Are you older than the average college student and thinking of going back to school? After military service, many students find themselves older than their classmates and facing challenges that younger students don’t have to deal with. Your military scholarship should relieve some of the financial stress of going back to school, but you’ll need to learn how to manage your time and create your support system. Read on for tips to succeed as a mature student.
While your first instinct might be to “not make waves,” make sure you don’t fall into the trap of keeping your mouth shut even when you’re confused. Whether you’re doing a certification course or a full degree program, don’t be shy about raising your hand and getting clarification from the instructor. Asking your peers questions is also a great way for you to bond with your classmates, even if you worry that the age gap will be tough to bridge.
Be Organized and Take Notes
For most students who have done military service, focus and discipline are now second nature. These attributes will help you immensely in your new career as a student. However, attending class regularly, listening carefully to instructions and turning in assignments on time are not enough. You’ll need to develop an organizational system for your lessons — managing your time when you have a full load of classes might take getting used to — and you’ll also need to develop your note-taking skills for class. Many mature students find recording their course sessions for reviewing later can come in handy and even saved them when studying for exams.
As a student, you’ll be in control of your schedule. This is both good and bad for older students who are used to working a schedule set by a supervisor. It’s important to remember that your time commitment to your studies does not stop at the classroom door; most university-level classes will require about three hours of homework or reading for every hour of time you spend with an instructor. Diploma courses may be even more time-intensive, especially when so much information is being packed into a short-term course. Before you start your studies, talk to the admissions department at your target institution to find out what a typical time commitment is for the kind of courses you want to take.
Have a Study Buddy
When we watch TV shows or movies about going back to school, the storylines often focus on parties, class discussions and the lifelong friendships formed with peers. All of these are important elements of your student experience, but what popular culture doesn’t show is that studying also involves a lot of alone time. You may be spending hours late into the night and on weekends reading textbooks or getting practical experience. If you’re used to working in a team environment, like many in the military, going back to school can feel suddenly isolating. Find a study buddy from one of your classes or through a student group for other veterans. Just having someone across the desk from you is a great motivator when it’s time to hit the books.
Get Your Friends and Family on Your Side
A study buddy will help you when you’re at school, but when you’re at home you’ll need your family’s assistance. Tell everyone who is close to you what your goals are and ask them to encourage you if you start to feel unmotivated or stressed out. If you are married and have children, or are looking to get married soon, be sure to talk to your partner about what kind of time commitment your studies will take and what the impact will likely be on your home life.
Use the Tools You Have
Think about the skills you have developed in your military career and how you can apply them — or the philosophy behind them — to your new job as a student. You may be surprised at how many of these skills, like teamwork, are transferrable. Additionally, you should take advantage of any programs, support networks or technological aids your school offers. Always be on the lookout for a new way to benefit from your surroundings and your experiences
Finally, don’t let student life get you down. You might be under pressure as a mature student but your hard work will pay off in the long run. Make sure you schedule in some breathing room so you can step back and realize you are on track to meet your goals. If your schedule allows it, take some classes that interest you, even if they’re not required for your diploma or course. Have fun with your studies and remember you’re doing it for you.
About the Author: Georgia M. Pharr is a student counselor at a community college in Louisiana. A reservist herself, she often helps military personnel adjust to life as students.