Five Things the Back to School Adult Should Know

A year ago I decided to go back to school to start a new career direction with a degree in Geographic Information Systems.

I took the leap back to higher education with a couple friends heading into different subjects, and collectively there were a few lessons learned.

Thinking of going back to school? Here’s some advice that I learned along the way.


It’s all online.

My friend  had stepped into her chemistry class the same week as I, but a day earlier. I had an urgent message directing me to the ‘blackboard’… She had walked into class and had an embarrassing situation where she learned the blackboard they were referencing was an online portal, not the blank whiteboard in the front of the room.

Through my classes so far I’ve utilized forums, had online quizzes and tests and turned in classwork digitally. You can find the books listed early and hunt them down using the Amazon student option – or wait and see how necessary the professor says they are. So far, half the books listed I never cracked open.

My professors even had their lectures online, so whether you skip a class or don’t take notes, you can use those for review later.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to others.

Raise your hand in class, email the professor, and find a study group.

I swapped emails early with someone else in class I though was leading a similar path early on as an extra means of communication, but soon figured out leaving late after class meant I got some of the best discussions and learned a couple extra things that set the passionate students apart from the others just trying to get the grade.

Even if everyone in your class is much younger, you will get respect for being an adult in the process- and have some insight for someone they need. Just like they can help you along.


You are at a technical disadvantage – start using your computer and phone.

Unless you already use PowerPoint and other computer tools on a regular basis, You’re walking into another different world. My first project I walked into class with my finished work, only to present after several other classmates had full presentations including the questions asked, the process, results, and data used.


The next time I was more prepared and competitive in an environment where the professor was grading us as future professionals in a work environment.  Don’t be afraid to take the extra step.

If you have high-school aged kids find out what teachers expect from their projects and consider emulating.

My college has apps for the Blackboard and for the college itself. You can also find apps for flash cards, study materials and more. Get your school schedule on your phone, reminders, everything. Skip the planner and the notebook, unless you’re a tactile learner like I am.


MOOCs and community colleges are where it’s at.

Massive Open Online Course(s) are online classes offered through universities and sometimes companies to offer a college-level education for the public. A MOOC can give you a certificate of completion at the end if you pay and is a flexible option if you want to get a little boost to your knowledge. EdX is just one option and it has almost 600 courses available. It even has an app!

MOOCs are also stored so you can review the information at your own pace of start it after the course is finished – but that affects being able to get certified.

Getting certified in my field of study at a community college was way cheaper than going back to a state or private college – and some professors work at both schools. Do some research, ask around, and make sure to get your transcripts turned into your new school so you can skip any entrance exams. There’s also a lot of working adults in classes, so it can be a friendlier environment for someone already with a lot of responsibilities.


Give yourself time and a quiet place to study.

I ended up doing a lot of schoolwork around the boys and it was hard, especially when they wanted to play with the laptop I got to accommodate the fancy software I was learning.

It may be hard to take even more time away from the kids, but remember that this is a temporary situation and your smallest cheerleaders will have the largest supportive voices. My friend posted the picture of her kids cheering her on for a chemistry test after we talked about how hard it was for her to go to a tutor session on Saturdays after working all week and attending class twice a week at night. Her boys, and mine, saw us stepping up and working hard at school while doing everything else, giving them an example that you can work hard and make a change in your life at any time.


Anyone else gone back to school? What lessons did you learn?