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The Greatest Obstacles to Graduation (And How to Overcome Them)

The Greatest Obstacles to Graduation (And How to Overcome Them)

Returning to college as an adult learner turns the page to the next chapter of your life. Graduation can mean access to more and better jobs, higher earnings, and more financial security—particularly during recessions and other economic disasters. That doesn’t mean the path to completing your degree is always easy or free of twists and turns. Here are the greatest barriers to graduation and what you can do to surmount them. 

Financial Constraints 

College demands a delicate financial balancing act. So a sudden unexpected bill or change in your financial aid status could have lasting consequences for your degree. Most research suggests that financial stress correlates with a higher risk of dropping out. That doesn’t mean you’re at the mercy of fate, nor that a job change or family emergency has to sideline your dreams. These strategies can help you stay in school even when financial problems loom large: 

  • Apply early for financial aid so that you know exactly how much money you’ll have available. 
  • Meet with the financial aid office each semester to understand how to keep your financial aid. 
  • Choose a program that allows you to keep working. SNU’s innovative online and night course options ensure you can keep your day job, freeing you to attend school without incurring a financial hardship. 
  • Fast-track your graduation with credit for previous courses and prior learning. The faster you can graduate, the less money you will spend and the less likely you will be to hit financial aid limits. 

Family Commitments 

For most people, family comes first. So when your family needs something, school might begin to feel less important. Whether it’s a sick parent, kids who are struggling with spending more time in child care, or a spouse who needs additional support, all adult students must confront the unique family challenges of returning to school. Some strategies that can prevent family challenges from slowing your progress include: 

  • Get support before you enroll. Talk to your spouse and your kids about how their lives might change, then work together to identify the benefits of your return to school. 
  • Get buy-in from loved ones. Ask them for specific help to ease your household, family, and caregiving duties. 
  • Line up child care with someone you trust, whether it’s a paid sitter or beloved family member. 
  • Commit to meaningful family time each week. When your loved ones can count on you to be fully present on a regular basis, they’ll be better equipped to tolerate your absences. 

Regain control over each precious hour of your day with these life-enhancing  time management tips for adult students.

Work Conflicts 

Going to school is expensive, and it may temporarily mean a loss of income and an increase in expenses. So when your job calls, it might be tempting to answer the call—even if you have to quit classes. That’s doubly true for students accepting raises and more responsibilities. The reality, though, is that college graduates earn significantly more than non-graduates. You might be able to bring in a few extra bucks with more work, but the investment you put in now will pay off in the long run. Remind yourself of this fact when you feel overwhelmed by expenses and tempted to quit. 

Some people also find that their academic load undermines their time at work. To address this conflict, try the following: 

  • Allow enough time in your schedule between work and school. If you’re fighting traffic to get to work or to get to school, you’ll be in a state of endless stress. 
  • Ask your boss about modifying your work schedule or working from home some days. If your degree will make you more valuable at work, your employer might be willing to work with you. 
  • Look into financial aid to help cover the full costs of college attendance. This may help eliminate the need to take on additional hours to make ends meet. 


Attending college inevitably adds more work to your life. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, that’s a recipe for disaster. Keep your workload manageable by taking just a class at a time. SNU’s one-course model helps you focus on your studies without juggling too much. You may even graduate faster because you won’t repeat, fail, or drop classes. 

Feeling Academically Overwhelmed 

School can be hard, especially if you choose a rigorous, demanding program that truly prepares you for the working world. About half of students worry that they don’t have the ability to complete their coursework. Others get unexpected bad grades, and they fear that they’ll invest a good deal of money in a degree program in which they can’t succeed. A solid degree program offers work in digestible bites, as well as ample support from your professor and peers. 

Committing enough time to school is critical to reducing feelings of exhaustion, stress, and overwhelm. Plan to spend some time studying each day. If you struggle, alert your professor early so you can correct the course before you’re dealing with bad grades. 

Difficulties with New Learning Models 

Online learning saves time, money, and stress. It allows you to attend classes from wherever you feel comfortable. And for many students, it eliminates achievement barriers, like social anxiety and lack of time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone though. Adapting to this new model can take time, especially if you’re not very tech-savvy or don’t spend much time online. To get the most from online learning: 

  • Invest in a computer you can easily use, with a good working microphone and camera. 
  • Test your ability to connect to classes ahead of time. If you need help, contact your school’s tech support before courses start. 
  • Ensure you have a good and secure internet connection. Mobile hotspots are not always reliable, so look into a consistent study spot with reliable wireless. 

Time Management Issues 

Everyone gets the same amount of time each day, but the way you use this time can make a big difference in how much you accomplish. Effective time management strategies do for your schedule what budgeting and coupons do for your money. Implement the right techniques, and watch more hours open up for studying, relaxing, self-care, and even sleeping. It can take some time to adapt to new habits and a novel schedule, so consider implementing and living with the routine you’ve planned for school for about a month before classes start. By the time you’re taking tests and meeting with your cohort, your new system will be second nature. 

Lack of Support 

Let’s face it: not everyone in your life will support your dreams. Your kids may whine and be annoyed. Your spouse may want more time with you. Your boss may think you’re not fully focused on work. If everyone in your life is naysaying, it’s easy to lose momentum. So begin building your support network early. Even if it’s not your immediate family, you need some people in your corner. At SNU, you’ll get built-in support through your cohort. Get to know one another, and you may just find yourself getting the support you need to thrive. 

Personal Emergency 

A personal emergency can defer your dreams, especially if you don’t have the right kind of support. Whether it’s surgery or a mental health crisis, a supportive academic environment makes a big difference. Choose a school that’s willing to work with you, and then ask for help as soon as you need it. Your professors may be willing to give you extensions or even offer an incomplete so you can make up the work later. The key is to communicate openly so that your problems don’t become a crisis. 

Every student deserves support—whether it’s exploring your religious faith, deepening your commitment to your career path, or navigating the storms of life. Our chaplains are always here for you, even online. Our chaplain offers regular video devotions, so that you can connect to your faith even when you’re not on campus.

No Free Work Space 

If you’re in tight quarters with kids or a spouse, it’s easy to feel like everyone is working on top of one another. You need a quiet space to get into the study zone. Develop a family routine that includes distractions for your kids while you study. If you have to, you may need to invest in regular child care. If your house is tiny or your kids can’t stop bursting into your office, split the load with a spouse, neighbor, or friend. Then head to the library or the local coffee shop to study. 

How SNU Helps 

SNU knows that every student brings a unique perspective to our community. We dream of a school where everyone can thrive and live up to their full potential. We’re here for you. If you need help managing the many obstacles between you and graduation, reach out. To learn more about what sets us apart and to master the skills that an online degree program demands, subscribe to our blogtime management in school

* This article was updated July, 2020

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