Tips for Returning to College as an Adult
One of the best things we see come out of the Community College Petrochemical Initiative (CCPI) and other Texas Gulf Coast Consortium of Community College (TGCCCC) programs is adults returning to school to improve their quality of life. We know there are challenges that come with a return to the classroom when you’re in another stage of life, but we’re also well aware of the rewards and love celebrating them with students every day. If you’re returning to school this coming fall, we invite you to read these tips we’ve put together to help make your experience at a Texas Gulf Coast Community College better.
Find the Right Campus for You
Affordability and proximity to work and home are two factors that often rank high in importance for adults returning to school. We also see students who need services that cater to their nontraditional needs including expanded certificate and degree options and online and evening classes, which you can find on our campuses. In TGCCCC, we have nine colleges offering a variety of certification and degree programs in STEM and petrochemical fields, some with multiple campuses, across the Houston Metro area and Gulf Coast region so you’re never far from the classroom.
Stay on Top of Your College’s Academic Calendar
Once you’ve found the campus and program that fits you, it’s important to begin familiarizing yourself with the campus academic calendar. You’ll want to take a look at the calendar for your first year, and plan on revisiting it every semester until you graduate. Academic calendars contain important dates related to the beginning of your career such as registration, financial aid and scholarship application deadlines. As you progress in your area of study, you’ll want to be aware of deadlines specific to your degree or certification such as applications for graduating and certificate and licensure tests. Write these dates down so you’re prepared to submit paperwork and funds necessary for each deadline.
Guidance and Mentorship
Once you’re enrolled, make sure you take advantage of getting your degree or certification program mapped out by your academic adviser(s). This will help you understand where you are, what your end goal is, and how long it will take to get there based on course load each semester. Take advantage of relationships that you can form with professors and department heads. While many people who work in higher education have full schedules each week, you’ll find they are very willing to take time to mentor you and help you reach your goals.
Create Your Own Study Area
Much like if you have a home office for a business, you need to set up your desk or another area in your home to be productive and disciplined for your studies. Find a place where you’re comfortable, the room is well lit, and it is distinguishable as your own workspace. A designated workspace will also help your family, friends and kids understand boundaries and times that you need that space to be for you.
Build a Study Routine
There’s a good reason (and if you’re a parent, you probably know this) that study routines are created for children: they keep them engaged and actually working. While as adults we have a bit more discipline to take care of our daily duties, routines are still helpful for keeping us accountable. Map out your weekly schedule – including classes, work schedule, and family commitments. Schedule dedicated times to study and complete course work. Even if you don’t map out every hour precisely, at least having blocks in your schedule for the major things that occur daily will help ensure that you’re not falling behind.
Ask for Help
Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Even with a thought-out schedule, it’s possible to feel overworked and stretched thin in other areas of your life. Ask for family and friends to assist you with chores and errands when necessary. Ask for encouragement. Reach out to your classmates if you’re missing lecture notes at any point or want to form a study group. Visit with your professors during their office hours if you have questions about assignments, study habits, or a grade you received.
Even as you add on more hours to your day with a school schedule, don’t completely push your social life off to the side. Going back to school at a community college means you’ll probably be in classes with people both younger and older than you, so take advantage of the opportunity to make friends with people you probably wouldn’t be connected with otherwise. Your life will improve academically and socially if you embrace this opportunity.
Balance Work, School, and Life
If all you do is work and never allow any time for some play, you’ll hit periods of burnout and no motivation. Find some time weekly for hobbies or fun time and don’t overfill your schedule. Leave time open for things like going to the gym, spending time with your kids – and sleep. You’ll be a lot more productive in the classroom and be in a better mood daily.
Every grade earned, course completed, and award received is another step towards graduation. Don’t wait until you walk across the stage to celebrate. Take time to enjoy the simple things like a movie, sporting event, or concert as rewards along the way for your studies.
No matter how well you plan for going back to school, life will still continue to happen along the way. Take time at the halfway point or even quarterly each semester to evaluate your schedule, habits and commitments. Remember how we talked about balance earlier? If you feel the scale of your life tipping too far one way, change up your routine to balance it back out. The journey to graduation is a marathon, not a sprint.
Embrace the Opportunity
Yes, there will be challenges as you expand your current schedule to include academic pursuits as an adult. The good news is everyone is afforded the same 24 hours in a day. You just need to know how to use those hours wisely. Yes, you may have to say ‘no’ to some things you were once able to say ‘yes’ to easily, but these are short-term tradeoffs for the financial and lifestyle freedom that you’ll be afforded once you complete your degree.