Fall signals the return to school for children and young adults across the country, but kids aren’t the only ones heading back to school and hitting the books. More moms and dads—and even grandparents—are returning to school.
For many working adults, the decision to return to school and pursue an advanced degree is an opportunity to refocus their career, enhance their skill set, and increase their earning power. These adults also want to be seen as valuable to the workforce and better qualified for the positions that are available. However, returning to school can be a daunting task, and many adults strive to find the balance between work, family, and education.
Online education is a solution for those who want to earn a degree without compromising other responsibilities and commitments such as attending a child’s soccer game or working late at the office to meet a big deadline. So how can you successfully return to school online while balancing family, work, and education? Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you adjust.
Oftentimes, people start academic programs and forget that they have had some invaluable experiences in the real world, such as managing the household budget or serving as a member of the homeowners’ association, that can illuminate their understanding of their coursework. These experiences, as well as their paid work experience, make the coursework very relatable and, consequently, immediately applicable to discussions about problem-solving and decision making in the academic environment. These experiences can also make the adult learner an expert in time management, identifying resources, and multitasking—all skills that can be a real advantage in classroom discussions and research assignments.
The juggling act will be much less challenging for you if you enjoy your field of study. Choose a focus area or specialization within a degree program that you are invested in and passionate about.
Online coursework requires discipline and time management in order to meet the requirements of the program. Set specific time frames for studying and completing assignments. Many adult learners prefer to study at night or in the early morning when the house is quieter. Other students choose to use their lunch breaks to read and study for courses. It’s also important to identify a place where you can concentrate to maximize your productivity. The most important thing to remember is to create a space for yourself that conveys the message to you and others that you are ready to concentrate on school.
Whether commuting to and from work on public transportation or waiting for your child’s sports game to start, little blocks of time can provide you with an opportunity to work on readings and assignments. Make sure you download your coursework to a smartphone, laptop, or MP3 player anytime you head out the door.
Make connections and form study groups as early as possible in your program and establish peer relationships for studying, developing papers, answering homework assignments, etc. As a new student, it is often important to know that your experiences and challenges in the classroom are not isolated and that you are retaining and understanding the information being presented and shared—study groups allow for both things. When you participate in study groups, you are engaging in cooperative learning. Your colleagues can help you understand concepts that you may be struggling with and you can do the same for them. Most online learning classrooms have spaces for students to connect with each other informally and directly.
Instructors, academic advisors, and career counselors are available and ready to help you when you need additional support. Oftentimes, students believe that there is an expectation they can do everything on their own or that asking for help is an indication that they are not ready for higher education. Neither is true. Your instructors, advisors, and counselors will make themselves available to support you during struggles you are having with course content and assignments or to help you present yourself to prospective employers or field experience supervisors. Use these resources to help remove obstacles as you pursue your higher education.
If going back to school and earning your degree is important to you, don’t give up—just be realistic and practical about what is ahead. It may require reprioritizing and rearranging schedules and commitments, but online education can provide a flexible option for those who have many priorities outside of their learning environment.
The benefits of going back to school are both professional and personal. An advanced degree gives people a real sense of accomplishment and purpose as well as fosters personal growth and well-being. As an employee, you will remain valuable and viable in today’s job market and your employers and co-workers will take notice.
Don’t forget to ask for help. If you try to do all of the things you normally do, and then add going back to school to your schedule, you will be burned out before you complete your first term. Your commitment to go back to school also takes the commitment of your family in order for you to be successful. If there is not another adult in your home to relieve you when you have large projects or papers for school, arrange for a friend or neighbor to take your children ice skating or to the movies, so you can get some concentrated work time. It’s important to get support from family and friends while earning your degree online.
Take time for yourself as part of your schedule and don’t forget to attend to your physical and mental health throughout the process. Rejuvenate yourself with healthy food, a 15-minute walk every day, 30 minutes every now and then with your favorite television show, a massage, or another activity to help you de-stress and decompress. Also, spend time with your family and friends to recharge your batteries. These are all core components to maintaining your balance throughout your academic journey.
In a world of immediate gratification, the decision to pursue a degree represents a long-term goal with delayed gratification. The ultimate goal might seem very far off and it can be discouraging at times to think about enduring the upheaval of your life for such a long period of time. When you are feeling overwhelmed, get together with your favorite support person for coffee or a walk in the park. You can also encourage and motivate yourself with daily affirmations, Post-it notes on your computer monitor, or your own personal cheer. Also, celebrating a term ending or a good grade on a paper with your family and friends along the way helps you reconnect, demonstrates how hard work pays off, and allows everyone the opportunity to enjoy the journey.
For working adults considering a return to school, options do exist. Remember, pursuing an advanced degree is an investment that can never be taken away from you, and gives you the opportunity to set an example of commitment for others. To make pursuing your degree online a little bit easier, keep these dos and don’ts in mind, and remember, do not give up.
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