Going back to school after you’ve been in the workforce can feel a little daunting, but with a fresh approach, anyone can make a fresh start.
Jo-Anne Clarke, director of business and professional programs at the University of Calgary, says it’s only natural to feel a little anxiety when you’re returning to school, but it’s important to realize you’re starting over with a clean slate.
“I find that students can sometimes carry an old image of who they are as a student,” Clarke said.
“As an adult, you have an opportunity to recreate who you are as a student — you have life experience to bring into the classroom.”
Time management is crucial but more important are managed expectations — don’t try to do a full course load while running your full-time life because it just won’t work and your studies will suffer. Many students start out doing a single course at a time to test the waters and get a sense of how much time and effort they can commit, Clarke says.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Students who take on more than they can handle don’t enjoy the process and are not as successful. Learning is fun but it is a process; you can’t rush it,” Clarke said.
If writing was never your biggest strength, Clarke recommends taking a writing skills refresher course to help make further learning much easier, as the writing style you’ve been using in the workplace likely isn’t ideal for school.
Gervan Fearon, dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University in Toronto, agrees that being realistic about your workload and treating your education like a long-term goal rather than a sprint will give you a better experience overall.
“Look at it like an educational exercise program. If I wanted to run a marathon, I wouldn’t just wake up one day and do it; I’d have to train,” Fearon said.
A common worry is that students who return to school won’t be able to relate to others in the class, but Fearon says the truth is most people in a continuing education classroom — including the instructors — will be in the same situation.
“When you do go back to school, you’ll see a lot of individuals that are very much in the same position as you. Many of the instructors also work in the field they teach, so they’re sensitive to your reality,” Fearon said.
Remember, you’re in school to further yourself so enjoy the experience, Fearon says.
“There is a prize at the end — there are significant payoffs in career, earning and to all the people around you. It’s an opportunity to grow and be able to contribute more to ourselves, our families and our society,” he said.