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How Do I Do it All and Not Make a Mess of Everything?

This article was written by Kim Major, senior academic advisor at Columbia College.

Adult Learners, also known as nontraditional students, have to perform a balancing act, managing jobs, kids, spouses and other activities while squeezing school into the mix. What are some tricks and tips to help?

Tip number one: Time Management

Students not only need time to attend classes (or to participate in online classes), but they need time to read, study, complete written assignments and perform other course activities. Create a weekly schedule that includes all of your activities outside of your job, including family obligations, class time and  homework. Spread out your study schedule over several days throughout the week to help break down the assignments and allow for any unexpected things that may arise. 

Tip number two: develop a support network

Find other adult learners on campus, either a classmate or someone you've met at the library or bookstore. Perhaps you know someone from work, church or elsewhere who is also a college student. 

Be sure to let family, friends and coworkers know that you'll be spending time taking classes and studying. Ask for their support, whether that means watching your kids while you study, allowing you to leave work early and make the time up later or understanding why you don't have time to go to the movies or clean the dishes!

One of the biggest challenges of going to school for an adult learner is childcare, especially for single parents. If your kids are old enough to help around the house, enlist their help with routine chores, ask them to help you study, teach them about something you're learning in your classes and tell them about the plans you'll make together when you've earned your degree. 

Tip number three: Academic Success

  • Look for online resources through your college library or tutoring services office that offer strategies for note-taking, time management, test-taking skills, memory improvement and other skills to help you conquer your coursework.
  • Meet with a tutor or writing specialist when you need extra help. 
  • Don't be afraid to talk to your instructor, either during or after class, or by using the contact information they gave you on the first night of class.

Tip number four: become comfortable with technology

If you've grown up with computers, you may feel confident about using technology as an essential tool to help you write assignments or find resources. Not all adult learners are tech-savvy though, and you may feel apprehensive about your ability to use technology to your advantage. 

Consider taking an introductory class at your public library or through an adult education program in your public school district, or ask a friend to spend a few hours helping you become more comfortable using a computer. 

Tip Number Five: Stay abreast of your finances

Last but not least, make sure you stay on top of everything you need to cover the cost of tuition, books, childcare, transportation and other needs. Prepare your taxes as early as possible each year while you are in school so you can submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Consult your college's financial aid office to help you determine how much aid you will need, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you have questions.

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