Tips for Adults Going Back to School

Making the Transition Back into the Classroom as an Adult Learner

Three adults learners in a classroom adjust to going back to school.
Going back to school will be an adult is an adjust for your whole family. Photo © Stockbyte / Getty Images

As a single parent, making the decision to go back to school will affect your whole family. You can make the transition easier on all of you by planning ahead with these tips:

Set Realistic Goals

What do you hope to accomplish by going back to school? Come up with some clear, specific goals — such as "To finish my nursing degree, secure a better-paying job, and eventually, buy a home." Then, with those goals in mind, give yourself permission to let go of some lesser priorities while you're in school.

This might mean that your house won't be perfectly clean, or that the bathroom isn't going to get painted until the semester break, and that's okay.

Prepare Your Kids

Though your kids may not know it yet, your journey back to school will be a joint effort. You're going to need their help more than ever to contribute to the household chores, stay on top of their own schoolwork, and willingly participate in managing the household. Decide ahead of time how you're going to accomplish this. Will you offer rewards? Allowance? Restrict their privileges if their chores aren't done? Also, consider what you might need to teach your children before you head back to the classroom. Do they need to learn how to make their lunches? Put in a load of laundry? Doing this ahead of time will make the transition easier for all of you.

Be Organized

Your time is going to be even more limited than it already is, especially if you will be working full time and taking care of your kids while you take classes.

One of the best things that you can do for yourself is to prepare in advance. Do this by getting yourself and your kids into a regular after-school routine so that each family member knows his or her evening responsibilities. In addition, if you don't currently use a calendar to keep track of your family's busy schedule, begin doing that and teach your whole family how to use the calendar as well, so that they can plan their own activities around your classroom and work schedule.

Update Your Technical Knowledge

If it's been awhile since you've been in a classroom, you may find that you need to brush up on your technological skills. Many professors now expect you to e-mail your work instead of turning in traditional typed papers. In addition, you may be expected to participate in an online list serve as part of your course work. Most schools offer free training seminars for adult learners to need to need to gain confidence in these essential technological skills. Look into your school's Student Technology Center to access the learning opportunities available to you, or take advantage of About.com's About U, a collection of free online courses.

Seek Out Single Parent Scholarships

Be sure to look into the grants and scholarships that may be available to you, as well, before going back to school. Many community colleges and larger universities offer their own single parent scholarships for eligible students. To find out what's available, contact your school's financial aid office or search for legitimate grants and scholarships for single parents online.

Now that you've made the commitment to take some college courses, you need to figure out how you'll fit them into your busy life. Here are some tips adults in college can use to make the adjustment easier:

Take Care of Yourself
While you're going back to school, don't neglect your need to sleep and eat well. After all, you're pushing your mind and body to greater heights during this time. Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks, water, and a light dinner for the nights you'll be in class.

In addition, consider arriving a few minutes early if possible so that you're not rushed and more likely to feel flustered.

Manage Your Time Effectively
As a student, your time is more limited than ever. Resist the urge to wait for the perfect time to tackle your schoolwork. After all, you're probably not going to find a lot of long stretches in your schedule where you can do your schoolwork uninterrupted. Instead, use small chunks of "me time" whenever you can. This may mean doing some of the required reading on your lunch hour, before your kids wake up each morning, or while they're doing their own homework at night.

Find Out What Your School Has to Offer
Most colleges and universities offer special programs for adults in college classes, including career counseling, child care, and technology courses. Contact you the Office of Student Affairs at your school to find out what programs are available to you.

Attend New Student Orientation
With your busy schedule, you may be tempted to skip those optional new student orientation activities. However, they offer a great opportunity to ask questions, meet other new students, and get oriented to the campus, so even when finding child care is inconvenient, attending these sessions is usually worth your time.

Broaden Your Social Network
Going back to school is also a great opportunity to meet new people. Chances are, you won't be the only mature learner in your class, either. So don't be shy or make assumptions that others won't want to get to know you. Instead, make an effort to introduce yourself to one or two students in each of your classes. Also, try to find at least one person in every class with whom you can swap phone numbers and e-mail addresses. This way, if either of you has a question or needs to unexpectedly miss a class, you'll have someone to call.