Returning to School in Your Thirties: 5 Tips For Success in Distance learning
Deciding to return to school in your thirties takes dedication, hard work and passion. Often times, there are so many additional things older students must consider and work out when deciding to return to school. Balancing family and work along with school is surely the most difficult task. If you are a parent with a full time job, the very thought of cramming one more thing into your busy schedule is enough to cause your head to start spinning. There is also the general trepidation about embarking on a path that has been deferred for so long. Perhaps you already have an associate’s degree but are considering returning for your bachelors - perhaps you are even considering a masters degree. After a failed attempt in my early twenties to take classes at a traditional brick and mortar campus, at twenty nine years old I decided to try distance learning. It turned out to be the perfect fit for my situation. Below are 5 tips that I found useful. If you are considering a distance learning program, or are already enrolled in one, hopefully you will find them useful as well.
- Be Realistic About the Time You Have Available.
It is best to try and determine the best days and times to get your homework done right away. Developing a realistic plan early will ensure you have adequate time to devote to your studies. Because I work during the day, I devote at least 4 evenings during the week to my reading, and write any papers as well as work on projects Friday through Sunday. With four small children in addition to my full time job it is a grueling schedule. Having a plan in place makes it feel less stressful and more manageable.
2. Ask For Help
Logging in to your online class forum for the first time can feel very overwhelming. You may feel totally confused – especially if you have never taken classes online before. Establish a rapport with your academic counselor so that you can call them when questions arise. Do not be embarrassed to call your Professor if you have questions about an assignment. Look over your class syllabus as soon as it becomes available. Ask questions early - waiting until the assignment is due may not leave you with adequate time to complete your assignments.
3. Join Online Forums and Communities
Attending classes online can feel like a lonely affair. It is easy to feel less connected to your school and classmates when you never get to meet anyone in person or have limited conversations with them. Joining online communities and discussion forums can allow other students and faculty to offer you encouragement when you feel as if you are struggling alone in your degree program. In addition to helping you feel less isolated, it also acts as a measure of accountability for those who feel they need it.
4. Familiarize Yourself With Online Tools
In addition to communities and discussion forums, most online programs will also offer several learning tools to help with your classes. There may be tutoring available, online tutorials, and tech support. Most have online research libraries available that can really come in handy for writing papers. Before turning to a search engine for sources, check out your online library as their sources will be much more reliable, and often times offer citing assistance for your papers.
5. Set Boundaries With Family and Friends
This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting down at your computer and having your toddler trying to crawl in your lap. Setting up a study area in your home helps establish a routine with your family. They know that when you are sitting at the desk in your office that you are busy with homework and unavailable for a while. Enlist your spouse to keep the kids from knocking, or help field questions the kids may otherwise direct your way. While it may be tempting to join your girlfriend for some shopping at the mall, stick to your schedule, complete your work, and catch up with her later. If all else fails, leave the house and go to your local library! It is so easy to get distracting by the activities going on at your house that sometimes it is better to just leave and find a distraction free place to work.
Making the decision to return to school later in life can be a challenging but rewarding journey. Having a plan and sticking to it can help alleviate much of the stress and allow you to enjoy your classes. If you are considering taking some classes online, remember to establish a routine early and engage with your peers and faculty as much as you can. Distance learning could very well be your ticket to earning your degree and having a rewarding career!