Planning a return to college as an adult? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the dozens of decisions you must make, the time management challenges, and sometimes by the nagging suspicion that perhaps you’re not really cut out for this.
One of the things you probably learned in school — a lesson that will be repeated during your return to college — is the power of fiction to help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. The right movies can help you relax with your family, remind everyone why you’re going back to school, and inspire you to keep pressing forward.
How Movies Can Help You Transition Back to School
It might seem strange to spend the weeks before your return to school watching movies. After all, shouldn't you be studying or setting up your home office?
The right movie is more than just entertainment. It helps you get into the right frame of mind for returning to school. And as it turns out, mindset matters a lot for academic success. Students who endorse a growth mindset — the idea that working hard matters most, not innate talent or skill — outperform their peers academically.
You also need a bit of a break. Returning to school is no small feat. There’s going to be a lot of work, and odds are good there are times when you’ll feel discouraged or overwhelmed. A movie break can remind you why you’re attending school, inspire you to keep pushing forward, or just give you a good laugh about the absurdity of balancing everything all at once.
Movies for Back-to-School Inspiration
1. “Mona Lisa Smile”
College has come a long way since the 1950s, especially for women. This Julia Roberts flick features an art teacher helping women look beyond their prescribed gender roles to consider what life could really be. For women considering college, it’s a chance to reflect on how college opens doors and upends harmful social norms.
2. “The Great Debaters”
A good argument can change the world — and the foundation of every good argument is sound knowledge. This movie tells the saga of a tiny school’s debate team that challenged Harvard, as well as plenty of stereotypes. It’s a true David and Goliath tale that everyone who has ever struggled academically can relate to.
This intense story shows one perspective on the genesis of Facebook. It has a little of everything and is set on a college campus, so it should get you in the right mindset. Mark Zuckerberg famously dropped out of Harvard, so you might think this movie is a college deterrent. It’s not. Instead it shows how the relationships you form in college can dictate the course of your life, no matter which classes you take or how long you attend.
4. “Back to School”
Feeling a little anxious about heading back to college? Sometimes humor is the best medicine to calm frayed nerves. Watch Rodney Dangerfield head back to school to support his son. Predictably, hilarity ensues. No matter how nervous you feel about your return to college, it can’t possibly be as bad as Dangerfield’s academic debut.
Showing that truly anything is possible, “The Pursuit of Happyness” features a father working his way out of homelessness and poverty and into a better life for his family. Improving your life is not for the faint of heart, and it usually involves myriad setbacks — and a few naysayers. This movie shows that it’s possible to work through the setbacks, so you can come back and say, “I told you so!”
Is there anything quite as inspirational as the training montage in “Rocky”? Sure, it has nothing to do with school at first blush, but dig a little deeper: the effort and commitment involved are the same. “Rocky” has inspired generations to get up, get moving, and do the impossible.
The fundamental insight of “Rudy” is that we can all do hard things, no matter what setbacks we face or challenges we are born with. “Rudy” takes place on a college campus, but teaches lessons about relationships, education, and the value of meaningful hobbies. If the character Rudy can move forward, so can you.
If you need a reminder that education, even on highly complex topics, can be truly riveting and life-changing, “The Theory of Everything” is perfect. The tale blends romance with hardcore academia, weaving principles of physics and science into the inspirational tale of Stephen Hawking and Jane Hawking, the author Hawking eventually married.
9. “Dead Poets Society”
This movie tops everyone’s list of favorite films about academic life. If you’re having trouble immersing yourself in school, “Dead Poets Society” reminds you that education is about more than getting a job, and that learning for learning’s sake can be deeply rewarding.
10. “Freedom Writers”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the rigors of academic life. “Freedom Writers” shares the story of an inspirational teacher who inspired struggling students to look beyond high school. Rather than implying that hard work fixes all, it shows the very real struggles these students face, and it shows how meaningful relationships, the right support and ongoing commitment — even when facing myriad obstacles — can help a person move beyond these challenges. This is the ideal flick if you wonder if you’re a good fit for college, or if you faced a bumpy start when you first enrolled in school.
Getting the Return to School Right
Whether you’re weighing the benefits of a return to school or getting into gear for your first day back, a few simple strategies can make your return to school as productive and pleasant as possible. These strategies can help:
Choose the right school.
An institution that specializes in adult learners knows how to help you complete your degree quickly, with as little disruption to your life as possible. The school’s accreditation is also critical, because regional accreditation means your degree will be more valuable and your transfer credits will likely go with you if you move to a different school.
Get your plan together.
Who will watch your kids? Can you take time off of work to attend classes? Returning to college can change your life, but it can also disrupt it, so make sure you know exactly what you need to succeed.
Choose the right degree program.
Consider job opportunities in your area, how much you need to earn to support yourself, and how likely you are to find a job. Fast-growing fields and those with higher-than-average earnings are wise choices.
Remember your motivation.
Try making a list of the reasons you’re returning to college, so you can stay on track when things get tough. The right soundtrack and a few of the above movies may also help you remain motivated.
SNU knows how to serve adult learners because we’ve designed numerous programs just for them. We want to help you succeed, and we know that part of that requires flexible scheduling and exceptional instructors.
To learn more about how to juggle your many roles, check out our free infographic “Time Management Tips for Adult Students.”