Older Student Anxiety

Returning to school at an older age can be intimidating, even for the most confident adult. It is a step outside the comfort zone of a daily routine of work and family obligations into a world where lecture, study, new ideas and information must be incorporated and absorbed into the mix.

Especially for those older students who have been out of school for many years, there is anxiety about the ability to “make the grade,” retain information, take tests, write papers, and develop effective study habits. Many older adults worry about fitting into classes and interacting with much younger students, not to mention instructors or professors who may be the same age as their children. While all the anxieties an older student may experience are valid, most will prove to be unfounded. 

On the first day of class, find a seat where you can see the instructor clearly and hear well. While many students tend to fill up seats toward the back of the room, seats toward promote more effective concentration. Be prepared to take notes, but initially, listen for the instructor or professor to give information about what is expected from students for that class. Review the syllabus you are likely to receive, and don’t be afraid to ask any question you might have about procedure, due dates for assignments, absences, or grading.

When the time comes to take notes, don’t try to write everything down word for word. Most students develop their own form of shorthand, leaving out words or using abbreviations that will help them write information quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask for something to be repeated. Pay attention to the instructor’s mannerisms and method of giving information. If something is repeated more than once, it is likely information you will be expected to know and remember.

More than likely, older students will find during class discussions that they have much more to contribute than they realize. Although younger students may be more comfortable in the class setting and seem to be very knowledgeable about the subject at hand, an older student has had much more life and work experience that can lend perspective to many subjects and situations. If your experience can be used as an example to provide insight into how things work “in the real world,” raise your hand and share your first-hand knowledge of the subject.

Make it a point to get acquainted with other students in each class who may become potential study partners. When it comes time for that first test, being able to review information with others in the class can help everyone be better prepared. You might be surprised to find that many younger students are more than willing to be a part of a study group made up of both older and younger students.

When writing papers, follow the guidelines given by the instructor, but if writing is not your cup of tea, ask for help. Every college or university has a writing lab or other place where students can get help with putting their ideas on paper. Be sure to cover all aspects of the question or subject in the assignment, and check your paper carefully for spelling and grammar errors.

Once you’ve survived the first few classes, met potential study partners, and learned what is expected from each class, you can better judge how to fit school, home, and school responsibilities together. Going back to school for older students can be hard work, but the rewards of gaining new knowledge, making new friends, and expanding your world are well worth the effort.