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Lisa A. Vella Overcoming the Fear of Going Back to School

by Lisa A. Vella

You've been out of high school for several years. It is with great fear and trepidation that you considered going to college to further your education and ultimately your career. But you did it anyway. You decided to take that huge step toward your dreams to be the best you possible. Now how do you overcome all those fears?

Anyone who's been out of an academic setting for a number of years understands first hand all the anxieties associated with going back to school. After being out of high school for only five years, I had all sorts of worries. It wasn't like there was one concern to overcome and then the rest would all come together. There were lots of reasons to be afraid and that's why the thought of higher education sets off the panic button for so many.

One of the easiest explanations for peoples' hesitation to go back to school is the simple, honest fear of failure – especially for those who didn't excel in high school. Adults returning to school understand that they are living entirely different lifestyles than when they were teens. Gone are the carefree days of teenage life and in their stead lies the heavy responsibilities of adulthood.

Many nontraditional students have jobs, families, and sometimes even other obligations like church or volunteer commitments to balance. How to manage all of that plus school makes failure seem a likely possibility. Failing classes, inability to keep up at work, and falling short with familial duties plague the soon-to-be-student's mind.

They did mine. When I went back to school, I was a single mom of one and I worked a full-time job. I had no spouse to help me, so all the responsibilities of tending to the daily tasks of living like meal planning, house chores and repairs, and keeping up with vehicle maintenance rested on me alone. My life already seemed full and overwhelming and I wondered how on earth I could go to school and get good grades with all that to juggle on my own.

Of course, fears of the unknown can seem equally as terrifying as the fear of failure. Even though the campus I was going to was relatively small in comparison to some colleges, it seemed huge and intimidating to me. I didn't know how I would ever find my way around, or if I could even make it from one class to the next without getting lost or being late.

One of my biggest worries about going back to school was how to make sure my daughter would get enough of my time. She was the most important part of my life. Ultimately, she was also my main motivation for going back to school. I wanted to give her the best life possible – a home, decent clothes, food. But even more than that, I wanted to give her an understanding that my life goals were important to me and that mama could do anything she put her mind to – and so could she.

How to Allay Your Concerns

The "unknowns" are as numerous as the "potential failures." The good news is that many of those concerns can be alleviated by taking a few simple steps to build your confidence and give you assurance.


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