An exceptional education can prepare you for a great career, and even arm you with skills you’ll use in your family or personal life. School prepares you for the real world, but it’s also a unique universe all its own. The right mindset is a key ingredient in the recipe for student success. If you want to thrive when you return to school, you must be prepared to tackle your classes head-on, even if you’re juggling numerous other responsibilities.
Navigating the transition back to college demands some preparation, an open mind, and support from the right institution. Here’s how to reset your mind so you can excel from day one.
Identify Your Biggest Student Success Barriers
Sixty percent of college students say they have contemplated a return to school, but that costs deter them. It doesn’t have to be this way. The right financial aid package can help you afford college without taking on an unmanageable debt load. To solve this problem, though, you first have to identify the specific challenges you face, whether it’s losing money from taking time off from work or taking on more debt when your credit cards are already crushing you.
The same is true for every other distraction you face. Spend some time thinking about the biggest obstacles you might face. Some common challenges include:
- Your job. You might need to take time off from work, reduce your hours, or even change jobs.
- Family. Family can be a font of support, but it can also be a huge drain—especially if you have young kids or an unsupportive spouse. Consider how child care issues, reduced time with your kids, and simply missing your family when you’re doing schoolwork may compromise your education.
- Social life. Humans are social creatures. We all thrive on relationships. If you’re juggling childcare, work, and school, it can be hard to keep up with the people you need the most during stressful times.
- Health. Some students struggle with unique health needs. A returning veteran might have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that makes in-person classes feel overwhelming. Depression can sap motivation. Chronic illnesses like diabetes and arthritis may lower your energy and add another responsibility to juggle.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? That may actually be a good thing. Being realistic about your concerns now can help you develop a plan to manage them today, rather than trying to run triage on an endless list of problems while studying for a final exam.
Devise a Plan for Managing Distraction
Once you’ve identified your biggest distractions and barrier to success, it’s time to cobble together strategies for managing them. Ask yourself the following:
- Which barriers can I eliminate? For example, you don’t have to make your kids’ homemade school lunches every night. If you coach a child’s football team, consider stepping back to assistant coach or enthusiastic spectator next year.
- Who can help me? Now is the time to lean on the people you love the most. Ask for help when and where you need it, then return the favor when you can.
- What are my financial aid options? The right financial aid package can tear down many obstacles. For example, you may be able to fund some of your living expenses with the right combination of grants and loans.
- What can I do to integrate college into my life? Making friends at school can help you meet your social needs while studying hard. Online classes allow you to do schoolwork wherever you are.
- Do I need to convince the people in my life to buy into my plan? Getting your spouse and kids on board may encourage them to offer additional help—and tolerate the occasional frustration. Help them understand how your return to school can mean more money, more time, and a better life over the long-term.
Mentally Prepare Yourself for the Transition to School
If you want to be fully mentally prepared for school, you must have a clear, consistent reason for enrolling. Seventy-three percent of students cite increased earning potential as a prime motivator in their decision to go back to college. Whether you want a better job, more money, a more fulfilling career, or a second shot at a thwarted dream, keeping your eye on this prize is critical to your success.
Consider writing a list of the reasons you want to go to school. When you contemplate the challenges you’ll face, consider how your degree might help you overcome those challenges in the future. For example, if you’re concerned about the cost of attending school, remember that you’ll likely make more upon graduation, so the financial struggles are temporary. If time with family is a primary issue, remind yourself that the extra work is temporary. With the right post-graduation job, you’ll likely have more time to enjoy with your family—and a more secure lifestyle that can make family time less stressful.
When things get tough—such as when you’re juggling a kids’ school performance, a big deadline at work, and end-of-the-semester projects—consult your list of reasons for returning to school. A little inspiration can take you far.
Implement the Right Student Success Plan
Try these tactics to improve your chances of success as you shift your focus toward your education:
- Learn as much as you can. Read blogs and websites dedicated to returning students. A book such as Never Too Late helps set your expectations while offering practical, actionable tips.
- Choose the right learning modality for your lifestyle and educational goals. Many students can save time with an online-only model.
- Treat your time as a valuable resource. Time may be the most valuable thing you have. You can’t earn or borrow more. So guard it. Schedule each day with an eye toward focusing on the things that matter most, then stick to the schedule.
- Eliminate time-wasters. In-person meetings that could happen on the phone, going to the store in the middle of rush hour, power struggles with your toddler, and other daily frustrations can burn through time and deplete your motivation. Focus on what really matters, and implement novel strategies to more effectively use your time.
- Work with your boss. Your return to school may greatly benefit your job, particularly if you plan to stay with your company. Ask your boss about accommodations to help you attend classes. Can you work from home one day a week? Come in earlier and leave earlier? Attend meetings remotely? Anything that saves time and gives you more control over your schedule can help you succeed.
- Get a plan together for your kids and family. Commit to finding reliable childcare with a provider whom you trust to care for and teach your children. Ask your spouse to pitch in more. If you can afford to do so, outsource tasks such as house cleaning and grocery shopping.
- Consider any previous college experience you’ve had. What was most difficult for you? What can you do to avoid those difficulties now?
- Focus on your mental health. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other challenges can make it difficult to keep your head in the game. If you have a history of negative academic experiences, those can color your perceptions of school and even affect your self-worth. If you fear failure, experience anxiety about the return to school, or face other psychological challenges, partner with a therapist to train your mind for success.
Choose the Right School
Some schools are much better equipped to support adult learners than others. SNU designs our unique programs to adapt to the evolving needs of enrollees with numerous responsibilities. Our online model of education empowers you to do coursework on your own terms and timeline, while our flexible, in-person classes help you complete your degree with the time commitment of one night a week. Thanks to our cohort-based learning model, you’ll never feel alone, and you will begin building your professional network from the moment you enroll.
The wrong school throws up constant barriers to student success, while the right college offers a clear path with plenty of options. Before you enroll, ask the following questions:
- Is the school accredited? Do employers respect this institution?
- What is the application and enrollment process? Do I have to wait for an enrollment period or take admissions tests?
- Can I get credit for prior learning so I can graduate sooner?
- Does the school offer night or online classes?
- What are my financial aid options? Can my chosen school help me complete financial aid paperwork?
No matter what your future holds, SNU can help you get closer to your goals. To learn more tips for student success and to explore your degree options, subscribe to our blog!