There’s a lot of understandable stress that comes with the idea of finishing a degree program. How will you find the time? Can you handle the coursework? How long will it take? Will you be making the right decisions and spending time where it counts? What about your family and job obligations? So many questions and such uncertainty…
It's no wonder that many adult students are wary of making the leap into finishing a degree program. It's a big step that can lead to an amazing accomplishment, but it’s one that will take time and planning and yes, may cause stress.
Not to fear, we’re here to help you look at this process one step at a time to show that it’s doable.
Test the Waters
The best way to try something new is to start slowly by testing the waters. This means taking a course and seeing how it goes. For most, it’s all of the unknown factors that hold you back from finishing your degree. Once you test the waters, you’ll have the answers you’ll need to be confident in your decision to return to college. Can you handle the coursework? Can you make time in your day to work on coursework and attend class? You'll surprise yourself. You’ll discover new ways to squeeze in an extra hour here and there and continue to find life balance.
Plus one of the best things about attending college today is that course options are varied. No longer do you have to attend class in person if there isn’t a local campus or the schedule doesn't fit with your busy lifestyle. There are online classes where you interact with classmates and instructors completely online. Maybe a hybrid schedule of online and in-person classes is what you need to stay on track.
So try it out! The unknown can be a scary thing and nothing eases this fear faster than experience. Become comfortable with a new schedule by starting out slow and then you’ll see that you really CAN do this.
Although you feel like you’re tackling this journey on your own, when you return to college there will be built-in support all around you. Each student has an academic advisor who can discuss your schedule, degree program, and more. There’s always a financial aid department to answer any questions you might have about how to pay for your degree and what grants, scholarships, and loans are available.
And there's are additional benefits of being a student that you may not have considered. At most colleges you'll have access to free career services that you’d have to pay for elsewhere. Do you need to talk with someone about your path or how to achieve your career goals? Need help finding a job shadow experience or internship? Need to narrow down your interests and skills into a career path? Want to discuss resumes, cover letters, or job hunting? Career services is a huge benefit that can help give you a plan.
Create a Plan and Set Goals
After you’ve taken a class, met with an advisor, and financial aid, it’s time to create your own plan and set realistic goals that you can accomplish. Plan your semesters by knowing what courses you need to take and how many courses you can tackle per semester. Next, set milestones and create checklists to track your assignments. Remember to reward yourself as you check things off your lists!
The best thing about creating a plan is that it takes an enormous undertaking, like finishing a degree, and reduces the stress by breaking it down into smaller pieces. You can put your full focus on that one task that’s ahead of you, without being overwhelmed by the entire process. And don't be afraid to write it all out or buy a planner to keep yourself organized and on task.
We think you'll find that once you've set your sights on each of the smaller tasks, you'll find yourself standing at graduation wondering where the time went!
Proceed at a Reasonable Pace
It’s never a good idea to rush things and your degree is no different. Taking on too much or setting educational goals that are unrealistic will only create stress. After a semester or two you should be able to reasonably decide how many courses you can take per semester and plan how soon you'll be able to graduate.
But remember the pace is yours alone. Too slow can mean you'll quit and too fast may mean you'll burn out. It's finding that nice middle ground for your specific lifestyle that will keep you going toward the finish line.
And don't forget to take stock as you go along. Are you doing too much? Are other things in your life slipping? Or are things too easy? Could you add in another class and still make your life balance work? Eventually you'll find that place where taking a course or two will become routine.
Finishing a degree is all about the experience! Take your time, meet new people, network, learn something new, take an unexpected class, find new passions, and take pride in all of your hard work. Be curious, be creative, and take the time to engage with what you’re learning on a deeper level. Trust us, you'll feel enriched by the experience!
So as you plan to finish your degree, don't lose sight of the fact that this is an experience for you. Take advantage of all there is to learn and the tremendous growth you'll achieve. Know that once you've addressed the fear and stress with knowledge and experience, there’ll be nothing you can’t tackle! Now get out there and finish that degree!