6 Common Concerns of Adult Learners (And Why They Shouldn't Worry)

Concern of Adult Learners

If you’re feeling apprehensive about going back to school as an adult learner, you’re definitely not alone. The “what ifs” and feelings of insecurity are much more common than you might think.

But guess what else is more common than you might think? Going back to school as an adult learner.

That’s right, it’s becoming more and more common for adults to return to the classroom in an effort to finish what they’ve started, move up the ladder or pursue a career change. In fact, adults made up more than one in three students enrolled in postsecondary programs in 2012, according to a recent study by the National Student Clearinghouse.

It helps to know you’re not alone. But that doesn’t diminish the concerns you have about going back to school. To help you feel more confident as you embark on your educational journey, we connected with a few adult learners, who were once in your shoes, to hear about their worries and how they overcame them.

6 common questions adult learners consider

1. Will I be able to pay for it?

Karen Watts, author of Success in College: Strategies for New Grads and Non-Trads, decided to go back to school to improve her employability. Like many other adult learners, she was initially worried about how to finance her education. But student loans offered her the opportunity to make a payment schedule.

“Have a plan for payment and consider pay-as-you-go options instead of loans for part or all of your education,” Watts recommends. She also notes that in order to be wise with finances, it’s important to be very clear about what you hope to gain from furthering your education and set specific goals ahead of time. She suggests reviewing your progress after each semester to ensure you’re staying on track.

“Don't keep pouring time and money into the wrong program,” she says. Do plenty of research prior to enrolling so you’re sure the program aligns with your needs and goals.

2. Will I have the time?

With a job, a family and other commitments, you don’t exactly have a lot of time on your hands. It’s no wonder you’re worried about adding another priority on your plate. But just remember that many busy adults like yourself have made it work — and so can you!

“Online learning technology, good time management skills and open discussions with my children helped with the time issues,” Watts says. She also recommended taking a time-management class or workshop and engaging friends and family to build a support network as you start this new chapter in your career.

Programs that cater to adults are generally aware that students have career and family obligations. Many schools offer multiple ways of learning and flexible class meeting times to work around busy schedules.

3. Will I be able to keep up with technology?

Unlike today’s generation of traditional college students, you didn’t grow up in the digital age with smart phones and tablets everywhere you turn. The college classroom and curriculum has evolved along with the rest of world, and this can be scary for adult learners.

“Technology is a big concern for returning students,” Watts says. But the reality is, there are resources and help available if you need some extra assistance with technology. She adds that many colleges even offer workshops through their tutoring centers or libraries.

“My college offered a ‘computer boot camp’ where facilitators review many of the core tech skills students need to survive,” she says. “Tech is always changing, and asking for assistance is the smart thing to do.”

4. Will I lose my independence?

Walter Rhein obtained his teacher’s certificate at the age of 35, and his primary worry as an adult learner was losing the independence he’d enjoyed as an adult.

“My biggest concern was submitting myself to a situation of little-to-no power,” he says. “However, as an adult, I find the teachers are less inclined to bully you and you’re more equipped to handle them if they do.”

Rhein also found that he was able to engage in challenging discussions with his instructors. The practical knowledge and life experience you’ve acquired in your adult life has equipped you with a unique perspective that can be an asset to any classroom discussion.

5. Can I still learn?

It’s been a while since you’ve stepped foot in a classroom. You haven’t been in the learning mindset for quite some time, so it makes perfect sense to wonder if your mind is still as sharp as it once was. But just because you haven’t had your nose in a textbook, doesn’t mean you haven’t been learning all of these years.

You’ve been a student of the world all along — adding new skills and knowledge to your arsenal each and every day. You’ve learned how to raise your children, complete your taxes, manage a budget and even how to operate your new smartphone when it seemed impossible. Give yourself a little credit — your brain is still in pique condition.

The bigger challenge will be incorporating some new habits that will help set you up for success. Your routines will change a bit, but once you get the hang of things, it will come more naturally to you. Check out this article for some helpful ideas on creating great study habits.

6. Will my loved ones support me?

Daniel Lavery pursued a career in law after an undergraduate education at the Naval Academy and a stint in the Vietnam War. Though he was passionate about his career change, his father, a war veteran himself, discouraged his decision.

With the support of friends who knew his potential, Lavery pursued a law degree anyway. He passed the bar exam and has since had a successful career as an attorney, including founding a civil rights practice.

“I learned not to always follow [family] advice, or anyone else’s who does not know your motivation, passion and determination,” he said. “If you have a passion to do something a few people don’t believe possible, you should not be discouraged. Seek out positive people if others discourage your dream. Even if no one sees you as [what] you want to become, follow your heart.”

The best thing to do is enlist the support of your family and friends from day one. Get them on board so they can help you reach your goals, as opposed to standing in your way.

Set your worries aside

Your concerns about going back to school are definitely warranted. But after reading the advice from adult learners who have gone before you, you should be feeling more confident than ever about conquering those fears.

It’s never too late to advance your career or pursue your passion. If you want to read more stories about adult learners, check out our article: 5 Students Like You Who Made It Through.


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Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She also works as a copywriter for a creative agency and edits an online magazine where she enjoys connecting with others through the written word.

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