September is not only the hectic time when shopping malls fill up with student shoppers looking for the perfect first day outfit. It is also a time for enrolled adults to refocus their lives and make room for an additional load. For the working adult, life isn’t as simple, and the challenge comes in shifting priorities and making time to ensure that everything and everyone is tended to. This opportunity is a bit more sensitive, with tuition involved and valuable time on the line. If this is you, here are some tips for success to ensure that you make the most of this opportunity:
- Start easy – Don’t try and take on a full load right away, especially if you’ve been out of school for quite some time. Look at your program’s course requirements and take the easiest courses first. Many people make the mistake of taking on too much too soon. Risks involve getting burnt out quickly, receiving low grades and losing financial aid, being put on academic probation, and even failing courses.
- Get sleep - You are working and going to school. Your family and kids also require your time and energy, and they are all important to you. School shouldn't turn you into an exhausted grouch who does life without any passion. You may need to develop efficient study timeline.
- Plan your study time – It’s important that you make a study schedule for yourself and stick with it. It’s easy to wait until the last minute to submit an assignment. However, this unhealthy habit will actually make you feel more overwhelmed and less organized. If you have a family, make sure that everyone knows when your ‘study time’ is (perhaps an hour a day after the kids are asleep), this way everyone’s in the loop of helping you succeed.
- Socialize with classmates – This is key to survival in school. It’s much like the theory of working out with a gym partner. You can keep each other motivated, but if you’re the only adult you know who’s still in school, it’s easier to become discouraged and unmotivated. If you’re married and your spouse is also in school, this is great and you can arrange study times within your home.
- Use work situations for your homework assignments – Oftentimes, hands on learning is easier to retain and reflect upon. If you’re majoring in a field that is closely aligned with your job, you’ll get several job experiences that will make excellent assignments.
- Talk in class/contribute on line – It will make the time go by faster and materials will stick. Also, it will make you stand out to your classmates and professors (great for networking). Many professors give extra points for student participation and contribution. Your participation is a great indicator to your professor that you’re putting in the extra effort.
- Buddy up – Share the workload with someone else. This is how work gets done in real life. You may have an expertise in one area while someone else is stronger in another area. Sharing notes is also a great idea in this case, since your classmate might have noted something pivotal that you didn’t catch in class.
- Get to know your professors – Knowing your professors outside of the classroom can greatly ease your anxiety. Most professors have an office on campus. You might need to schedule an appointment beforehand, but going straight to the source when you’re confused is an excellent way to boost your learning confidence. You’ll find that most professors are actually very interested in hearing your feedback and questions regarding his/her lecture, and will be very open to engage in further (less formal) dialogue.
- Stay hydrated – It’s very easy to lose focus in class, especially during a long lecture. It’s a good idea to bring water or bottled iced tea with you to class (refrain from sugary and unhealthy drinks) to help you stay focused.
- Get a homework partner – If you’re confused about due dates, or need clarification about an assignment, having a homework partner is extremely helpful. Find someone in class who seems pretty responsible and exchange emails. Make yourself available as well. When you’re able to help your classmates, you feel more confident and aren’t afraid to ask them for help either.
- Stay organized – We all know that guy who scrambles into class late, hands in sloppy assignments, and forgets test dates. We all become him/her at some point in our educational life, but it's better later than sooner. You don't want to start college on that foot, because it's a difficult place to get out of. Instead, start an early habit of investing ten minutes every night in organizing your course materials. Keep a calendar of due dates and refer to them regularly to make sure you're in the loop.
- Share what you're learning - If you have a family, keep them informed of what you're learning in class. This is especially important if you have children - they need to see you set a great example. When you're at work, share about the latest trends/technology being released in your field. Your coworkers and supervisors will begin to view your expertise as an asset. Most importantly, sharing what you've learned with anyone will help you retain it.
Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti is a leading thought leader on career development. She is the author of ten books, a regular media contributor, and global speaker. She is a key advisor for recruiting and outplacement firms. Her most recent book is Women Lead: Career Perspectives from Workplace Leaders. Tracey has recently served as a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Media X program, researching the impact of technology on future careers. Find Tracey on Twitter and Facebook.