Overcoming 3 common obstacles of adults going back to school
If you’ve made the choice to enroll in college after a short (or lengthy) break, congrats! The first step is always the hardest. Like many students going back to school, you’re probably both excited and apprehensive about this new adventure.
Adult learners face unique challenges when returning to the classroom, but they also bring a lot of valuable life experience to the table. Don’t let your concerns hold you back from achieving your goals.
Read along for firsthand advice from other adults who made a successful return to college and overcame the same obstacles you’re currently facing.
Conquering 3 common concerns of adult students
You’ll be happy to hear that you’re not the first adult student to pursue a college degree –— and you certainly won’t be the last! Hear from three of our graduates who once faced the same obstacles you are. Their firsthand insight can help you find the same success they did.
1. Affording tuition
It’s no secret that higher education requires a significant investment of time, effort and money. Figuring out how to afford college as a working adult probably requires more planning than it did the first time you went. It takes careful consideration to add tuition costs on top of existing financial obligations like mortgage payments, bills, and raising children.
Luckily for you, there are many ways to help make college more affordable. Consider the following:
- Apply for financial aid. Nontraditional and returning students may be eligible for low-interest-rate federal loans and financial aid.
- Take advantage of your school’s financial aid office, and talk to someone who can connect you with resources and help plan your tuition payments.
- Ask your company if it offers tuition assistance. Many workplaces have initiatives that help cover the cost of their employees' education.
- Apply for scholarships that support adult students going back to school.
- Find accredited online programs that can save you time and money by taking accelerated courses.
- Look into schools that offer credit for prior professional, educational or military experience.
It’s also worthwhile to research loan forgiveness initiatives specific to your career, especially in human service fields such as teaching, nursing, medical school, and social work. Just ask Brandman University alumna Sharon Ishida Nakama, who earned her Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership. Nakama was a 47-year-old special education teacher working full time and raising teenagers when she enrolled in the program.
Earning a doctorate was her dream, but the financial stress on her family was still a concern. Through networking with her cohort, Nakama discovered she was eligible for a teacher loan forgiveness program. She applied and was granted $17,000 in loan forgiveness, which significantly eased her financial burden.
2. Returning to school after a long hiatus
Adult students going back to school after an extended absence often find themselves asking things like:
- Can I keep up with the class work?
- Do I even remember how to write a research paper?
- Will I fit in with other students?
These questions and feelings of doubt are normal, but you should address them head on, or you’ll risk developing imposter syndrome. To help ease your anxieties, ask for guidance from your academic advisor or at your student support office. They can help connect you with tutors, mentors, writing coaches and other services designed to help you succeed.
Barbara Pitts was 50 years old when she began working toward her bachelor’s degree in sociology, and she remembers wondering how the younger students would react to her age. But she quickly realized there was a healthy mix of students of all ages, which ended up benefitting everyone.
“This turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in building relationships,” Pitts shares. “Through the class discussions, I was able to share my experiences and learn about experiences of my younger classmates and compare with those my own age.”
For any adult students struggling with similar concerns, Pitts has some advice: “Just go for it! Don’t feel intimidated because of your age. You have a lot to give and will be rewarded with what you receive in return.”
3. Balancing work, school and family
The majority of adult students going back to school continue to work full-time jobs. Many also have family obligations. This inevitably sparks concerns about being able to succeed in all three areas simultaneously.
While it certainly takes planning, organization, and commitment, it is possible to achieve this balance. Here are some tips and tricks that can help:
- Start implementing some tried-and-true time management hacks to squeeze the most out of each day.
- Be transparent with family and friends about your commitments and how your availability may change temporarily as you go back to school — gaining their support upfront is critical.
- Keep an open dialogue with your manager and team members at work. Negotiate for flexibility in work hours if possible.
- Don’t overlook the importance of self-care.
Brandman University graduate Elizabeth Bader went back to school amidst a divorce, while caring for her infant son. It had been 11 years since she attended school, but she felt strongly that an advanced degree was important for her future.
“I wanted a career that not only would allow me to feed my family but feed my soul as well,” Bader explains. With some hard work and diligence, she earned her master’s degree in organizational leadership in exactly two years. She credits part of this to the fact that Brandman University accommodated the constraints on her life.
Her best piece of advice for other adult students juggling many priorities is this: “Pace yourself at first. Find a program that understands the demands of being a working, parenting student.”
Sharon Ishida Nakama also emphasized the importance of balancing family life with school. Her children were older when she made her return the classroom, so gaining their support was key.
“We discussed the ways they would be able to support me and how I could support them in return,” she shares. “It was a long discussion, but we ended in agreement that Mom’s success would be their success too.”
Start writing your adult student success story
Going back to school as an adult has its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. Let these graduate stories inspire you to conquer any concerns you have and achieve your educational goals.
“Do not doubt your abilities,” Nakama says. “If the person next to you can do it, then you can too!”
Brandman University offers programs designed specifically for adult students like you. Students feel at home because of their shared circumstances, challenges and goals.
Find out if it’s the right fit for you in our article “8 Signs you belong at Brandman University. ”
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