An increasing number of adults are returning to college, either to complete degrees that they already started or to further their education within a professional field.
While this is an admirable endeavor, it should never be taken lightly. Attending classes — especially as a parent or while still working — is a big commitment that comes with a variety of challenges. Here are a few of the most common barriers to returning to school as well as suggestions for ways to overcome them.
Finances Can Be Tight
Often a return to school is precipitated by bad finances, a languishing work situation, or both. This can make money feel very tight while you’re attending school.
While tight finances are a common challenge, you can address this barrier by:
- Getting a student loan — even with bad credit.
- Taking advantage of state and federal tax breaks.
- Keeping a tight budget to rein in expenses while you’re at school.
- Applying for grants, scholarships, and employer tuition reimbursements.
- Get COVID-covered tuition insurance.
Work Remains a Priority
If you attend school as an adult, there’s a good chance that you’re also going to work part-time, at the least. You may even have to maintain a full-time work schedule, especially if you don’t want to sacrifice your career momentum.
The need to attend school while still working can feel impossible. However, you can address the barrier of work and school by:
- Tightening up your expenses and dropping to part-time as a temporary measure.
- Accepting a longer educational timeline by attending school part-time.
- Maintaining close communication with bosses and professors as you navigate your work- and class-loads.
- Using a loan, if absolutely necessary, to help make ends meet — although you should have a plan in place on how you’ll repay the money.
Family Responsibilities Don’t Go Away
As if work and school weren’t already a lot, many adult students also have personal lives — especially families — that require their attention. A spouse may be a support during school, but children, while a blessing, do present an additional sense of responsibility.
If you’re attempting to care for your family while returning to school, you can address this barrier by:
- Keeping a cloud-based calendar that collects all of your family’s schedules, classes, work hours, and extracurricular events in one place for all to see.
- Setting distinct boundaries, such as times to work, do homework, and tend to family concerns — and then communicating these clearly to your boss, professors, and dependents.
- Finding good healthcare for your family, even if you’re in a lower income bracket.
- Scheduling in time to unplug and focus on family to prevent strained relationships and unwelcome distancing.
Self-Esteem Can Go Out the Window
Finally, with a boss looking over one shoulder and a string of professors peeking over the other, it’s easy to feel a bit over-analyzed at times. This constant flow of feedback, letter grading, and judgment, in general, can do a number on your self-esteem.
It’s important to maintain faith in yourself while you’re juggling so many responsibilities. You can take steps to overcome this barrier by:
- Taking time to meditate and pray each morning.
- Staying focused on long-term goals rather than short-term problems.
- Resisting the need to become overly-involved in the full “college experience.”
- Setting up lifelines to friends and family members when you need to talk.
Owning Your Return to School
Returning to school can feel daunting. However, if you take steps to maintain healthy finances, properly prioritize work, school, and family, and keep up your self-esteem, you can dominate your time on campus.
The important thing is that you proactively invest yourself in a good adult learning experience. Try to see your return as a good step in the right direction, rather than a challenge or problem that must be overcome. This lays the foundation for a successful, productive, and positive return to school.
BIO: Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience writing online at the intersection of business, finance, marketing, and culture.