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Mature Students: Get the Support You Need

Studies show that the adult students who do the best are those who have lots of support.

As you return to life as a student, you’ll want to get support from those around you. This means your family and friends and the students and people in your community and at your school. There are many people, resources, and services to help you. If you get off track, there are ways to get back on.

Coping with change

Change, even positive change, can be hard to deal with. When you first go back to school, you may feel completely overwhelmed. On top of all your other roles in life, you will be a student. There are so many new things to learn. There are unfamiliar faces. You don’t know your way around the school. Plus you have school work to do. Your life has been turned upside down. You may feel like you have lost control.

Think of all the other changes in your life. You’ve grown from childhood to adulthood. Remember being a teenager? Your world changed a lot then. Then there were more changes. Maybe you got married. Maybe you had a child. Or you moved or changed jobs. Your life has been full of changes, and you’ve managed them all.

Many adults who return to school say that they feel like a much different person when they finish. They have learned new subject areas. They are more confident in their ability to deal with new situations. They have found confidence and energy to keep working toward the goals that are important to them. You will find it easier to manage change if you remember these things:

  • Change is constant. Life will bring change, whether you like it or not!
  • Change can be hard at first. But you will get used to your new life. You have before.
  • Going back to school is a positive change.
  • You have decided to make this change. You will have more control over how things turn out.
  • You will feel more in control if you carefully plan this change.
  • Talk about your feelings and fears. Others have also felt this way and will know what you’re talking about.
  • Give yourself some quiet time every day. Even 5 minutes sitting quietly will make you feel more calm and able to cope.
  • Keep the familiar faces in your life. There may be a lot of new faces at school, but your roots are with your family and friends.
  • Keep your eye on your goals. Remember why you are doing this. It will make the challenge of change easier to face.
  • Take it one day at a time. Yes, you should look down the road. But you can only do so much at once. Change can be easier to swallow if you break it into bite-size pieces.

Involve your family and friends

You’re going to need the support of your family and friends to do well in school. Get them involved in your plans. Ask them for help if you need it. Talk things through with your family. Plan how things are going to work once you’re back in school.

Here are some ideas for getting your family involved before you actually go back to school. Discussing things in advance will make your decision to go back to school easier for everyone.

Help with the housework

  • Hold a family meeting to organize family and household responsibilities. If it makes sense for your family, set up a work schedule. But don’t just assign jobs to your family. Ask them what they want to help with. Try to rotate the jobs among family members. Don’t make people do the same thing over and over again. If they change household jobs regularly, they won’t get bored and give up. They will also get to learn something new. Finally, put the family work schedule where everyone can see it. Try the fridge or cupboard door.
  • Lower your standards if you have to. If others are going to help out more, don’t expect them to do the job exactly the same way you did. How would you feel if others criticized your work? Gently give suggestions and encourage them to try again. They’ll get better with time.
  • Acknowledge the help you get. Let your family know that you appreciate their efforts and that they make a difference. Build in rewards. For example, agree to pitch in together with the family chores Saturday morning so you can spend the afternoon in the park.
  • Involve your family in your studies. If they want to, have them read your papers or quiz you for exams. Talk about what you’re studying and any problems you may be having. They may not understand everything especially on certain topics. But talking some things over will help you work it out. You may find a new way of looking at things. Your family will also appreciate that you’ve asked them to be involved. As a student, you may also become closer to your school-age children. You’ll have homework, studying, and tests in common. They’ll take pride in helping Mom or Dad out.
  • Reassure your family that you still love them and are interested in them. Try to do this as much as you can. Your family may feel neglected when you become a student, especially when you first go back to school. You will have a lot on your mind and may not pay as much attention to them. Make a special effort to spend time alone with your partner and each of your children.

It may be difficult for your family and friends to support you right away. You may have to ask for help. They can’t read your mind and know how you are feeling. Make it easier for all of you by talking to them and asking for help.

Deal with opposition

Not everybody is going to be happy that you’ve decided to go back to school. It may take a while for some people to accept that you are going to be a student. They may not take you seriously or may want to talk you out of it. They may even try to make you feel guilty, hoping that you’ll change your mind. They probably like you fine just the way you are! They are just as afraid of change as you. They may think you won’t need them or want them anymore if you go out and get an education. Or you’ll meet new people you like better.

Take the time to deal with these fears. Be honest about how things are going to be once you’re a student. Be patient. People may react badly at first when you tell them what you’re going to do. Give them time to get used to the idea.


If your family is against the idea, there’s no easy answer. You may find it hard to follow through with your decision to go back to school. Yet, if you react by giving up your plans, you may end up feeling resentful and regret your decision. This could definitely affect your relationship with your family. If you try to carry on as if nothing has changed, you could end up exhausted. With no support, you might try to do everything you used to do PLUS all the school work and studying. Who could keep up with that?

With time and patience, many families come around. Your needs and interests are just as important as everyone else’s. Do what is most important and only what you can handle at home. Let your family know you still care and try not to feel guilty. You are allowed to go back to school! Look to people outside the family for the support and encouragement you need to go on.

