by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac ~

I now know, first hand, what it is like to go back to school. Going back to follow my second passion, medicine, after a very successful and passionate career as a dancer/choreographer has been rewarding beyond belief. The first day of school can be a scary prospect for anyone, but adult students confront special concerns and fears.

Adults are more likely to have multiple responsibilities, requiring them to juggle commitments to school, family and employers. They may be haunted by negative earlier experiences with formal education, or worry about being “rusty.” Re-entry students may feel uncomfortable when surrounded by younger, technologically- savvy classmates. Previous drop-outs may be anxious about being able to complete the program this time around. While all of these concerns are legitimate, none are insurmountable. Here is how to value your learning process:

1. Value your experience : Think of the significant lessons you’ve learned since you were last in school. No doubt you’ve learned a great deal about human relationships through a broad range of interactions. You may have learned about health and medicine through the birth of a child or the illness or injury of someone dear to you. Perhaps you’ve acquired technical skills through employment or home maintenance, repair and improvement. A love of travel could have exposed you to other languages and cultures. Certainly you’ve learned the value of academic credentials, something your younger classmates may not yet realize.

2. Learning can happen ANYWHERE: Clearly, you don’t have to be in a classroom to learn. Not only are your life and work experiences valid, they can sometimes give you an advantage over your less experienced classmates. Making connections between classroom studies and life experiences can enliven and enrich not only your own learning, but that of your teachers and classmates, too.

3. Get off on the right foot : Getting off on the right foot means managing your time effectively and establishing good study habits. Many “stressed out” people suffer from “an overbooked schedule or a greater number of responsibilities than one can reasonably handle.” Don’t let yourself get into this trap – learn to say “no” to responsibility overload. One of the first steps to establishing good study habits is understanding your learning style. Do you learn by seeing? hearing? doing? Try some learning style self-assessment steps below to help you decide.

4. Practice good study habits from the outset: Once equipped with an understanding of your learning style, brainstorm how to make the most of it. For example, if you are an audio learner, make sure to choose a seat where you will be able to hear clearly. Consider taping lectures and your own study notes for review purposes. Invest in tabbed binders to keep your notes organized by subject.

5.Stay organized: Many students start out all excited and have their materials together, but loose steam through their course of study. Maintain a calendar of homework, assignment and test descriptions and dates. Break big tasks (e.g., writing a term paper) down into smaller, more manageable targets (e.g., locate library and Internet resources; read and take notes; plan essay outline; write; proof-read; edit). Review materials regularly and consult a tutor or your teacher when you encounter items you don’t understand. See study tips (below) for advice and resources on note-taking, essay writing and preparing for tests and more.

6. Use campus resources : The large number of adult students returning to school has prompted many institutions to offer resources and services to meet the needs of re-entry students. These services may include academic, financial aid and career counseling; child care; work opportunities; health services; housing; support groups and tutoring. Some schools even have a central office and orientation sessions to introduce their services to nontraditional students. Find out what supports your school offers, and do make use of the ones you need.

7. Get comfortable with technology : Campuses have gotten increasingly wired in the past several years. Electronic student cards can be used for everything from making photocopies to signing books out of the library to buying lunch. Cell phones ring through the halls, and too often, unfortunately, in the classrooms. Library reserves are catalogued and searched on computer databases. Teachers may send and receive assignments by e-mail. You may be taking some or all of your courses online. Surrounded by younger, computer-savvy classmates, how can you narrow the “generation lap”? Look for free or low-cost computer orientation courses offered by your school. Most libraries help users learn to search their databases and Internet resources. Schools may also offer workshops in basic keyboarding and computer skills. A great deal of information and support can also be found online.

8. Develop a support network : Sometimes it helps just to know that you’re not alone. Whether you are a career changer, single mother, domestic violence survivor, recovering alcoholic, widow/widower, or “Baby Boomer”, there ARE students like you, who share similar interests and concerns. If your school doesn’t have an adult student support group, consider starting one up yourself or participating in an online community. If the going gets tough, think of the reasons you decided to return to school, and keep your eye on the prize. Successfully managing the challenges of returning to school is a rewarding achievement.

9. Be flexible: If you are going back to school after college, you probably have a rigid, set schedule at work, with the kids or in your daily routine. Learn a lesson from the willow tree and its ability to bend in the great wind. Where as, when we are rigid like the old oak tree, we can easily break apart under the stress of change. Learn to relax and follow the path unfolding before you.

10. Become more mindful: Mindfulness is the act of being fully aware of what happens in each moment. Try living in the NOW. Be present. Honor each moment you are given. Acknowledge each task you take.

There is much to learn in life….