There are many reasons an adult who has previously been working full-time may return to their studies, from looking for further qualifications to advance their existing career to seeking an entirely new direction in a new field. Whatever the reason for a return to student life, the switch is always a tough one to manage.
If you are contemplating the idea of returning to studying after time spent working, then you’ll likely be well aware such a move is beneficial, but also a little concerned about what the experience will be like. After (potentially many) years as a member of the workforce, a return to studying can feel incredibly jarring – but it’s important to know that it is manageable, and below, we’ve put together a few tips that you may find useful…
Consider learning online
Online learning is fast becoming the standard for further education, and it’s worth considering exploring this option. There are plenty of benefits to learning online for anyone, but perhaps the most important – given the fact you have been working full-time until this point – is the sheer flexibility it offers you.
This is particularly essential if, like many returning students, you intend to continue working while studying. The flexibility of online learning allows you to work at your own pace and convenience, which makes it far easier to arrange around a work schedule than courses that are taught offline.
Consider your chosen course very careful
There are two primary reasons that people return to study after working full time, with the most obvious reason being the desire to improve their career path and enhance their prospects for future work. In most cases, this will be to improve their depth of understanding, and gain additional educational credentials, of a field they have already worked in.
If you are returning to work for this reason, then it’s important to consider how your career can be further enhanced by a new qualification. It’s generally best to consider options that expand on your existing skill set and experience, while potentially opening new doors in the future. There are a variety of options that allow you to do this; if you have worked in engineering, then you could look for an online engineering management degree in order to rise through the ranks; if you’ve worked in nursing, you could look to advance to nurse practitioner status, or you could think more outside the box – if you’ve worked in customer service, then your understanding and ability to interact with customers could be greatly enhanced by a psychology qualification.
Alternatively, you may be returning to study not to improve on your existing career path, but to change course entirely. This is a bold step, but one that is becoming more popular, as more and more people opt to completely change their career in a quest for a better working life, or to engage with a new passion or interest. In this scenario, it’s important to be as sure as you possibly can be that you choose a qualification that leads you to a new career, and that you’re certain this is the right field for you. While you can always switch careers again in future if you prefer, it’s obviously preferable only to have to make such a substantial change once.
Consider how additional responsibilities may influence your studies
Many people who return to school after working full-time underestimate just how time-consuming studying can be. This is completely understandable, given previous experience of education; through high school and college degrees, studying is a full-time occupation, and all that you have to do. This means that your memories of just how time-consuming studying is can be somewhat limited because your time wasn’t that pressed when you were last in education; you didn’t have so many other responsibilities to work around.
However, given you have been working full-time and essentially living a normal adult life, it’s almost certain that you now have far more responsibilities than you did when studying before. These responsibilities may include continuing to work, children, or your relationship; adult responsibilities that simply weren’t a factor when you were in high school or college the first time around.
It’s therefore helpful to be realistic about the amount of time that studying will take and how this may impact your responsibilities. Wherever possible, look to lighten your responsibilities; you can inform your friends and family that your time will be more limited, for example, so you may not be able to offer favors as frequently as you previously have. If you’re continuing to work, you may also find it useful to inform your boss of this, so they know not to schedule you for unexpected overtime or other necessities outside of your usual workload.
Be ready for slow progress
It may sound odd, but the ability to learn is something that tends to require practice. At school and through college, you may have been able to soak up new information quickly and easily; you understood concepts almost immediately and experienced a sense of confidence over your speed of learning.
Unfortunately, the habit of learning is likely to be something that you – like every other adult – have largely fallen out of in recent years. You may find that where you once absorbed information almost immediately, you suddenly find yourself struggling for comprehension, and everything takes far longer than you may have initially imagined that it would.
This is entirely normal, and you will usually find that you’re able to pick up the pace relatively quickly as your brain adjusts to learning once more. Just be kind to yourself in the first few weeks of your course, acknowledge that you may find the experience overwhelming, and that progress may seem to be slow. Try to keep in mind that this is almost certainly a temporary situation.
Be aware of the need to make time for yourself
So far, we have talked about the time commitment that is required to study, and how this can be complicated by additional responsibilities from other areas of your life. These issues are problematic enough in and of themselves, but they can also combine to pose a risk to your sense of well-being.
Stress is incredibly common for any student, but those with additional responsibilities are all the more liable to experience the condition. It’s therefore imperative that you allow time in your ever-more crowded schedule to destress, providing a chance to relax, take a breather, and give your mind a break for a while.
Strangely enough, taking a break to destress can be rather challenging, as you become focused on achieving as much as possible. The idea of taking time away from work or studying just to relax can feel, to some people, like a waste of time – but it’s actually an investment. By opening up the opportunity to relax, you’re more likely to be able to manage your studies – and your other life responsibilities – in a healthy and productive way.
It would be remiss to suggest that returning to study after spending time working full-time is easy, and we have focused on the methods of coping with the experience above. However, it would also be remiss not to balance these points, and draw a clear conclusion: while it may be tough, the lifelong benefits you will enjoy as a result of returning to studying cannot be underestimated. Your career prospects, and earning power, will be boosted substantially, and further education allows you to make progress in your chosen industry. So while it may be tough, it is manageable, and it’s also incredibly worthwhile.