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Returning to College? Increase Your Chances of Success

Returning to College? Increase Your Chances of Success

A new year is upon us, and while your best friend wants to lose 15 pounds and your husband is eyeing a new Camaro, you’ve got more academic goals: returning to college.

There are some scary things about enrolling—whether it’s one class on campus or three online. But for most adults, the biggest fear is failing. “What if I’m not smart enough?” or “What if I waste all that money and can’t keep up?” are common concerns that returning students of any age face. Luckily, you’re not the first to experience this type of anxiety, so you can learn from the triumphs of others. Here are some tips to help you increase your chances of success.

Improve your comprehension. How many times have you read something only to get to the end and think, “I have no idea what I just read”? That’s the difference between reading and comprehension. Comprehension is about absorbing and understanding what you read, and there are ways to improve it.

First, scan through the table of contents of your textbook to get an idea for how it’s laid out. Read the introduction or preface, any chapter outlines or summaries at the end of the chapter(s). Next, scan the headings and subheadings in your assigned chapter(s). Flip through the chapter and look at any photos, photo captions, graphs or charts. Are there key phrases that jump out at you?

Depending on the book’s topic, be prepared to find answers on who, what, where, when, where, how and why. Write the questions and answers as you read. This will not only help your comprehension, but also give you condensed notes for studying. If you can’t answer these questions, go back and reread the text. If you own the book, use a highlighter to emphasize important points as you read. Stop periodically to ensure you understand what you’ve just read.

Explore ways to strengthen your memory. Things like mnemonics (triggers to aid memory using visual imagery or sounds, such as rhyming) can boost your brain while developing a system to comprehend and remember things.

Work on your organizational and time management skills. Everyone is busy, but perhaps no one is in more need of these skills than working parents. After all, your boss, kids, spouse, and professors are all making priority claims on your limited time. So where to start?

Recognize that your spouse, kids and boss aren’t mind readers. Tell them why college is important to you and fill them in on your schedule—including class and homework time. If your class is on Wednesday at 4 p.m., put someone else in charge of dinner or have your spouse pick up a pizza. Tell your boss that you’ll come in early on Thursdays (or stay late) to make up the time.
If possible, set your homework schedule to coincide with your kids’ homework. A designated time and place can help create a routine and reinforce the idea that you’re also a student.

Create a specific space—such as a cubby, box or drawer—just for your coursework. This will keep it from getting mixed up with your children’s or teen’s materials and you’ll always know where to look when you’re heading out the door.

Get creative. If you have a long commute, see if you can get audios of your professors’ lectures or just record them yourself to play on your ride. Spend a lot of time waiting to pick up your kids at school or while they take piano or play sports? Bring some of your coursework or reading material. Use smartphone and tablet apps that help you stay organized, find online textbooks and manage your time with regular reminders of deadlines, tests and study groups.

And finally, if something comes up where family or work needs to trump class, let your professor know immediately. They may be able to email you files or tell you where to download the audio of the class lecture. Most professors understand that adult students have returned to college because they want to learn. That IS why you’re headed back to college, right? To fulfill your quest for knowledge, get your college degree for personal satisfaction, learn a new skill and maybe, if you stick with it, get enough of a raise at work to buy that new Camaro … for yourself!