|Back to School Transition Tips|
by Peggy Crippen, M.S.
Returning to college requires a huge adjustment. Life changes drastically for the non-traditional student as college classes begin. As an older student starting school, you make many changes to daily life. Old habits and routines must change. The challenge facing you is establishing a schedule and routine that allows you to fulfill new responsibilities and obligations, while continuing to maintain home and family. Consider some simple tips that will allow you to make the transition to student with a lot less stress.
Make a plan for the upcoming transition. In the months and weeks prior to starting school, carefully consider what in your life will change and what will remain the same. If you are a parent, you will still have to care for children and the house. Meals will still need to be cooked and laundry will not stop piling up. How will you handle these chores? What will your new obligations include? You may have to line up childcare or find someone to drop off and pick up your child at school. Can a spouse or neighbor help? If you intend to continue working, how will you arrange this with your employer? When will you study? Try to identify the areas of your life where you can plan for the changes as much as possible. Make a list of what you need to accomplish before school begins. This will avoid stressful moments later. Nothing will distract you from your academics as much as figuring out how to handle the details of daily life.
Be realistic about your abilities. Many non-traditional students re-enter college holding unrealistic expectations. Receiving all “A’s” in your classes is a great goal, but may not always be possible. If the last math class you took was twelve years ago and you barely passed, accept that you may only produce average grades. Apply the same idea to your home life. If your family was disorganized and chaotic before starting school, it is not likely improve when you add another commitment to your schedule. Keep your expectations reasonable but be kind to yourself when you identify areas in which you struggle. Focus on your strengths in tough moments.
Line up a support system. Going back to school is challenging, especially when you have children needing care, a house needing cleaning and a job pulling you in three different directions. Most people are willing to help out, but sometimes you have to ask. A support system is different for each person. Spouses, family members, neighbors, childcare providers or even older children give encouragement, help and motivation to keep going through the busy times. These people will be especially important in the first few weeks of starting classes when you may second guess your decision to begin school. Once classes start, use support programs that the school provides for students.
Prepare a study area. You will be spending a lot of time reading, writing and researching, so you will need a designated comfortable area for studying. If you have a desk, create a permanent area designated strictly for studying. Gather materials you will need and store them in your study area. Beyond the obvious pens, pencils and paper, you will likely need a dictionary, thesaurus and calculator. Invest in a comfortable chair for you to sit in while you work to save yourself back trouble. Decide where you will study, if space is limited. The kitchen table works well for a study area. Make a tote with all your study supplies.
Use tools to help yourself stay organized. Some prefer low-tech options, such as notes, planners and calendars. These are not the only options, because there are many higher tech options available. The Internet has many free calendars and organizers that are easy and convenient to use. Cozi Family Calendar is a free online service that shares family schedules, grocery and to-do lists with family members. Those with a smart phone can receive appointment notifications directly from the Cozi website. Internet companies such as Yahoo and Google offer similar services on their websites. At the very least, take advantage of your cell phone calendar and alarm. These tools will help you remember appointments when things get busy.
Get your financial house in order. Make a written budget so you know how much money you spend each month and the amount of debt you owe. Mint is an online resource that can lead you systematically through the process of establishing a budget. Because attending school will change your current budget, determine how much your finances will change. Adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a lower income. Use the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website to apply for financial aid. Once you receive an award of financial aid, determine where you will spend the money. Regardless of the amount of money received, financial aid will go further when you assign it a specific purpose.
Discuss your education plans with your employer. If you will not be able to continue with your current workload or schedule, be honest. Employers may adjust your work schedule to accommodate classes. Some jobs allow employees to use down time to read and do homework, as long as work is completed. Ask about tuition reimbursement programs available to employees. If your major relates to the work you do, the company may pay part of your college tuition. If you plan to quit work to attend school, now is the time to submit a resignation letter with the date of your last workday.
Take care of your health. As you make major changes in life, stress can take a toll on your health. It is easy to put yourself low on the list of priorities when school, work and children demand your time. No one will benefit if you become ill. Eat a balanced diet and resist the temptation to eat fast food or food from vending machines frequently. Schedule some time for physical activity, even if it is only a fifteen minute daily walk. Get the amount of sleep that you require.
Going back to school is an exciting and eventful time. Actively preparing for what comes next will facilitate success in your college education. Because a college degree is a valuable commodity, the results will reward the effort.
Peggy Crippen holds a master's degree from Kansas State University.