Returning to higher education needn't be a daunting experience.
It's never too late to return to the classroom, especially if you're looking to earn an advanced degree to further your career. Indeed, according to an article from CNBC, reporting on statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students over the age of 35 at American universities is well into the millions – 4 million to be exact.
Yet, despite the fact that heading to school at an older age is a relatively common practice, if you are considering returning to the classroom after a lengthy absence it's likely that you have some reservations. Perhaps you are nervous about fitting in among your younger peers, or maybe you are worried about how you will juggle other responsibilities such as parenthood or your professional career alongside your study.
While it's true that as a mature student you may have more to consider before applying to study for an advanced degree, the aforementioned concerns needn't prevent you from furthering your education. There are a number of simple tips that you can follow to ensure that your return to the classroom is successful and fulfilling. Read on to learn more:
1. Consider part-time study
As an older adult it's likely that your schedule is already packed with other commitments. Perhaps you are a business professional working within a dynamic company, keen to study for an MBA but reluctant to give up the job you love. Or maybe you are a full-time parent, juggling school runs, extra-curricular activities and the like. If your schedule is already busy and you are concerned as to how you can possibly fit in studying for an advanced degree, there are ways around the problem.
As Nadine Schiff-Rosen explained, writing for the Maria Shriver blog, there is no pressure to return to study on a full-time basis. Many programs will allow you to study part-time, at a pace that best complements your schedule. In addition to part-time study, you may want to consider completing your education online. A number of leading universities now offer advanced degree programs in a distance learning format. Studying remotely can afford you more flexibility to complete work at a time that suits you best – you won't have to make that bi-weekly on-ground seminar, for example. To learn more about online advanced degree programs, click here.
"Whether you opt to study full- or part-time, getting organized is key."
2. Work on organization
Whether you opt to study full-time or part-time, on campus or remotely, getting organized is key. As detailed by an article from University of Sheffield, an institution based in the U.K., ensure that you keep track of all your classes by making special folders, either hard copies or on your computer, in which you can keep detailed notes and other important information. Keeping your notes organized will make it easier to find them when the time comes to prepare for examinations and complete assignments.
3. Understand how you study most effectively
As detailed in an article from the University of Calgary, it can help to gauge study methods that work best for you before your first big assignment is due. As the source explained, some individuals learn better with the help of visuals, while others fare well when making notes – there is no "right" way to study and absorb information. Furthermore, it can help to figure out your best kind of environment for study. Do you like the background noise of a coffee shop? Or do you need the silence of a private study or library? The sooner you get into study habits that suit you best, the more likely you'll be to succeed.
4. Work on your IT skills
Virtually all aspects of higher education, aside from in-person classes, are conducted on a computer. You'll have to complete your papers on the computer and you'll likely have to contribute to and post on online discussion boards with your class, especially if you are learning remotely. Email will likely be the most effective way to reach out to your professors too. Consequently, if you feel as though your IT skills are lacking or elementary it can help to take a class or work to teach yourself some basic skills before your program begins, Schiff-Rosen explained.
5. Look into financial aid
It is still possible to secure financial aid if you are a mature student. An article from CNBC recommended conducting some research into potential scholarships and also reaching out to the institutions at which you apply and inquiring about options for aid. The source noted that many institutions will require you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in order to determine how much money you may be entitled to.
6. Ask for support from family and friends
Studying for an advanced degree program can be a challenge at the best of times, not to mention when you have myriad other responsibilities. That's why you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help from those closest to you once your program begins, journalist Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen explained, writing for Alive magazine. This may mean sitting down with your spouse, partner, children or friends and explaining your schedule, and the times that you may need help with things such as child care, school runs, groceries, cleaning and so on. Pawlik-Kienlen interviewed Kim Pierrot, a Ph.D candidate and mother, who explained how talking to her husband helped her manage her schedule more effectively:
"Soliciting help from family and friends was all about childcare for me. My husband and parents helped with my children's school pickups and after-school activities so I could be in class. My husband would also occasionally take kids out for the day so I could work on my school assignments," she explained.
7. Be social
As a mature student you may be concerned about returning to the classroom where it's likely that many of your peers will be younger than you. This can be especially concerning if you are opting to study on campus. Don't let fears about your age hold you back from making friends, however. As the University of Sheffield advised, making connections with your peers is an effective way to beat stress and navigate the challenges of advanced study. After all, if you connect with other students on your course, you may be able to reap the rewards of study groups and other activities that may help you learn more effectively. The Telegraph also explained that, outside of your course of study, it can be helpful to join an organization based on-campus – perhaps you are passionate about reading or politics. Whatever your interest, most major institutions boast an array of student groups that cater to various topics and hobbies.