Returning to school as an adult

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ANGELA MCINNES
Surviving college as a mature student takes discipline, perseverance and the right attitude.

There are many reasons adults enroll in post-secondary education. Reasons can range from downsizing from their former job; a company’s administrative push to have its employees upgrade particular skills; the personal desire to transition from one’s current stock in life for a potentially better one, divorce and the list continues. Regardless of the motivations for why an adult may return to school, the challenges they face once they begin classes are observably different than those of their younger counterparts.

Despite those challenges, perceived or imagined, tangible or intangible, my experience has taught me that perseverance and belief are my strongest, least expensive tools I have to overcoming all of it.

The biggest challenge I faced was that of my own doing. I began to doubt my decision to return to school. The doubt was ultimately unfounded as scholastically, I was doing well and even received a bit of encouragement from the professors whom I was fortunate enough to learn from. But once the bell rang and it was time to return to the real world, I was continually reminded of the ‘grass is always greener’ adage that I have heard my entire life.

I left a full-time job after six years at a place I’d really come to love as a second home. I had been making good money, had the pride that came along with a coveted position, and had a relatively good work-life balance. When I decided to return to school I did so with a kamikaze-type attitude of all or nothing, leaving my past in the past and moving forward without looking back.

I had weighed the pros and cons, and decided that I would be able to take on this new journey, although needing to downsize on some things to make it work. There can be no progress without sacrifice. And this sentiment became more and more challenging as the weeks went by, and I was reminded more of the things that I’d given up than the goals I was closely approaching through my efforts and sacrifices.

A major challenge is always money. This challenge grows exponentially with every additional dependent you have to think about when making such decisions. Would I be able to provide for my son in a similar fashion as I did when I was gainfully employed? Could I ensure that his health and dental needs could be taken care of if an emergency arose? What would the quality of our life look like if I were to commit fully to my decision? And lastly, does the end result justify the temporary sacrifices that we would need to experience in the short run?

Look to the bigger picture. It is much easier to give up and not take chances on ourselves, than it is to stand confident with the decisions you have made.

Belief and trust in oneself.

That is the recipe for a successful mature student experience. Take your doubts, fears and misconceptions, and continue to bat them down in your pursuit of your end goal. The intangible may not seem as big a challenge as the money, support, and keeping up with the Joneses, but if you can get a healthy handle of the former, the other things will sort themselves out.

There are always ways to make a little extra money, and, if using the college resources to help you in that pursuit, your opportunities for success will improve greatly. Support will begin to surface the more your devotion to your studies are observed. And the need to keep the pace with friends, family and others in your age demographic will slowly begin to soften when you realize that your hard work will bear fruit, and all that you are feeling now will one day be a memory, and a happy one at that.

Whenever we take steps towards something new, we experience moments of discomfort or unease as we adapt to the changes we aren’t familiar with. With time comes comfort, assuredness, and a greater understanding of the new world you’ve stepped into. Challenges arise that make us doubt what we are capable of, freeze us in animation, and blind us from the solutions that are all around us.

So my advice to anyone who has chosen to go back to school after a long hiatus is, stay the course, believe in yourself, and take full advantage of the opportunity you are fortunate enough to be a part of. Whatever got you here, positive or negative, is of little importance now. Take the first steps towards a new beginning, and write a story you’re proud of.