At the beginning of every school year there are numerous articles shared on news sites and blogs that give all sorts of advice to incoming college freshman. They offer ways to deal with homesickness, how to make friends, doing laundry and keeping up with homework. It's all generally pretty good advice and if you are your typical college freshman, living in a dorm and college IS your life they can be quite helpful. But what about the rest of us?
What about those of us who already have well established lives
with jobs, families, a strong circle of friends, hobbies, and living
spaces to maintain? Making a return to school, whether part-time or
full-time will be a huge adjustment for us too. Where is the “What
You Should Know About Returning to College When You Already Have a
Life?” Well, it's here, finally. At least here are five pieces of
advice I wish I'd been given when I decided to make the return to
1. You will question your sanity. (and likely loose your shit at least once) It may happen on a
Friday night around 11:30 PM when everyone else in your time zone is
either asleep or out sipping fancy cocktails at your favorite bar.
Or it will happen as your alarm goes off at 4:00 AM so you can get up
early enough to squeeze in a run before you head to the library to
give your paper one last review before handing it in. Or it may
happen in a class when you realize every evening of your week is
booked and the professor just asked you to squeeze one more
assignment into your schedule and you suddenly break into tears. It
will happen. It will likely happen more than once but you will be
You've just taken what is your already full time life and heaped 10 to 15 hours of classes and another 20 hours of homework on top
of it. That's like taking on a second full-time job. Life can go
from busy to go-go-go-go! It's going to be a major adjustment. What
do you do about it? Take advantage of peace where you find it –
sitting beneath a tree between classes, a 20 minute walk in the
afternoon or reading a chapter in a non-school book before bed.
My morning coffee time is sacred. It might be the only 15 minutes
of sitting still in my day and I treasure it.
2. Sleep is just as important at 30, 40, 50...as it is at 18.
Nearly every article out there for new freshmen tells them that they
need to make sure they get enough sleep. It holds just a true for
those they call non-traditional students. Enough sleep will go far
in preventing excessive recurrences of item number one. And here is
where the adults have the advantage, while many articles state that most teenagers need anywhere from 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep, we can get by with 8 to 9. That's an extra hour of study time!
Now I know as well as anyone that 8 hours of sleep was a near
impossibility for most us before we returned to school (heck I
probably average about four to five hours a night if I'm lucky) but
try to get a full night as often as you can. It makes a world of
3. Your friends will wonder where you have gone (and you will
miss them). You will say, “I'm
sorry, I can't (attend the baby shower, potluck, go have a beer, see
a movie...etc.) because I have (homework, reading to to do, research,
a paper to write...etc),” often enough to sound like a broken
record. This part does kind of suck especially if, like me, you were
a very social person before you decided to make the return to school.
It can be especially hard when you do see your friends and they are
all swapping stories about gatherings you were not able to attend. It
can be so easy to feel like you are missing out on something and that
blows at any age.
First take a moment to recognize
that you are doing something important for yourself. You made the
decision to return to school because you wanted to. Your friends
will recognize that and hopefully be supportive. Second, you will
have time that you are not in school. There will be holidays,
vacations and summer break. During these times you can make an extra
effort to spend time with those you love. Third, take time to at
least make an appearance at the important events like weddings and
birthday parties even if you can only stop in for fifteen minutes it
will be a way to show you still exist and likely be a nice break from
the school grind for you.
And fourth. When you are done
all of this and you finally take that walk to be handed your diploma
you can throw one hell of a party and invite them all.
4. Don't compare yourself to other students. I'm
not talking about those brand new freshmen. I'm talking about the 35
year old mom who is in your sociology class, or the 47 year old man
in the suit who rushes into accounting with only seconds to spare,
or the 51 year old artist who always has something interesting to say
in your intro to lit course (all of whom get straight A's). It can
be so easy to say to yourself, “I should be handling this better.
I mean so & so is (a mom, a CEO, managing a their own
business...) and they can pull it off.” or “Well of course she
has it easy. The husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend takes care of
dinner and the house while s/he does school work.” or just
“Everyone seems to have it soooooo much easier than me.”
Your situation is just that,
it's yours. You can't know what the life of another person is like.
Those other students may be looking at you and thinking, “Oh this
would be so much easier if I were single like her. She must have so
much free time on her hands.” Right, because all you did before
school was sit around petting the cat and eating nachos. Keep the
focus on yourself and your work. You are doing the best you can
within your own set of circumstances just as they are.
Finally avoid at all costs that
“who has it worse” conversation that inevitably comes up if you
have a friend in school at the same time as you. Neither of you will
be willing to give up your grip on the gold medal for exhaustion so
why go there?
5. Recognize that it this has an end. Every
semester brings you one step closer and at some point in the future
you will take your last class; the hard work will pay off and you
will be handed your degree. Really, it will end, you will have time to breathe again and then you can
start to make plans for graduate school!
There are probably a few other
things I could add like B's are an okay grade, schedule EVERYTHING
and coffee will be your best friend but those five items are the
basics. If you are currently a student or considering a return I do
hope you find them helpful.
See you next week.