Are you heading back to the classroom as an adult this fall?
Congratulations! That means you’ve already cleared the hurdles of finding a school, navigating the admissions maze, and—hopefully—figuring out how to pay your tuition. All you have to do now is show up for classes, find a few hours a day to study, remember how to take tests and write papers, get all your work turned in on time, and you’re golden, right?
Of course you may have to do all that while holding down a job, taking care of your kids or maybe even your parents, paying your bills, grocery shopping, keeping your home in shape, and all the other thousand or so little tasks and responsibilities that are part of being an adult. Yikes, what have you gotten yourself into?
Relax, you can do it. Does it help to know that an estimated 40 percent of college students in the United States are older than 25? Like them, you can make this work. But unlike a typical 18-year-old, you probably can’t make it work just on blind luck. The key for any adult returning to school is planning. Of course you know that having a plan doesn’t mean that everything is necessarily going to go that way –but it does mean that when things start to seem haywire, you’ll have a better chance of getting back on track.
When you make a plan, you give yourself the chance to see exactly how you can accomplish all you need to accomplish. This means writing down a weekly schedule each week. Note that it doesn’t mean having a vague idea of all the things you need to get done in any given week. That’s simply a recipe for sleepless nights. Instead, it means physically documenting your weekly schedule—you can do this on paper, in a calendar, or online. However you do it, make sure you include time for the following:
- Your job. The first thing to block off is time when you will be at work. Then block off commuting time, getting-ready time, or other work-related tasks.
- Your classes. This includes the actual hours you spend in the classroom or online for a course, as well as any commuting time.
- Sleep. Notice how high on the list this is? Sleep is important—when you don’t get enough, you can’t do anything else to the best of your ability. No matter what you think you can get by on, be sure to block off 7 to 9 hours a night for sleeping.
- Study time. There’s a reason for blocking out your study time after you’ve blocked out your sleeping hours: you won’t end up facing the sleep-versus-finish your work trade-off every night. The sad fact is, you need to do both in order to meet your education goals.
- Exercise. Whether you love it or hate it, exercise is one thing that’s easy to let drop from your schedule when you get overloaded. But, like sleep, getting physical activity repays you by improving your functioning throughout the day—and helping you sleep better to boot.
- Family time. If you have kids, a partner, or other family members you’re close to, it’s a great idea to block off the time you want—or need—to spend with them each week. This might be family dinners, carpool obligations, helping your kids with homework, or simply relaxing time.
- R & R. You may as well face facts—you’re likely to have to cut back on some of your favorite fun stuff while you’re in school. For most people, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And keeping your eye on your long-term goals can help ease the pain of giving up some fun time. But don’t kid yourself by thinking you can get by without any fun. Now that you’ve blocked out work, school, and other obligations, make sure you include something fun each week—it helps to have something to look forward to and it helps you unwind in between tasks.
Once you’ve included these seven major items, you’ll probably have your own unique needs to add to your schedule. The important thing is getting down your obligations—and the hours of the day—in one place, each week. Sometimes your schedule will look very much the same from week to week—but other times you’ll need to make big adjustments. Once you get used to making and following a weekly schedule, you’ll find that it gets easier to plan ahead—for instance, to find times when you can sneak in some extra study time while waiting for an appointment or get a head-start on a big assignment because you have time off of work.
Check out CareerOneStop’s Credentials Center for information on how going back to college and other credentials can boost your career. You can learn more about the kind of training that’s in demand and what’s right for you.