Returning to college as an adult? Here’s how to ease the transition.

returning adult college student

If you’re returning to college as an adult, you’re not alone. Students over age 25 are the fastest-growing population in higher education. Although you’re in good company, this transition can be daunting. Here are some ways to make it as smooth as possible.

Be prepared.

Academic advisor Autumn Sanchez
Academic advisor Autumn Sanchez: Reduce stress with extra preparation.

Anxiety is common among returning adult students, but it doesn’t have to be a stumbling block. Reduce stress with extra preparation. Before the term begins, review the syllabus and textbooks for each class. See if any big tests or deadlines fall on the same day and work ahead if necessary. Figure out when to leave home so you’re not rushing to get to campus. Find where you’ll park your car or exit the bus, and locate your classrooms. The more familiar your surroundings feel, the more calm you will be.

Make school a top priority.

When you’re in school, you’ll have less time for other things you value. You may need to decline a few social invitations, put a hobby on hold, or miss some dinners with family. Remember that this sacrifice is temporary, and consider how it can benefit the people you care about. Look for opportunities to create new rituals with them. If you must miss a family meal, could you read extra bedtime stories to your kids that night? Talk to your family and friends. Make it clear that though the amount of time you spend together may decrease for a while, the quality of this time can be better than ever.

Lean on your support network.

In addition to discussing your time constraints with your loved ones, tell them why you’re going back to school so they can encourage you. Celebrate your victories and share your challenges. If you don’t open up, it’s hard for others to know how they can help you. For additional guidance on this topic, plus time-management tips and more, check out The Busy Adult’s Guide to Making College Happen! by Geoffrey Schmidt.

Use academic resources.

Most colleges offer free resources to help students succeed academically. These range from tutoring services to study groups. Don’t hesitate to use them! Your instructors’ office hours are another valuable resource. Stop in, introduce yourself, and ask a question about the course material.

Get involved on campus.

Returning adult students often worry that they won’t fit in with younger students in their classes. Because they tend to spend less time on campus than their younger peers, older students can feel marginalized. Make the campus your own so you feel right at home. Start by joining a student organization. If you have a family, bring them to the student union, athletic events, or other fun spots on campus. You’ll feel more connected to your college—and your classmates.

Finally, focus on your reasons for returning to school. These motivations can carry you through the difficult parts of your college experience. Above all, believe in yourself: This journey won’t be easy, but you are worth the effort.

Career corner is a monthly feature written by UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Autumn Sanchez, an academic advisor, can be reached at autumn.sanchez@wisc.edu. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.