Adult Learner

Thinking About Returning to College? Five Tips for the Adult Learner

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By Brent Passey, chief admissions officer at Hodges University.

  1. Learn to appreciate the value of learning

The social conversation about higher education has been dominated by terms like return on investment, career outcome and job placement. While these are important elements to consider, it is only after you complete your degree and enter the workforce that you can personally measure these elements. Do not make this your sole focus, as the value of the learning experience can get lost. If you value the process of learning and the mental challenge of understanding new ideas, your academic experience will be far better. However, if you do not value the overall learning experience, your time in college will be monotonous. Try to avoid the mindset of “just get through this class…” Instead, take inventory of the new knowledge you have attained and celebrate the small accomplishments. While society and businesses focus on whether or not you have a degree, the true value is in what your degree represents, as well as what you have learned and how to apply it in life, business and the real world.

  1. The best defense is a good offense

It is impossible to foresee every obstacle or difficulty you may encounter throughout your education. Being mentally prepared and having a plan in place can significantly reduce the impact, especially if you are honest with yourself about your strengths and limitations before you start school. For example, if you know that historically you have struggled with a subject like math, plan your academic course load and personal schedule accordingly. Make sure you know what tutoring resources are available. If you are going to be taking more than just a math class during that term, pick classes you know you can handle or do not overload you as you focus your efforts on mastering math. Lastly, create a schedule that factors the extra time you might need for math each week for things like tutoring, study groups or personal study time outside of class. While math is an academic example, other issues such as access to technology, transportation or financial challenges can be pre-empted by planning and communicating with faculty and administration.

  1. Make a “time inventory”

It has been said that time is our greatest asset. We are allotted a certain amount and while we do not know when the final grain of sand will fall, we know that our time is limited. If you are going to spend your time pursuing your educational goal, you should create a “time inventory.” Start with the basic 168-hour week. Create a list of what you do in each 24-hour increment of time. Below is a common example:

  • Work Schedule with Commute: M- F = 50 hours
  • Sleep Nightly: Sun-Sat = 50 hours
  • Family Time: Sun-Sat = 20 hours
  • Personal Interests/Hobbies/Exercise: Sun-Sat = 15 hours
  • Weekly Total: 50+50+20+15 = 135 hours
  • Compare your weekly total with the time you have available each week: 168 hours – 135 hours = 33 hours of open time

Make a mental map of where your time openings are. When you speak to your academic counselor, get a feel for how many hours each week you need to be prepared to invest in your education. The time you will need to be successful has many variables, such as the number of classes you are taking, the courses you are enrolled in and your proficiency or ability within those subjects. Mapping your time allows you to see where and when your opportunities are to attend class, study and take advantage of your school’s academic assistance programs. If you know the time of day your focus is at its sharpest, you may be able to adjust your schedule so that you are making the most of the time you spend on academic pursuits. Far too many adults make the mistake of thinking they will “just get it done when they get home at night…” After a long day at work and after dinner is served and the kids are down for the night, you need to recognize how you feel. You may find that after an eight-hour workday and time spent with family, putting your mind in “study mode” can be difficult. Be smart; know your time, your opportunities and your needs. It is not just about finding time to study; it is about finding time that is right for you.

  1. Get involved beyond the classroom

This concept may seem odd, especially to adult learners who attend most of their classes online. By engaging with other students and the institution, your chances of success in college increase. If you attend a campus part time or full time, get involved in an on-campus group or activity. If you are a student who learns online, participate in chat or group study forums or online group discussions. Even if you attend online, the chances of finding others in your local community who also attend online is high. Engage faculty, administrators and alumni when available. Get involved in the learning community. Find a mentor or be a mentor. The stronger the personal relationships and tethers you create, the more support you will have and feel. People going through the same experiences often prove to be a great support network. You will need to surround yourself with positive people and maintain a positive mindset.

  1. Define your goal. Write it down. Review it often.

Before you begin exploring options for completing your educational goal, be honest with yourself about “why” you want to obtain your degree or advance your education. The “why” is your purpose and motivation. The more specific and personal you make the goal, the more powerful it becomes. As you consider your options, it is going to be clear that you are making a personal sacrifice of time, effort and money. Your “why” is going to be the thing that drives you and that makes you do the work, spend the time and make the sacrifice. It will also help you pick the college or university that is right for you. The truth is that it is not always the smartest person or the person with the most time and money who finishes his/her educational goal. It is usually the person with the drive, determination and will to persist who achieves their goal. When you focus on what you are trying to achieve and why, it puts the sacrifices you are making into a meaningful context. When you are feeling down, overwhelmed or ready to quit, just look at your goal and reasons for pursuing your education and you will find that spark again. Keep the fire lit; you will cross the finish line.