Co-workers, friends, or other relatives

If people are still negative, don’t talk about your plans around them. If they keep bringing it up, you may want to avoid them for a while. Keep a positive attitude toward your studies. No matter how determined you are, being criticized all the time will make you feel less confident. It may also affect your motivation. You don’t need it!

Be your own support: Advantages of being an adult learner

It’s going to take time to get used to being a student again. Don’t be surprised if even after the first few weeks or months, you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” When you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, remember your reasons for returning to school. Are they still important to you? If they are, then they’re worth the effort you’re making.

Compared to the average student, adults have some real advantages. Check the ones that apply to you:


The last time you were in school, you may have still been a kid. Don’t underestimate the power of being an adult! Once you get used to being a student, get to know people, and get organized, it will get easier.

What to do if you get off track

We all feel like quitting sometimes. This can be especially true when you’re having some difficulty at school or home. Wanting to give up is a natural reaction to change and stress. The important thing is to realize that you’re having some trouble. Then you can look at ways to deal with the problem and get back on track.

Here are some things you can do if you’re getting off track in school:

  • Find out what’s really happening. Are you having trouble with a class? Not enough time for homework? Trouble at home? Your babysitter quit? You have an unexpected expense? Once you can identify exactly what’s going on, you can work to find a solution.
  • Talk to a school counsellor. They are used to dealing with all sorts of problems faced by students. They can suggest ways to brush up your study skills or manage your time better. If you have a more serious problem, a counsellor may refer you to another agency for help.
  • Talk to your family. They know you the best and can help get things going again. Maybe you need more help with the housework. Or you have to study more. Be honest about what the problem is and what you need.
  • Look at your original plan. Remind yourself what it is you’re trying to do. Are there some things you haven’t done? Review your goals and believe that you can still get there. Sometimes people want to adjust their plan once they’ve started school because they’ve discovered new skills and interest areas.
  • Read alis's series of mature student articles. These articles have information on all sorts of problems that students face. 
  • Ask for help. You have a lot going for you. You are back at school because you want to make a better life for yourself. You don’t have to do it alone.

Other sources of support

At school

Support from your family and friends will go a long way in helping you do well in school. There are some things, though, that they might not be able to help with. There are many other places you can go for support. Teachers, student advisors, counsellors, case managers, tutors, and other students can all give you support and encouragement. Once you get to know other adult students, they can be an excellent source of help, advice, and friendship. They’re probably going through some of the same things as you are.

You can also talk to your teachers. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you don’t want to ask questions during class, make an appointment to talk to your teacher privately. Teachers have worked with many other adult students. Chances are, they’ve heard similar questions before.

You may also find a number of other helpful resources at your school. Many schools have writing and reading labs or study skills workshops. They may also have special classes on managing stress or making decisions. Some may help students become more assertive or make better use of their time. Most schools can help students with learning disabilities. They can do tests to find out what the actual disabilities are. Programs can be tailored to fit the student. Other tests can find out what computer skills people have. These are just a few examples. There are many resources out there for you. Use them!

In your community

There are many places in your community to meet people, expand your contacts, and get help. It depends on where you live and what you need.

Here are some resources in the community to help you manage going back to school:

  • Career counselling. For information on planning your career, contact a student counselling office. You can also call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre.
  • Daycare or after-school care. For information on care for your children while you’re in school, see Mature Students: Finding Child Care of Your Kids.
  • Services for students with disabilities. Many schools can accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. Services will vary by school, so contact your school for more information. An Alberta Supports Centre or school counsellor can also help with any questions or concerns.
  • Employment services. Many schools give students advice and help on getting work. Check with student services at your school. There are many advantages to working part time while you’re a student. You’ll have more money to contribute toward your education and living expenses. Maybe you can practise the English or math skills you learned in school. You can meet new people. Working part time can lead to full-time work during school breaks or contacts for future work. You could also develop some great references to help impress future employers!
  • Financial assistance/aid for students. There are several kinds of assistance, like student loans and student grants.
  • Financial counselling. Maybe you need ideas for managing your money or other finances. You can contact Money Mentors to talk about your money concerns.
  • Housing. Are you looking for a place to live? The school you’re attending may have housing for students with families and single students. Contact the student services office for more information. If they don’t have their own housing, maybe they can suggest housing that is close to the school.
  • Medical assistance. Some campuses have medical services and/or nurses at school. Make sure you know about health coverage for your family. You may be eligible for assistance under the Alberta Adult Health Benefit and Alberta Child Health Benefit. These benefit plans provide dental, optical, emergency ambulance, essential diabetic supplies, and prescription drug coverage for eligible families with low incomes. 
  • Personal counselling. Maybe you need help with some personal problems, like stress or depression. Contact the student services office at your school. A counsellor may help you directly or refer you to the right agency.
  • Social contact/meeting people. Joining a club or group is a great way to meet people at school. Check the student services office for more information. There may be groups for adult students, single parents, or students who have the same interests.
  • Support for parents. Being a parent and a student at the same time can be hard. There are a number of parent groups and organizations that help parents. These include Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
  • Transportation. Are you wondering how to get to school? If there is public transit where you live, taking the bus will probably be your cheapest option. Call the bus information line for times and fares. If you can’t take the bus, maybe you can join a car pool.
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