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Becoming a Successful Adult Student


Adults returning to the fold of academia often find themselves intimidated, anxious, hesitant, unsure of how they will measure up to students younger and already acclimated to the rigors and rhythms of higher education. Adult learners, sometimes called mature students, should take a few extra steps in preparing themselves for the transition back to school. Success for adult learners can be just as much about adjustment as it is about the school work itself. To pave a confident path back to school, consider the following tips.

Create a Study Space

If you don't have separate office space in your home, carve out a corner to serve as study space. Make sure this space is anchored with your computer, internet connection, printer, and any other accessories you need: make your online time as efficient as possible. If you have a laptop and benefit from changing up your physical location, find spots that can sustain you for long intervals. Try and make your study spaces sacred, separate from other aspects of your life and free from distractions. Note: your computer itself is a source of distraction. Compartmentalize on the computer. Avoid personal and business matters during your study time. Allot separate times to check personal and work email, pay online bills, read the news, monitor your social networks, and whatever else you may do online.

Time Management

For an adult student already juggling a career and family obligations, managing time requires vigilance and organization. Keep a calendar. Organize yourself monthly, weekly, and daily. There may be obvious intervals of time for study. Take the extra step and allocate them as study sessions. Block them out as you would work or appointments; they cannot be canceled or rescheduled or interrupted. There may also be less obvious times for study. If you assess your daily schedule, charting each hour of the day, you may discover times that you can exploit for studying. Assign these times just the same, as sacred study sessions that you must attend. Once you have solid study sessions in place, schedule them in your calendar as repeat appointments. You want to avoid scrambling for time. You want to avoid squeezing in studying between other responsibilities. You want studying to become a natural part of your schedule.


Returning to school is going to affect your budget. Depending on how you finance your education, paying for school may require minor sacrifices or a completely new way of thinking about and spending money. Adults are often awarded less grant and scholarship money that doesn't need to be repaid. If student loans are your main source of education funding, borrow with restraint and borrow no more than necessary. Repayment should not a be notion deferred until graduation: while in school, adults students should adhere to a strict budget. Avoid accruing credit card debit, and make pains to save money dedicated to future repayment. Consider holding off enrollment until you can accumulate a good chunk of savings. Look into lower interest rates for your mortgage or credit card debt. Resist trying to uphold your previous standard of living and live frugally.

Customize Your Study Techniques

Explore a variety of study techniques and determine which ones work best for your course of study. You may be in a program with a tremendous amount of reading, in which case you want to train yourself to read for absorption, retention, recall. Or you may be in courses heavy on math and science that require a different tack. Further, studying is not isolated to the time you spend in your study space or to the intense interval in which you process the central ideas of your course work. Studying depends on how you process class lectures and discussions, how you prepare and contextualize, how you review and assess. There are countless techniques students can employ--on note-taking, critical reading, paper writing, idea mapping, lab reporting, and so on. Tap online and college resources for those techniques best suited for you and your course work.

Stress Management

Despite your best efforts, you will inevitably find yourself, at some point, overwhelmed with a college workload. Keep in mind some ways to manage stress and reclaim a healthy balance in your life.

  • Take A Deep Breath - In fact, take a few deep breaths. In fact, whenever you find yourself anxious or scattered or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. It is one of the most natural, and cheapest, ways to find some calm.
  • One Thing At A Time - You can only do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking may seem like the only solution but your concentration will suffer. Do one thing and do it well before moving onto the next thing.
  • Nobody Is Perfect - Keep perfectionism in check. Don't berate yourself over small typos or errors or mistakes. Don't hold yourself to unattainable standards. Work hard, do your best, and aim high but accept that there will be bumps and shortcomings along the way.
  • Assess Your Schedule - Is there anything that can drop off your list of things to do? Is there anything you can delegate? Is there anything that can move around to make room for what is immediately important? Sometimes we dutifully adhere to schedules when they need not apply. Modify and tweak your schedule as needed.
  • Think Of The Future - Remind yourself of your goals. Keep in mind the rewards of your education and that, despite the chaos or stress happening right this minute, you are on a fruitful and positive path forward.
  • Talk About It - Talk, vent, rant. Sometimes just getting the stress out of your system and into the open helps. Talk to your family and friends. Commiserate with fellow students. Don't go at this alone and don't keep it all in.
  • Clear Your Head - Dismiss the idea that you don't have time to relax. Even taking five or ten minutes to sit down and clear your head can help. Time to yourself and for yourself is time that will pay off when you return to task collected and focused.
  • Take Care of Yourself - Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Make time for exercise a few times a week. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. If it isn't already said enough, smoking is bad for you. Get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Your health is key to sustaining the intensity and duration of higher education.
  • "How to Set Up a Home Office 1/10 ("
  • 1/10 (; "Time Management for Tips for Continuing Education Students" Online Education Database 1/10 (
  • Study Guides & Strategies 1/10 (
  • "Stress Management" 1/10 (
  • "Is Going Back To School Too Risky Right Now?" by Hager Scher, Redbook, (
  • The Adult Student's Guide to Survival & Success, 6th Ed, Al Siebert, PhD & Mary Karr, MS, Practical Psychology Press, 2008

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