Starting college as an adult is a shock to the system, whether you're 23 or 53. After years in the workforce or at home with your children, changing gears and becoming a student again might not come naturally. Fear and anxiety shouldn't hold you back, though. It may take weeks or even a few months, but eventually, taking notes and studying for finals will feel like a well-honed habit.

Gear Up

Your life will be made infinitely easier if you have a lightweight laptop instead of relying on a desktop computer at home. Carry the laptop in a sturdy backpack or messenger bag with cushioned zippered pockets so you can use it in classes and cart it to coffee shops and the library. Buy a flash drive so you can share and transfer files from your computer to others. In addition to the standard notebooks and pens all students need, you'll want a cell phone with Internet access so you can easily stay in email contact with your teachers and classmates. You don't need an electronic organizer as long as you have these other devices.

Practice Studying

The type of rote memorization and critical analysis required in most college programs may have no place in your day-to-day life. Training yourself to be efficient at studying helps you hit the ground running. Choose a book that's fitting for your field; for instance, a Victorian novel if you're going to study English or a psychology textbook if that's your field. Find a place you can concentrate. Read the book, taking notes as you go and highlighting passages as though you were preparing for a test. When you're done, look for a sample test in the back of the textbook or write a sample three-page paper about the book's themes. Practicing these skills without worrying about grades helps you prepare for the realities of classwork.

Schedule Your Time

The schedule you'll keep as a college student is almost surely different from what you're used to following as a worker or full-time parent. Prepare for it by writing out a weekly schedule and filling in all your can't-miss obligations, like scheduled class time and part-time work shifts. Plan to spend about two hours studying for every one hour you spend in class; in time, you might find you need more or less than this. Once your college schedule is set, write in blocks of family time and relaxation periods. Ask friends and family members to help get your children to and from activities or care for pets while you're spending long days at school.

Prepare Mentally

Beginning college is stressful for everyone, but walking into classrooms filled with 18-year-olds is especially daunting for most older students. Don't feel the need to study up on the interests of young people so you can fit in; by college, even young students have typically learned to respect people whose backgrounds are different from their own. Be reassured your classmates won't stare and point when you walk in each day. If you're still anxious, talking with a therapist or writing in a journal can help you manage your anxiety and get you excited about the newest chapter of your life.


Register for your classes as early as you can.


Do not lose the pin number you get when you fill out the FASFA. The financial aid department will need that number.

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