As the economy forces many adults to reboot their careers, going back to school after many years can be stressful. Here’s some advice to ease the way.
The words “Back to School Season” have always sent a mixed message to students of any age and education level. For younger students, the last days of August mean an end to summer play and a return to classroom routines, even as they welcome being back with their classmates. Older students, including those returning to college, will also face a conflicting mix of excitement and unease.
But in August 2022, for more and more Ohio adults, a return to school can be a very difficult prospect indeed. These are the growing number of working adults who are returning to school after years away from classroom study.
As chancellor of Western Governors University Ohio, an accredited, online-only college that is tailored to the needs of working adults, I’ve helped many older students deal with these back-to-school challenges over the years. This is not a new phenomenon by any means, but it’s certainly one that’s rapidly grown in recent years due to economic disruption and the fast pace of change in many career fields, especially technology and healthcare.
Here’s some advice, I can pass along to these students, whether they’re enrolling with WGU Ohio or in any other course of study they’ll be diving back into this fall:
First of all, know that you’re not alone. In fact, mature students now make up nearly 20 percent of all those enrolled at U.S. colleges. Whether your classroom is on a physical campus or virtual – at home or other setting you choose – you’re in the company of many other learners who are just coming back to school. While some are returning to build on an earlier degree or credential, many may have never been to college at all or they left before getting their degree.
Second, give yourself time and don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. Keep your class load light at first. Whether you’re studying online or sitting in a traditional classroom, you’ll need to become comfortable with the learning routine after such a long break. After all, like most returning students you’ll likely have career, family and other obligations to juggle. So don’t let yourself get overwhelmed at first as you go back to school.
Then, build a support system of family, friends, coworkers and other mentors who can create a positive experience as you merge college studies into your already-busy routine. Having adult responsibilities and being in school at the same time can be a challenge, so asking for help when necessary is a real key to not having too much to your plate. Universities also have a range of resources and support tools to help guide you through the process. For example, at WGU Ohio, we pair each student with a Program Mentor who provides information necessary for success, but also serves as a student’s personal cheerleader.
Finally, do your research because informed planning is essential for your successful back to school. Take time to scope things out such as what’s the most affordable and time-efficient way to reach your goal. Are there opportunities to get credit for skills you’ve already mastered and things you already know? What financial help is available? You’ll want to pick a degree that’s going to help you succeed in every way possible, whether that’s in your current career field or in your future one. Going back to school should be rewarding and career-advancing, but it also needs to be an experience you’re going to enjoy.
For older Ohioans returning to college after years on the job, raising a family and building roots in the community, a return to student life can be an anxious transition. But by planning ahead, taking it easy at first, and building a trusted system of mentorship and support, you can go back to school with confidence – and success.
Dr. K. L. Allen is chancellor of WGU Ohio, the state affiliate of online, nonprofit Western Governors University.