Tips for mature students

September represents a fresh start in so many ways. Thousands of learners are returning to school—and many are adults!

Continuing education programs or individual courses are fantastic ways to build your skills, train for a promotion or stay current in your area of expertise—and it’s a huge benefit to your workplace, too. Not sure where to start? Have a chat with your employer about what options might be possible.

Lesson 1: Never alone

“A great number of people go back to school later in life,” says Calgary-based psychologist Susan MacDonald. “I taught in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Calgary for many years, and the vast majority of students are in their thirties, forties and fifties. I’ve even had students in their sixties.”

Lesson 2: Strength in numbers

Connecting with other mature students is a positive way to navigate the sometimes tumultuous ocean of adult learning. Whether we’re going back to school formally (taking courses at a local college or university) or informally (auditing courses or taking an online class for interest’s sake), we should make time to connect with those adult learners, even if they aren’t in our program or faculty of study.

Lesson 3: A little help

“Open and ongoing communication is essential,” says MacDonald. “Let people know when you will need the most support. Often, students feel stress toward the end of each semester, when papers are due and exams are scheduled.”

“Soliciting help from family and friends was all about childcare for me,” says Kim Pierrot, a pastor, mother of three and doctoral candidate at Carey Theological College in Vancouver. “My husband and parents helped with my children’s school pickups and after-school activities so I could be in class.”

Lesson 4: Morning lark or night owl?

Pierrot planned her schedule around her natural rhythms.

“It helped to figure out when my mind was most alert, and capitalize on that time,” she says. “Writing and studying in the afternoon and late into the night didn’t work for me anymore … but early mornings were golden.”

Pierrot also found that she couldn’t cram for tests the way she used to, nor could she stay up all night writing essays due the next day. “Now, not only is it rare that I have a full uninterrupted day or two; I’ve learned that it is actually much more productive to write or study in little chunks at a time. Even a consistent hour or two a day—especially at the right time of day—can be really productive.”

Lesson 5: We can do this

It’s normal for adult learners to wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?”—especially when academic due dates, work-related deadlines, kids’ school concerts or projects and spousal commitments all coincide.

“Life is like that sometimes,” Pierrot says. “Take a deep breath, ask for help and do your best with everything that demands your time and attention.”