your professors will use a system such as Blackboard, an online portal for posting assignments, projects, and class notes. We can’t forget about email, either. Your email account will be your best friend. This is where you will receive notice about school events and where you can correspond with your professors.
As a student, be prepared to spend a lot of time creating assignments on programs such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs. Research will no longer consist of hours spent in the library but, instead, a few clicks on Google. However, you should be vigilant in identifying the quality of your sources and citing them properly.
If you are not familiar with the programs and platforms you’re expected to use, don’t get discouraged; many teachers have experienced the same learning curve, and they are there to help.
If anything, you will find that technology has made things easier, not harder. What you will really need to prepare for is the change school will bring to your everyday life. Pursuing an education takes up a lot your time, and as such, it is important to prepare yourself and your family.
Creating Work–Life Balance
Unlike some of your younger classmates, at this stage in your life you likely have many responsibilities outside of school: a spouse, kids, a job, a home, etc. Maintaining a strong work–life balance is key to success.
Be intentional with your time. Classes will inevitably stretch your already busy schedule, so make every minute count. Know that you will have to make some sacrifices, but remember that you don’t have to sacrifice everything. You can also expect your stress level to rise a bit, especially during exam season, so take care of yourself. Get your eight hours of sleep, eat well, and make time for your family and hobbies. It’s easier said than done, but being prepared and sticking to a schedule will help.
Plan your study time. Set a routine, and enforce it from day one. This will help you stay on track. If you have children, sticking to a routine will also help them know that although you need to study sometimes, you will also make time for them.
Making the most of the time you do get to study will help you ensure that schoolwork doesn’t overflow into your other everyday activities.
The first tip is simple: go to class, even when you don’t want to. Being in an environment with your professor and peers will greatly improve your understanding of the material, which is a lot better than trying to teach it to yourself the night before the test.
If you find you have a lot of distractions at home (such as kids, Netflix, or cleaning), consider moving your study space. You can book a study room at your school or use the library. If you learn better in a group, create a study group with your friends from class. This will allow you to hold each other accountable for your study habits.
Side note: Try using the Cornell Note-Taking Method to efficiently categorize all your course information.
Working with Younger Students
First, stop worrying about fitting in. College is all about being yourself, and chances are, there are going to be other mature students in your program.
Although you might encounter the stereotypical “party” student, most of your classmates will be just as dedicated to their studies as you are. Create study groups and join clubs. College is the best time to start networking, so make friends and get to know your peers—including those who are younger than you. You’re all in the same program, after all, so you must have something in common!
When it comes to group projects, seek out people in your program who have similar goals to your own. Remember that you bring a valuable perspective and skill set to the group: you have real-world experience and skills from your previous job. Don’t forget they have skills, too. Share your experiences, and you’ll all see how rewarding it is to learn from each other.
You are opening a new chapter in your life: new skills, new friends, and new experiences. If you are still nervous, contact your school—you’d be surprised how many resources they have to help you. This is an opportunity you won’t regret taking. After all, as you’ll likely hear around campus, you only live once! #YOLO
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