Tips for non-traditional students to stay motivated

Adults who return to school with a goal to pursue that elusive college degree typically haven’t set foot in a classroom in many years. For some it has been decades since they’ve had the notion of opening up a textbook. As a result, going back to school is a huge adjustment for adult students. The thought of sitting down in a room full of other students can be a bit intimidating for adults returning to school after many years.

The intimidation is the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the challenges with re-entry into the classroom setting, there are also issues of balancing a family, job and other responsibilities with coursework commitments.

While non-traditional students may start off spirited and ready for action, it sometimes can be difficult to stay motivated. This is especially true when the pressures of life begin to collide with the newly added stress of going to college. When this occurs, a student may even feel like giving up once the stress level gets too high.

If you are a non-traditional student who finds themselves in this kind of scenario, don’t lose hope! There are many techniques and/or approaches you can try to help you stay motivated.

How badly do you want it?

When the going gets tough and the motivation collapses, the first thing you want to do is ask yourself, “How badly do I want that degree?”

If the answer is a definitive “badly” or “I really want it!”, this is often enough to get those motivation juices flowing again. Most adult students who have opted to return to the classroom usually have a firm reason for doing so. It may be out of a financial necessity in order to stay viable in the job market, due to a need to change career fields, or it could simply be for personal satisfaction.

Whatever the objective was for going back to college, usually refocusing on the reasons why you went back to school in the first place is the best motivator.

Reach for the gold

Reach for the gold, or in this case the college degree and graduation ceremony. For many adult students, reaching the fulfillment from earning a degree after so many years is incredible. When motivation slows and momentum drops, by thinking about the future and seeing the finish line, this is often enough to get the incentive levels increased.


Falling into a pattern of disorganization can contribute to making adult students feel less motivated. The key to successfully avoiding this is to get organized from the beginning and, once established, stay the organized course.

If possible, keep a separate desk, table or other location in your home which is dedicated solely to studies. Separate school activities from the bills, report cards, job responsibilities – the feeling of being overwhelmed should decrease. When you sit down to do your assignments, stay focused on them and keep everything else out of sight and out of mind.


Going back to school and balancing classes with your other responsibilities is tough. The best way to combat getting overwhelmed is to maintain a strict level of discipline. When you set your mind to what you need to do with a deadline in mind, you have a better chance of successful completion of each assignment. Try not to fall into a pattern of disruptions and other distracting habits. Turn the TV off, avoid checking email, stay off Facebook or other social networks and resist the temptation to surf other favorite websites. Instead, try and focus on the task at hand. You’ll find this is more efficient and, as a result, you’ll stay more motivated. As each assignment is completed, each course finished, motivation levels will continue to increase as you get closer to your goal of achieving that degree.

Maintaining energy for motivation is often a tough hurdle to cross for many adult students, but keeping a focus on both the present and the future will help you get through those difficult moments. Keep your eye on the gold! Before you know it, you’ll be crossing that finish line and walking away with your long-awaited college degree.