Common anxieties of adult learners

Everything worth doing causes some anxiety. If we did the same old thing day to day, we’d have no anxieties, but we’d be terribly bored and make no progress in life. So if you’re considering returning to school as an adult, you are undoubtedly filled with the conflicting emotions of fear and excitement.

People around you may give you mixed messages about how they feel about your potential undertakings. After all, your change will also mean changes in your relationships and acquaintances may not get as much attention from you as you devote time to studying. Take some time to think through the positives and negatives that surround your decision. Change is always difficult, but increasing your educational level can enhance your occupational possibilities, your potential wages, your self-esteem and your relationships with those around you. Once you have convinced yourself that attending higher educations is what you want to do, you’re ready to begin to slay all the dragons of doubt that may threaten you on your journey.

Maybe I’m too old

Think of what the years have given you. You have a rich fund of information that you’ve added to over the years, not to mention an impressive vocabulary. You’ve learned to multi-task and time share at your work which will stand you in good stead in higher education. You have hands-on skills that could help you as you add finer skills in pursuing your final goals.

In addition to your information and work-related skills, you’ve also learned many coping skills that will be useful in your future education. You’ve become more confident and sure of yourself than you were as a high school graduate. You’ve learned to take life in stride, not take criticism too personally, and to problem solve when faced with new challenges. And because you have a clear understanding of what your educational goals are, you may very well be more focused and motivated than your potential younger classmates.

You’ve gained skills that make you the envy of many younger students. You’re never going to be younger than you are today. Put this worry behind you!

What if I don’t fit in with the younger students

You’ll need to approach your younger classmates with an open mind, of course. Strange hairstyles and dress don’t make them anything other than what they are – your fellow human beings. If you’ve had a good relationship with children – yours or others – just transfer your relationship skills to them. Chances are they’ll look up to you and enjoy your comments during discussions that give real-life examples that help in understanding the concepts you’re learning.

Those examples are just some of the reasons that your professors will also enjoy having you in class. Enter your classroom expecting to enjoy your new course and new classmates and that worry will drift away.

What if this experience is just like high school?

Believe it or not, high school wasn’t always “Happy Days” for many people. If you found it a sometimes painful experience, rest assured that college certainly isn’t the same. You’ll only have to attend classes for three or four hours a week for each course you take, and starting with one course is a good idea.

Socially, not being a peer, having the cream-of-the-crop’s high school grads as fellow students, and using all the social skills you’ve learned since those Blackboard Jungle days, will help you to feel more confident and relaxed in class.

Academically, if you didn’t work very hard in high school, you know you have the potential as well as the motivation to do much better in this phase of your education.

So, kiss this worry good bye. You’re a different person now than you were in high school and this will be a different, more pleasant experience.

A big change in life

Yes, this seemingly small step may bring about big changes in your life. Most of them will be positive, as your rational self knows, but fears aren’t always rational. Irrational they may be, but everyone feels fear whenever they begin anything new. Think back to any new beginning you’ve had and you’ll find that fear was your initial reaction to it. This is just another of those situations when you have to keep your eyes on your goal, recognize your fear, then ignore it as much as possible. Do positive things to prepare yourself for your new challenges instead of worrying, whether it be walking around campus to familiarize yourself with the layout or purchasing your texts to get a head start on reading. You might even whistle a happy tune as you walk around campus to convince yourself you’re not afraid.

What will my friends and relatives think?

Your social ties are really important, but sometimes they can keep you from becoming the best person you can be. There’s a phenomenon called the “crab bucket effect” that says that, like crabs trying to get atop each other, you may feel the pulling back effect of others as they fear you changing, and try to dissuade you from making this big step. Keeping your goals in the back of your mind, let your friends and relatives know that this isn’t going to substantially change you, that you’ll still care deeply about them. But your successes can be a model for them and your gains can add to their well being.

This may be the time to bring out all those old discouraging statements others have fed you over the years, and look at them clearly with the self-knowledge you’ve accumulated. It’s very possible that you’ll find that many of the statements said more about the speaker that they did of you. When you can put those negative ideas behind you, you can move ahead with confidence and enthusiasm.

What can I do to get ready?

Purchasing and reading your texts can be a good way to realize that the subject you’re going to study is within your abilities. Choose a course you are interested in- one without a lot of unfamiliar jargon or technical terms. Those courses can come later when you’re comfortable and have an established study routine. If you already have a good deal of knowledge about the subject of a particular course, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers tests in many areas of study- with college credit granted upon passing them. What better way to feel like a college student immediately!

Brush up on your computer skills. Take a course offered by adult education departments or a local library. Increase your keyboard speeds to more quickly accomplish written reports. And learn to research over the web, cutting and pasting relevant material (with its source noted) into research notes that will make writing of papers easier.

To combat stress at exam times, learn a few stress relieving tricks such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive relaxation. Before a test, just taking a few minutes to calm down can improve your performance.

How will I find enough time to study?

You will have enough time to get your coursework done, but it will take prioritization, delegation, and organization. Decide what household and work-related tasks have the highest priority and concentrate on those things. The dust bunnies under the bed can wait and they won’t reproduce fast enough to overwhelm your bed! Quick and easy meals can be just as nutritious as intricately produced ones. For that matter, other people in your household might even be capable of cooking one night a week, or mopping under the bed.

Try the SQRRR method of tackling your textbook reading. First Survey the chapter to get an over-all idea of what you’ll be learning. Then Question what terms mean, or how the information applies to you. Read a small section, then close the book and Recite what you just read. When the whole chapter is finished, Review using a list of new terms or questions at the end of the chapter. The whole process may take a little longer than just reading start to finish, but, when you’re done, you’ll find that you’ve retained a lot more of the chapter’s information.

Try to set aside a dedicated time to study, with family members on notice to leave you alone and help keep the environment quiet enough for concentration. You may have to share babysitting duties with friends or relatives, but having quiet study time in an organized area is important for your success. Have your computer (if you have one), dictionaries and other references within easy reach. Turn off your telephone. Hang a “Quiet! Studying!” sign on the door. Do whatever you need to ensure that you will be able to succeed in your studies.

So take that giant step in improving your life! To quote FDR, You have nothing to fear, but fear itself. And the gains will far outweigh the fears!