Preparing for College as an Adult Student

Being student is a challenge no matter what age or period of life, but being a college student as an adult has it’s own particular set of obstacles. From finding the time and energy to work a full time job, go to classes, studying and write paper or take exams, and balance all that with other responsibilities. It can seem like a lot to do all at once and easily overwhelm the best of us, regardless of how organized you think you may be!

Give yourselves a fighting chance by starting off with clear intentions and goals and work your ways through a simple process that will help you hit the ground running and manage everything (including your sanity) until you have that degree in hand.

Setting a clear goal.

Most non-traditional students like transfers or adults returning to school aren’t going back to college “just because they can”. Articulate a goal meaningful enough to help you endure any inevitable challenges ahead when motivation is hard to come by easily. This goal or vision will keep you grounded through the degree experience until graduation day. Hopefully, it will also be long-term to get you through any post-grad tribulations while you start your career!

Set realistic expectations. 

If you haven’t been to school in a while, it’s reasonable to assume it may take some time to get back into the swing of things. Don’t go in expecting to hit the ground running without any bumps or friction. Understand that setbacks may happen and it may some trail and error to get up to speed with settling into coursework, navigating campus, and meeting new people.

Research your career paths.

Whether you’re going back to school for a degree in either your current profession or a completely new field, research possible career paths, and opportunities that utilize your degree in some way. Even if it may be indirectly or in more creative ways. It’s easier to make that clear goal or vision, which enables you to choose classes that will be the most relevant when it’s come to applying what you’ve studied on the job.

Find the right school for you. 

As an adult, you’re likely to have other responsibilities and time constraints to think about in addition to the classes you’re considering. You want to find a school that offers not only the program or degree you want, plus a great department of faculty and administration for support but also the class times and formats that fit your needs. This is the perfect time to decide if you want all online classes (if offered), a hybrid option, or all on-campus/in-person courses!

Also, be sure to know the deadlines for everything like FAFSA and other financial aid requirements if you are applying for that, application deadlines and requirements, such as transcripts or test scores if the school requires them.

Dot your I’s and cross your T’s.

As the process continues and the start of the semester looms closer, do your best to stay on the ball and have all that fin aid, admissions/enrollment steps, and registration for classes taken care of a good while before the calendar start of the new semester. I recommend at least a month before the day of the first class. That way, you’re not end up scrambling to get that foundation set and the big details are taken care of, and you won’t be starting the semester already stressed out!

Prep your schedule. 

Speak with your student advisors about your curriculum requirements and scheduling needs to understand the amount of time you’ll have to devote to study and class. As an adult student, you have plenty of things going on in your life. Begin adapting your schedule in those weeks leading up to the start of the semester to ease your transition as classes begin. Also, give yourself room for some flexibility when it comes to study time and commuting!

Develop a studying routine that is productive and efficient.

If you’re going to get good grades and succeed in a college atmosphere, you’re going to have to hit the books and do some serious studying. Many traditional college students work part-time or have no jobs at all, and have plenty of free time left for studying. Adult students have many more responsibilities that eat up free time, which can make studying (and college success) more of a challenge long-term.

Build regular study time into your schedule, and avoid distractions and other obligations while you’re digging into course material. If you’re a parent, it may be worth it to get your kids involved in other activities during your study time— have them join clubs, take them to a rec center, learn a new skill or hobby at a community art or music class, or pass them off to another adult family member/partner for a while. This will keep your kids preoccupied while you focus on building knowledge, completing assignments, and preparing for exams.

Get everything you need for class.

Not as much as you may think. Most college checklists are geared solely towards recent high school graduate freshmen. Not exactly helpful in this case, unless you’re still in your early 20s and moving on campus right away. That isn’t something I can objectively advise on (yet) – but finding the checklists that currently exist on the web and pragmatically picking and choosing according to your needs is the next best thing!

Adults would benefit from focusing more on the office supplies for notetaking & study. Things like a tablet or laptop if you are a techie can also dramatically downsize your load. If you prefer a more tangible route, consider binders and filler paper, notebooks, pens and pencils – and the old school ctrl z – white out. When it comes to books that you plan to return (if not utilizing the online e-book edition), tab pages with stick notes or those adhesive page flags that come in colourful packs and underline passages (sparingly) with a pencil to remove later. Otherwise, highlight away! A small stapler and a folder might also be a good idea for any of those handouts or paper print outs that will come your way.

Some other supply considerations: eye drops for those tired, dry eyes after hours of studying and screen time, hand cream or balm in the winter months, Band-Aids for those inevitable paper cuts, pain reliever (trust me) for the tension headaches, and portable snacks or quick meal options! Of course, something to carry everything in – like a backpack or messenger bag

Pro tip: noise cancelling headphones! Good for either listening to music on low to make studying less of a chore, listening to class material or just muffling any environmental noises that interrupt concentration.

Create the best possible study space.

Keep your course and study materials at your fingertips. But you’ll also need a working tablet or computer and Internet access no matter if you have online or on-campus classes. Create a clean, quiet, and organized space where you can be free from major distractions and can focus on the task at hand – learning the material and hopefully retaining it all!

Your study space could be a room in your house, a corner of the library, or a peaceful setting outdoors. Wherever you decide to study, be sure it’s in a place where you can dedicate your attention to your coursework. This designation can potentially increase your success with future assignments.

A last note to my fellow adult students: don’t sweat it. You’re here at college to learn just like everyone else. Whether this is your first time in college ever, or a second or third attempt, focus on the material and the experience. Enjoy the journey and participate!

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