Tips for Going Back to School as an Adult


Going back to school as an adult is the first step towards a promotion, better job, or higher earning potential. But, as an adult learner, you probably find that you have different struggles than some of your student peers. Being a nontraditional learner definitely presents some unique challenges as you juggle several roles.

The key to success is mastering solid study skills early. You may need to find a different approach than you took in high school, though. As you mature, your learning process changes. We’re here to offer a few tips that may help you on your journey.

Find Your Motivation

Why are you going back to school? Are you hoping to hand a promotion? Are you ready to tackle the next phase in your career? Are you hoping to improve your earning potential? Whatever your motivation, jot it down and post it in your study area. When the coursework challenges you (and it will – college is a time for growth, no matter what stage of life you are in), it will help to remember what you are working towards. Don’t be afraid to give yourself visual reminders of your goal, and share your “why” with your family and friends.

Develop a Schedule that Works

Whether you are going back to school full-time, or simply taking a class or two to round out your skill set, find a schedule that works for you. Are you more focused in the morning? Focus on scheduling classes before 11:00 am. Do you prefer to learn in the evening? Take a night class. Often, classes are offered either in person or on demand. If you are able to choose an online class, take the coursework when it works for your work schedule and your family schedule.

Start Slow

If you are just re-entering the academic world, don’t think you need to fill your schedule right away. Start slow with one or two classes and get yourself back in the mode to study again.

Online or In-Person

There are a lot of advantages to online coursework – the ability to log on whenever you can and learn at your own pace tops the list. Many people prefer in-person coursework, though, because they need the classroom setting and accountability to succeed. Decide which format works for you and look for classes that will suit your learning style. Schools like Iowa Valley offer both online and in-person options.

Attend Class

College is a participation sport. Be sure that you attend every scheduled class (whether online or in person). Attendance is key to success – you can ask questions and learn from your peers. Be sure you are taking notes on key subject matter. Pay attention to what your instructor spends the most time on – this is key information for you to focus on. Participate in classroom discussions. Be brave – share your opinions and listen as others share their opinions.

Study Skills to Try

There is no wrong way to study, but some methods work better for some people. Experiment with listening to and watching lectures while taking notes. Work to engage with the material, looking for real-world examples of the coursework you are studying. (Engaging with the material may be as simple as watching the news or listening to a podcast that pertains to the subject.) Think about examples from your work life that may lend credibility to the lessons you are learning in the classroom.

Don’t be afraid to study as a group. You will bring something different to the discussions than traditional students – and that can be a benefit to both you and them. Chances are if you are struggling to comprehend something, one of your classmates may be able to help you “get it.”

Going back to school can be intimidating at any age. Just know that you aren’t alone in your endeavor. There is a support system in both the credit and non-credit divisions. The people at Marshalltown Community College, Ellsworth Community College, and Business and Community Solutions are here to help you succeed!