Today, more and more adults are returning to college, whether to finally start their education, finish up a degree program or furthering their education with a masters or doctorate degree. But, as with children with anxiety, going back to school can be scary. You may worry that you won’t fit in, wonder how you are going to finance your education, fear that you can’t keep up with the workload or be concerned about taking tests. Whether you are quitting your job and going back full-time or returning part-time, your anxieties can be overwhelming. The following are 5 tips to help adult learners succeed at college:
Work on your finances. Money problems and worrying about finances can distract you from your studies. Take some time to create a budget and plan how you are going to pay for your education. Remember, financial aid and scholarships are available to anyone attending college, not just kids. Talk with your school’s financial aid office and find out what options are open to you. Having your finances in order can help you focus on your classes instead of worrying about money.
Plan your time. As an adult, you have plenty of responsibilities. You may have a full-time job, children and a household to run. All of these obligations take away from your ability to complete homework, write papers and study for tests. Plan out your week, blocking off time for you to work on your studies; let your family know that during these times they will need to fend for themselves. If you have younger children, talk with your partner about him or her caring for the children during these times or consider hiring a babysitter to give you blocks of time to focus on your schoolwork.
Take care of yourself. Trying to do too much can take a toll on your health. You may find yourself giving up sleep or skipping meals to try to get everything done but as the weeks go on, you may feel tired and burned-out. Instead, make a list of what chores are most important and focus on getting those done. Enlist your family to help and let less important tasks go. Getting a good night’s sleep and eating right will not only help keep your anxiety under control, it will help you be more focused and alert during classes.
Find a support group. When you are overwhelmed, you often feel alone, as if you are the only one going through this stressful situation. But with more and more adult learners, there are plenty of other people struggling with the same issues. Check with your college or online for support groups for adult learners so you can get and give support and advice for dealing with the major (and minor) issues that are bogging you down.
Use strategies to manage test anxiety. Everyone feels nervous before a big test, but for some, test anxiety can be paralyzing. You have studied, you know the information and yet when you sit down to take the test you can’t seem to remember anything. Strategies such as understanding the type of test you are taking, using positive self-talk, feeling confident in your knowledge of the topic and managing physical symptoms of anxiety help. Utilize anxiety management techniques you use in other parts of your life to manage fear of taking tests.
As you continue your college education, write down areas of your life that seem overwhelming and work with your family to find ways to compensate instead of trying to manage everything on your own. If you are currently under treatment for anxiety, keep up with it; this isn’t a good time to let it go because you don’t have time - in the end the time you spend managing anxiety will probably be more than keeping up with therapy or doctor’s appointments.
Remember to congratulate yourself on a daily basis. Going back to school is a big achievement and you should be proud of yourself. Remind yourself often that you are working to improve your life and that the problems you are experiencing are temporary. As time goes on, they will work themselves out.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.