Overcoming the Fear of Going Back to School

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.

Set a date. Make it a point to mark specific time for family. One of the best ways to insure that your family won’t be neglected is to designate a specific time to spend with them once a week. You do this for other important aspects of your life. You go to class, work, or appointments on certain days at certain times so why not book an appointment with your family? Have game night at home, go for a hike together, or catch a Sunday matinee. Do whatever it is that your family enjoys doing.

Of course, it doesn’t mean ignore them the rest of the week, but make sure to utilize this as quality time with your loved ones. Use it to communicate about what happened during their week, what’s coming up next, or whatever else is on everyone’s mind. Most of all have fun.

Get organized. Getting organized will help even the most petrified nontraditional students overcome some of their fears. Get a planner and use it. Pencil everything in – upcoming class times, appointments, even family date nights. Being able to see from week to week, day to day, and hour to hour what you have to do offers a certain comfort in itself. It gives you confidence that you can manage all you’ve been given to do.

Getting a planner is not the only thing you can do to prepare. Most students are able to get their course schedules long before their classes begin. If this is the case, take yourself on a field trip. Walk around campus a couple times to familiarize yourself with the buildings your classes are in. If you can walk inside the building, take the time to locate what rooms they’re in. Then go for a dry run. See how long it takes to get from class to class. This really does alleviate worries about being late for lectures, where to go, and how to get where you need to be.

Utilize resources. Familiarize yourself with and then utilize all the resources your school offers. Some people feel too intimidated to walk around an unfamiliar campus on their own. For some, looking at a map of all those buildings and locations is like reading a letter in an unknown language. In this case, call the admissions office and ask if they offer tours. Not only are you likely to feel better about where you’re at, but you might make a friend and find out you aren’t the only person scared out of your wits to be starting college.

A tour will also help you learn what other resources your school offers. You will find out where the writing center is, and what tutors are available for other subjects like math or science. For those who are entering with undeclared majors, you’ll be able to locate the career center to help you understand what kind of degree or career would be appropriate for you.

Let Others Help You

In my situation, I was very blessed to have people in my life who were willing to help me. My girlfriend’s husband offered to change the oil in my car and even did minor repairs once in a while. Friend’s also aided me by taking my daughter for play dates so I could study. When friends offer assistance, it’s because they want to see you achieve your goals. Don’t be too proud to let them lend a hand. If it came right down to it, chances are you would do the same for them.

No matter how much you plan or prepare, or how many supportive people you have in your life, there will always be an element of fear until you’ve gotten into the swing of things. Also remember that half the things we worry about never come to pass. With a little preparation and time you will make a nice transition into college and success will be yours – for keeps.

Lisa A. Vella has a B.A. in English writing and has been a freelance writer for almost ten years. She writes articles on health, parenting, family life, and current events.