How To Return to School as an Adult

Gone Are the Days When the Student Body at a Higher Educational Institution Had a Fixed Age-Range

Education today has undergone a radical change, mainly as a result of technological advancement in communication methods over the past two decades. Distance education, e-learning methods, virtual universities, part-time evening study programs, and weekend courses have all allowed professionals, from corporate executives to managerial-level employees, to housewives/single mothers as well as the elderly, to enroll into school as students, at any point in their lives. The courses or modes of education undertaken vary, from short certificate courses lasting over a few weeks or months, to longer, undergraduate- or graduate-degree programs, such as Bachelors, Masters, MPhil or Doctorate (PhD), which require dedicated study spanning a few years.

An individual who returns to school as an adult might not have attended a formal classroom lecture or been a student for several years. Therefore, a school might understandably feel somewhat alien to them. The adult student's lifestyle and familial role might also have changed considerably since their college days -- now, they might be married and/or parents to children, and probably working full-time at a regular day job. These factors can make returning to school as an adult challenging and demanding. The student therefore, needs to plan and follow the steps below to make returning to school as an adult easier:

  1. Choose the school and study program that suits you: Whether you are well-aware of what you want to study (e.g a short Montessori Teacher Certification Course or a Bachelors in Information Technology) or just starting out with a desire to gain knowledge in one of several areas of your varied interests, you need to do your research and finalize the institution and program you will be enrolling into.

    For this, if you are a comparitively senior citizen, you will first need to gain enough knowledge of the computer to be able to work on it with ease, since almost all study programs today require computer operating proficiency and ability to use Internet/email. Therefore, you need to get typing and clicking on that computer quickly!

    The things you need to research in order to decide on a study program are listed below:

    The institution of higher learning: You need to thoroughly search the Internet for available certificate programs or university degrees in order to make the right choice. Every university has its own fully-equipped website in this day and age. There are entire portals having information about all the institutions in the world, classified according to the type of education they are offering. You can also pay and register online for the chosen program, or order more material regarding courses and fee structure.

    Financing: Fee structure is an important factor each individual will need to consider, depending on the amount of money they can dish out for their education.

    Location: Whether the institution is near your residence, or near your workplace, or in a different city or country altogether where you will have to relocate -- with or without your family -- are other factors that will affect your choice of program. Some people are willing to relocate to any place in the world as long as they receive a partial or full scholarship for their study. Others, who finance their own studies, prefer to pick the best programs that offer fast-track modes of degree completion.

    Mode of study: There are several "virtual" universities that offer purely online courses. For this mode of education, the student never leaves their own home or office in order to study. However, unless you are a very self-disciplined and committed individual who can strictly set and follow deadlines, you should opt for a course of study that requires at least some level of physical class attendance and actual contact with course lecturers.

    Adult students have more study options simply because they are independent and possess the financial resources to make their own decisions (rather than have their parents do the honor). Therefore, they need to be very thorough in getting information about finances, accommodation and duration of the program into which they wish to enroll. 

  2. Man in the classroomPlan your weekly study schedule: Make an outline or table of your weekly activities, which will probably involve some family commitments, career-related must-do's, and personal leisure time. Divide your time on a weekly and daily basis in such a manner that you can find time to study.
  3. Study at a local library if you can: Studying as an adult cannot be done at home, particularly when cramming before examinations, unless you have a remote home office or study, in addition to a family that fully cooperates with you regarding your privacy needs (i.e they will not knock on your door for petty reasons when you are studying). Therefore, get membership to a good library nearby where you can study in silence for a few hours, according to your schedule. Scolding your children for making noise whilst playing on weekends is just not fair, just because you need to pursue further education at this stage in your life. The library is a great way to solve this problem, which most adults face when they become students after having children.
  4. Cash in on periods of privacy: This could mean waking up an hour earlier to review for your quiz when the house is quiet, or chucking your novels and newspapers for textbooks while riding the tube or subway to work, or taking along your class audio lectures on your iPod during your run in the park, or going to a coffee bar with your laptop to work on your assignment for an hour or so; whatever time you have to yourself, utilize it to the fullest.
  5. Do not compare yourself to younger students; just focus on doing your best: As someone who has taught eclectic groups of teens, young adults and the elderly, the greatest factor I noticed hindering educational progress of the older students was their preoccupation with how and why the younger ones were doing better than them in tests and exams. "They have more time to study", or "They do not have family responsibilities", or "They have a sharper memory"... Such comparisons not only impeded the older students' concentration in class, but also made them feel inadequate; they didn't realize that the comparison was not fair to begin with. Therefore, as an adult, when you return to school, you have to make sure you stop such negative thoughts from becoming an obstacle in your path to academic success.

The one important thing to remember is that returning to school as an adult will not be easy, and yes, the younger ones in your class will always have their sharper mental abilities and comparitively more responsibility-free lives to their advantage. However, this should not bog you down if you keep your goal in mind and work hard to honor your commitment to getting a good further education.

Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes regularly for the Islamic Family Magazine, Hiba. She has also recently self-published her first book.

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You are so right. More and more adults are returning to the classroom, for training sessions, workshops, or other reasons. And yes it does feel a bit....different!

By Sadaf Farooqi

Thank you so much, Marion! I had to motivate my older students very regularly because they would be demoralized by their younger classmates' better progress. I particularly remember this lady my mother's age who had arthritis in her hands, which made it difficult for her to write at the needed speed during class.

By Sadaf Farooqi

Hi Sadaf -- You make some wonderful points about not comparing yourself to a younger generation. I went to college 20 years out of high school and it was so much fun getting to know college students that were my daughters' ages and being able to relate to them as adults. In hindsight, it helped me tremendously in how I treated my teenage children. Keep up with the great articles. What you write about is very interesting. Marion

By Marion Cornett

You seem to write from experience. Great!

By Mary Norton