For some adult students, going back to school can be stressful, intimidating, and a down-right chore. But success in higher education is like any other kind of success: you need to create an environment in which you can succeed. After that it’s easy. If you haven’t set foot inside a classroom for 5, 10, 25, or even 50 years, you might need your memory jogged when it comes to studying. The following study tips can increase your chances for success in higher education.

Tips for Adult Students

1. Take time: It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of returning to, or starting in, higher education. However try not to sign up for the first program that catches your eye. Consider your options, interests, and needs; take the time to find the best fit. Access to higher education is at a historic high; universities, community colleges, technical schools, online programs, and virtual campuses are just some of the options available to you.

2. Study light: Don’t fill your dance card all at once. Take a few classes to start with. Adult students won’t need an 18 credit-hour load like some of your classmates. You have a life. You have a job, a family, friends, and commitments, all of which will continue to require attention from you. For every three credit hours, plan on studying 6-9 hours per week outside of class.

3. Study fun: When picking your first classes, choose one just for fun. Seriously. Take yoga, take fencing, take underwater basket-weaving; it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s something you will enjoy. One of the traditional difficulties students face in returning to school is simply getting into the front door, even after registration. Taking a fun class gives you something to look forward to and help you re-establish habits like showing up to class.

4. Make connections: Early in every class, especially the ones you don’t like, find something to connect with on a personal level. Find something you like. It could be a character, a theory, a style, a scholar of note, whatever. The important thing is to find something that makes the class personally more meaningful. This will help keep your attention on the class.

5. Study space: Make room for yourself, in time and space. Schedule regular times to study in a regular place. Brush up on study tips and skills; there are many valuable and free resources on the Internet. And turn off the TV. You might think you need the distraction, but that’s all it is, a distraction. If you need something to quiet your active mind, try light music and keep your eyes focused on homework.

6. Get involved: Some authors have observed many adult students feel as if they are peripheral to the “normal” activities of their college. However, every campus has support organizations for non-traditional students, offering many resources. Many student organizations could benefit from a more experienced classmate. Not only does research show that there is a correlation between success in higher education and co-curricular activities, but these organizations can also be great resources for study partners, networking, and resume fodder.

There’s no doubt that returning to school can be a daunting prospect, but if you keep these tips in mind and ease into your college career, you can find yourself at the head of the class in no time.

Kelli Smith writes about colleges and universities, community colleges
, online schools, and career development. She is the senior editor at

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