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Returning To College 101

Success skills for returning to the classroom

college return to classroomYou have made the big decision to start or return to college. In many ways, just making that decision shows a great sense of commitment and dedication to bettering yourself. However, many women find that returning to school can be a much harder transition than they ever imagined. All of a sudden, women are juggling their kids’ lives, their marriage and other important relationships, their home, and their own needs along with homework, tests, and research papers. Here are some tips from women who successfully returned to school while balancing their responsibilities.

The most common comment I hear from women is the need for self-discipline. Learning to be disciplined takes honest self-reflection on your part. It also takes a fair amount of patience. The first couple of weeks in the semester will be a major learning experience. You will learn what times are convenient for you to study, read, and do homework, which methods of learning work best for you, and what each of your professors expects from you. Establishing a pattern and a routine will help you manage your time and stay organized. Some tips for facilitating this process are:

  • Buy a calendar and schedule all of your school responsibilities including your classes, study time, exams, deadlines for papers and other project. Don’t forget to include your extracurricular activities. You may want to work in your social and family activities into this calendar as well; so that you can plan ahead for those times when your child’s birthday falls on the day before your English paper is due.
  • Learn which organizational methods work for you. Some students like to carry all of their class assignments and notes in one large notebook or binder. Others prefer to have a different binder or notebook for each class. Your method may depend on your class schedule, but having a general method of organization will help you feel more prepared for your classes and responsibilities.
  • Try to find your “peak” time. Some students are very active and able to concentrate at night, perhaps when the kids have gone to sleep. Others feel more energetic in the morning after a cup of coffee. Use your “peak” time to your advantage to study or do homework.
  • Create daily goals for yourself and evaluate your day. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to today? If so, how were you able to balance all the responsibilities? If not, what obstacles got in your way? Kids? Husband? Unexpected phone call? Your daily checklist might look like this:
    1. Pick up clothes from dry cleaners.
    2. Start writing my psychology term paper.
    3. Wash bath towels.
    4. Meet with advisor about next semester’s schedule.

College campuses are exciting places. There are lots of happenings and events to participate in. Most college campuses are also crowded with very young people. You will have classes with your younger counterparts and be expected to work on group projects and in teams with them. In my work, I have found that most non-traditional students find this a very positive experience. They find it refreshing to work with younger people who have new ideas and lots of energy.

Nevertheless, you may find being surrounded by traditional, younger students a major culture shock. But, don’t be dismayed; you’ll also meet other women, who, like yourself, are returning to college and in similar circumstances. You’ll find that non-traditional female students often support each other through the college process by forming study groups. Some good ways to meet other non-traditional students on campus are:

  • Find extracurricular groups for non-traditional students. Call your campus activities office to learn more about joining a non-traditional student organization on campus. If your campus does not have such a group, start one yourself.
  • Visit the counseling center on campus to find out if there is a support group for non-traditional students.
  • Join the academic group for your major. For instance, Psy Chi is an honors society for psychology majors.

Be sure to include some “me time” in your schedule. This term has many connotations. This is the time when some people reading for leisure, others watch TV, and others like to write in their journal. Whatever “me time” means to you, you’ll agree that there is not enough of it. Nevertheless, “me time” is very important to your physical and mental health. Everyone needs to relax and de-stress. Here are a few ways to revitalize:

  • Go to the movies
  • Make a tape of your favorite songs
  • Call a friend you have not talked with in a while
  • Plant a flower or vegetable garden
  • Get a massage, pedicure, or manicure

Your college experience is a unique time in your life. You will be a different person when you are finished and the changes in you will be an adjustment for your loved ones. Try to remember where they fit into your plans. Your relationship with your husband or partner, children, and close friends will remain important. But, be ready for some pebbles in the road.

The beauty of the college experience is that no matter what you major in, everyone who attends college gets a lesson in life. College forces you to learn self-reliance, assertiveness, and the value of diversity. Be ready this fall for some very hard work. But, most of all, prepare yourself for a great new experience.

About Amy Ertel

Amy Ertel earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Education in Student Affairs Counseling from Southeastern Louisiana University. Previously, she served as a Career Counselor with the Professional Development Office at the Tulane School of Law.


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