In this episode of The Productive Woman, we discuss returning to school as an adult and how to balance your studies with your work and family responsibilities, while still making time for yourself. I also share my own experience as a returning adult student.
Returning to school isn’t easy, but it’s possible to balance your responsibilities and still make time for what matters most.
There was a question raised recently about going to school as an adult. Specifically, I was asked to talk about my experience as a college student and then a law student as an adult, while still raising a family.
First, some stats about adult students
- “According to EAB, a research firm in the education sector, 38 percent of undergraduates are considered adult learners—i.e. older than 25. This number of adult undergraduates is projected to grow 21 percent by 2022. Adults going back to college to add to their existing degrees or finish degrees they once started is becoming increasingly common.” [from 7 Reasons Adult Learners are Going Back to School]
- Several articles note that a majority of adult students returning to college after an absence are women.
- It’s never too late to go back to school–several articles described students between the ages of 25 and 69.
- There are lots of reasons to return to school–to change careers, improve opportunities for advancement, updating skills or developing new skills and expertise, finishing a degree that was started sometime before, or going for an advanced degree (graduate or professional school), or maybe you’ve reached a stage in life when you can afford the time and expense of college.
My experience (and my daughter’s) as an adult student
I started college at 20 (already married) and did a year of undergrad, during which my first child was born. We moved across the country (twice) then I went back to school for another year after our second child was born. Ten years and 2 kids later, I went back to school to finish undergrad. Our 5th child was born a couple of weeks after finals of my junior year. I then went directly to law school when our oldest was 14 and our youngest was 1.
Interestingly enough, 20+ years later, our oldest daughter is doing the same. She started college right out of high school but after a couple of years of school she married and started a family, then last year went back to school to finish a degree in preparation to be a teacher. She turned 40 this year and she and her husband have 4 daughters. I asked her for her thoughts on the experience, some of which I’ll share later. One thing she mentioned that’s better now as an older student than when she was just out of high school: “I have better time management skills now and I’m more focused. I’m more motivated to do well so I’m not wasting my time or money.” She said she likes being in school now much more than she did when she was younger. She knows why she’s there and what she wants so she is more focused and not distracted by friends and “college life” and what everybody else is doing.
Specific challenges adult students face
- Balancing life and school–you might need to balance your family responsibilities, or maybe even a job. This is one of the things Rachel mentioned as being the big challenge.
- Lack of funds–you might not qualify for loans, and already have a budget filled with a mortgage, car payments, braces for the kids, etc.
- Lack of confidence–you may struggle with thinking, “What if I’m not cut out for college?” This was how I felt when I first went on campus at UNO!
“Many people think back to high school or to prior college experiences and remember the challenges they had, whether it was with the work itself, time management, or a lack of motivation and engagement. Some believe that it’s been too long – that having spent years out of the classroom means that they won’t be able to make school work for them again. And some worry about sticking out, or feeling out of place, in a classroom filled with students much younger than them.”–from Overcoming the Challenges of Going Back to School as an Adult Learner]
- Feeling out of place (surrounded by people younger than you)–When I asked Rachel about the challenges she’s noticing, the first thing she said was, “I’m the oldest person in all of my classes.”
Tips for success/managing school and a family at the same time
- Use all the tools we talk about on this podcast. Begin by writing things down (maintain a comprehensive calendar, task list, etc.). As soon as you get the syllabus, calendar exams, paper/project due dates, etc., calendar all those key dates. Write down when you’ll be in class and when you’ll be studying. Be intentional about regular study times rather than trying to cram right before exams.
- Simplify life wherever you can. One example is getting meals on the table. Make a list of simple, quick-to-prepare meals you know your family will eat and shop less often to stock up on the ingredients you need for those meals. When possible, double recipes and freeze half for another time and maybe during school breaks, cook ahead.
- Get the family on board. When I was in school, my husband stepped up in a big way and my older kids helped out too. Rachel mentioned that one thing that helps her manage it all is that her kids are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient, but she said she still sometimes decides, “I’m not going to study tonight; I’m going to be present with my family.” She says then you just need to find another time to fit in the studying.
- Take good notes. If you don’t know how, the school will have a department or office that can help with developing note-taking and other study skills. Take advantage of services the school offers–you’re paying for them.
- Develop relationships. Get to know one or two others in your classes so if for some reason you must miss a class, they’ll share notes, and vice versa.
- Get to know your professors. Make a point of stopping by during office hours; show up on time, sit near the front. If you need an accommodation at some point, they might be more likely to give it if you’ve shown yourself to be a diligent, engaged student and they know about your life.
Finally, Rachel said it’s important sometimes to take a break from all of it (school, work, kids, housework) and spend some time doing something just for yourself.
What do you think? Questions? Comments
If you are or have been a college student, what are your best strategies for succeeding in school while still living your life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- 7 Reasons Adult Learners Are Going Back to School [Updated 2020]
- Finishing What They Started: One Million Adults Return To College And Earn A Degree
- Going Back to College: Frequently Asked Questions
- 60% of adults have considered returning to college, but worry about cost | EAB
- College Enrollment Statistics : Total + by Demographic
- Three Most Significant Challenges Facing Adult Students – The EvoLLLution The EvoLLLution
- Overcoming the Challenges of School as an Adult | Champlain College Online
- 5 Challenges of Attending College as an Adult – Top Ten Online Colleges
- The unique challenges that adult students face when returning to school | WXXI News
- » The 7 Biggest Challenges of Adult Learners
- The Challenges Faced by Adult Learners | CareerFoundry
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