There are many difficult obstacles that one must overcome to be a successful adult learner in higher education. Having fears about starting courses in higher education is common with all students, traditional and nontraditional. But, as an adult learner you are able to bring life experiences into the classroom, which will help you easily make connections between course work and daily life, and allow you to always see the bigger picture beyond the classroom. In Becoming a Master Student, author Dave Ellis outlines ten suggestions for adult learners to succeed in higher education at any age. These tips are aimed at adult learners, but some can apply to traditional students as well!

  1. Take it slow: If it’s been a while since you’ve been in the classroom or you’ve never taken a college-level class, you might think about attending school part-time to test it out before committing to a full-time program. Additionally, talk with a representative from your school and find out if any college-level classes you’ve taken in the past will count as academic credits towards your degree.
  2. Plan your schedule: Arrange your schedule ahead of time, so that you can see how your time will be divided between your multiple roles as student, employee and part of a family. Make changes you feel necessary, to ensure your life stays balanced and therefore stress-free. For example, if you know that you’re going to have a lot of responsibilities in your home life, consider registering for fewer classes that semester. Also, try to balance your classes each semester by limiting classes that are heavily focused on writing or reading.
  3. Find helpers: Ask for assistance from your family on household tasks and meal preparation. Try finding neighbors who would be interested in participating in a meal co-op or exchanging child care services.
  4. Connect with fellow adult learners: Get to know the other adult learners in your classes, as you might find you have an immediate bond. Exchange contact information and work together on completing assignments and preparing for tests. Also, look into what your school offers for adult learner organizations, as this would be a great place to meet people and create personal connections which will help you succeed in the classroom.
  5. Discover connections with traditional students: While it’s beneficial to connect with fellow adult learners, you should also get to know traditional students. You’ll be surprised how much you have in common! Traditional students are less likely to have real life experiences that they can apply to class; therefore, they will seek to gain real-world knowledge from you.  Younger students may also have strengths that you do not have.  For example, if you need help using technology, you could ask them for help and offer your assistance in case studies and group projects, as you can bring insights from your experiences.
  6. Communicate with your employer: Be open and honest with your employer about your educational plans. Share with them the skills you’ll gain in the classroom and how those will benefit you in your current position. Additionally, check to see if your employer reimburses for the cost of tuition.
  7. Connect current tasks to your career: Try to relate your school assignments to your job. For example, when you have a writing assignment choose a topic that relates to your current tasks at work. Also, some schools offer academic credits for work experience. Be sure to check with your institution to see if you can leverage your work experience for academic credits.
  8. Study your class schedule: Check the course pre-requisites and see if you need to brush up on the basics of the subject. Reach out to the instructor and see if there are any materials that may help you prepare for the start of the class.
  9. Share your personal calendar: Once you have your class schedule, plan your study schedule as well. Hang this calendar in a common place where everyone you live with can easily find it.
  10.  Include your family and friends: Deciding to go back to school is a big commitment and you should discuss this with your family and friends ahead of time. Let them know what your expectations are and share your successes with them. Let them know why you decided to peruse a degree and talk about what everyone in your family will gain from you continuing your education. (pp. 19-20)

Have additional tips to share with adult learners? Join the conversation below in the comments section.

Reference: Content adapted from Ellis, Dave. 2013. Becoming a Master Student. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.