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Mature student sitting anxiously outside of school.

Mature Students: Face Your Fears of Going Back to School

If you’ve been away from school for some time, you may have some doubts or fears.

Some examples of common fears about going back to school are listed here, along with information to think about.

Can I still learn?

You may be thinking, “I’m too old to learn.” But adult students have some real advantages when it comes to learning and school. We may take longer to learn things as we get older, but we can actually get smarter as we age! Our life experiences make it easier for us to relate to material. We can often see the connections between things more readily than we did as younger people.

Some people also wonder if they’ve been out of school too long. Just because you haven’t been in a class it doesn’t mean you haven’t been learning. Your brain is working all the time. You have been learning new skills in nearly everything you do. Living is learning!

You may find that your study skills are rusty or you don’t know all the background on a topic. There are resources that can help you find information or brush up on your studying. You can work on your reading and writing. You can get better at math, science, and English. You can learn how to take notes and read class materials effectively. Maybe you’re not that great at exams. You can get help with that too

What if I hate it?

“Last time I hated school. What if it’s just as bad?” For many adult students, going back to school is their own decision. They have decided that the time is right, and they have set their own goals. It is probably the same for you. When you were younger, somebody else made a lot of the decisions. Now, you are in charge. You choose your program and your courses. You decide where you want to go. As an adult, you also have the benefit of your wisdom and ability to solve problems. These are great reasons for enjoying your return to school!

What if I fail?

If you fear failure, you are not alone. Most students are afraid of failing a course. As an adult student, you may have a lot at stake. You are an adult with adult responsibilities. You have a certain role in the world. You have your own identity as an adult. Maybe it feels like you’ll be losing something if you become a student again. Maybe you’re worried you won’t do well in school.

Yes, you are taking a risk by going back to school. But it is a risk well worth taking. It’s been shown that once adult students settle into school, they do at least as well as other students. And often, they do even better!

What if I succeed?

It may sound strange, but success can be scary. It usually means change, and change can be hard. If you do well and move on to new things, will your family and friends think you have passed them by? It’s only natural to worry about how others may react. But think about it. Your life is going to change whether you go back to school or not. You have decided to get better skills and learn new things. This means that you have more control over how things will change.

You can also take control of your future by planning. Planning means setting goals and deciding how to reach them. It also means figuring out how your choices will affect you. Include your family and friends in your planning so they’ll be more likely to support you.

It’s important not to let your fear of failure or success overwhelm you. Keep your eye on the goals you have set. You will find it easier to overcome your fears if you admit that you have them. You are not alone. Talk to people about your fears. You may also find it helpful to talk to a counsellor at a school or at an Alberta Supports Centre. The counsellor will probably tell you that many other adult students have the same fears you do. The counsellor can also give you tips for dealing with your fears.

Will I fit in?

More adult students are going back to school than ever before. You probably won’t stand out as much as you think. Even if you do feel older than your classmates, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot in common. You are all trying to make your lives better by learning skills and getting new knowledge.

Try to find students you’re most in tune with now. No matter how old or young, there will be other dedicated students among your classmates. There will also be other adult students you can talk to about being back in school. Your school may have an adult students’ support group or social club. When you shop around for schools, ask what supports they have for adult students.

You will feel more comfortable at school if you know what’s expected of you and if you know your way around. Attend an orientation session for new students or a session for adults going back to school. You will learn a lot about the school. You will also get to meet other new students just like you.

Last but not least you have a lot to offer your younger classmates. Once they get to know you, they will see how useful your wisdom and experience are. You may find yourself in more demand than ever!

Will I ever see my friends again?

At first, it may seem like you’ll never see anyone you know again. So many new faces. So much to learn. So many new things to get used to. It can all be overwhelming—and lonely. If your friends don’t really understand what you’re doing, it can be even harder. And this can all happen at a time when you need your friends the most.

It is true that you will have less time to be with your friends. Time you used to spend seeing them is now spent studying. But this isn’t likely the first time this has happened. If you have ever changed your work, moved, or lost your job, you may have had the same feelings of loss. But you were able to get through it. Once you got to know the people around you, you felt a little less lonely. The same thing can happen when you go back to school. Get to know your classmates, your teachers, and others at the school.

At the same time, don’t forget your old friends. Plan to spend time with them and let them know they are still part of your life. Their support and familiar faces will make going back to school much easier.

How will this affect my family?

Does going back to school make you feel selfish? Do you feel like you’re not being responsible to your family? These are pretty common feelings for adults who decide to upgrade their skills and return to school. It’s true that going back to school will affect everyone in your family. You care for your family in many ways. You provide food, clothing, shelter and a lot of love and support. You don’t want any of this to disappear because you are going to be a student.

If you earn the money for your family, you probably think that they should come before you. Your interests may not seem as important. But it doesn’t have to be a “you or them” situation. You can still provide for your family and go back to school. There will be some sacrifice involved, especially at first. But in the long run, your returning to school will probably make things better for all of you. The whole family will gain from the experience.

If you look after the house and children, you may also wonder how going to school will affect your family life. Are your children going to suffer because you’re a student? Your family may be used to you always looking after their needs. Going back to school is going to change that. This will take some getting used to.

Your family will learn to do more around the house and spend more time on their own. They may start to feel more independent and learn new skills of their own. As they become more self reliant, they may grow to appreciate you in new ways!

Think about why you’re going back to school in the first place. It’s probably to make a better life for your family. As an important part of your family, you deserve to improve your situation in life. Besides, you’re not doing this on a whim. This is a big decision! You have made a plan. You’ve talked this over with your family and thought about it for a long time.

Chances are, you wouldn’t be going back to school if it would be really, really hard on your family. After all, this is the best time for you to be a student again. You’ve worked that out already. Feeling guilty isn’t going to help you or your family. So, instead of feeling miserable, build in time to enjoy family activities. Your family will feel better and so will you.

How long is this going to take?

It all depends on the kind of educational program you choose. Some programs take a few weeks or months, while others take a few years. Talk to your counsellor about what will work best for you. You can also explore post-secondary programs in Alberta to learn more about the details of each program.

How will I learn to use digital devices?

If you’ve never used digital devices before, you may be worried about how you’re going to learn. It’s possible even kids may know more than you do! That’s not surprising. Most of today’s children have grown with digital technology in school.

A lot of today’s jobs need some use of computers and other digital devices. Don’t be concerned if you don’t know how to use them now. Most schools have introductory classes in using devices like computers. Many will put students in front of a computer and start teaching them the very first day.

Technology also brings to mind the internet. The internet is very useful for students. You can do research and find information on nearly any topic.

Digital devices and the internet are two kinds of technology. There are many other types. Talk to your teachers and others at your school about technology. The more you learn, the more opportunities you’ll have.

If you don’t own a computer, there are lots of places where you can use one:

  • Your school. Ask about computer labs at the library.
  • Public libraries. All provide free access to the internet.
  • Alberta Supports Centres. All provide free internet access for career planning, job searches, and research on learning.
  • Your friends and family. Ask if you can use a family member’s or friend’s computer.

Remember, you are not alone. Talk to counsellors, friends, and family about the challenges you're facing. It's normal to feel afraid, but don't let your fear of failure—or success—overwhelm you.

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