A mature student in an adult education class Credits: Getty Images
Give yourself every chance for success as a mature student.
Returning to school after a period of time away can seem like a huge challenge. You may have a full- or part-time job, children, debt and any other number of concerns that seem to get in the way. You may even worry that a lot has changed since you went to high school or university—and you’re probably right. That’s why we chatted with Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, which has about 70,000 enrollments each year of people ages 17 to 80. She’s well versed in going back to school as a mature student, making it through and doing it well.
Challenge 1: You have limited time to attend classes.
Solution: Take on a flexible workload.
Just because you have a full-time job or children that you have to take care of doesn’t mean you have to quit work in order to return to school. Most universities and colleges offer their courses online, which will allow you to take classes when they suit you, from the comfort of your home, and avoid a long commute. You can also take classes on evenings and weekends. The only downside to this flexible model is that it takes longer to complete the certificate or degree.
Challenge 2: You’ve run out of time for homework.
Solution: Get your family to pitch in around the house.
So you’ve managed to attend all of your classes, but now you need to find the time to actually do the work? Make sure you have family support. “If you’ve been doing the cooking, perhaps someone else can pitch in,” says Bountrogianni. “If you drive everyone around—ask for support either from a partner or from an older child that has a license.” You’re only going to find time to do homework and attend classes if you have help.
Challenge 3: You’re worried about life getting in the way.
Solution: Take a fast-track course.
Spreading your coursework over multiple years means you’ll have a much more flexible schedule, but it also means that other things could crop up such as a pregnancy, the death of an elderly family member or a house renovation.
It’s possible to complete a program in just a few months, provided you’re willing to devote all of your time to your education. By signing up for an intensive, fast-track program, you’ll get knowledge under your belt quickly and effectively by taking courses during the day, in the evenings and on weekends. By taking your courses this way, you have a higher chance of completing your program.
Challenge 4: You want to go back to school but aren’t sure what to study.
Solution: See a career counsellor.
If you’re unsure about your future career path, meet with a private career counsellor or one at a university. Bring your full background, including past education, jobs and volunteer experience. A counsellor can give you ideas for programs and careers that you would be especially suited for and may never have considered.
Challenge 5: You have poor computer literacy.
Solution: Take a workshop.
Whether you’re looking to get back into the work force, upgrade your skills or simply learn for fun, the ability to use a computer is essential. At an academic institution, this skill will help with taking online courses, writing and researching papers, gathering assignment information and keeping in contact with professors and other students. “It’s also an integral skill to have for getting employment,” says Boutrogianni. “It’s something that’s necessary today—as necessary as reading and writing.” At The G. Raymond Chang School, as at most other universities and colleges, there are workshops for people needing basic computer training.
Challenge 6: You’ve forgotten how to write an essay.
Solution: Take another workshop or book time with a tutor.
“If you haven’t written an essay in 20 or 30 years, that’s daunting,” says Boutrogianni. When it comes to sentence and paragraph structure, writing outlines and properly citing sources, all universities have writing workshops and tutors that can help. To learn more about these programs at Ryerson specifically, visit the Student Learning Support centre.
Challenge 7: You struggle with taking notes or have to miss a class.
Solution: Swap phone numbers with other students.
“It’s something we did when we were young, but we forget over the decades,” says Boutrogianni. Anytime you sit down in a class, swap digits with the people around you. That way you can share notes, ask questions when you’re unsure and learn about missed assignments if you have to skip a class.