Returning to college to complete your degree is a major commitment. It can be both an exciting time and one filled with anxiety. Distance learning has increased access and options for adult learners seeking to meet their educational needs.

In my experience as an adult student and instructor, I have identified four tips the adult learner should focus on for success. These tips can apply to both the traditional classroom and online learning environments. While your learning experience may differ from other students, these four tips can help set you on track for success.


I cannot stress enough the importance of organizational skills. You will have added deadlines in your life as a student. Being able to balance the world of work, family and school can be a challenge, but it also can be managed.

The key to managing your schedule is the organization of your time. Set aside time to focus on your school commitments. Make sure that you hit deadlines. As an instructor, it is painful to see great work reduced by late penalties.

Prioritize assignments and complete those worth the most point value first. Start working on any major paper or project as soon as possible. If you attempt to rush the major assignments (and many students do this) it impacts the quality of your work. Most instructors can tell when you worked on an assignment at the last minute.

You are making an investment in time and money to complete your degree. Make sure you organize accordingly to maximize the return on this important investment.


Communication is vital to a successful learning experience.

This is even more important in the online learning environment. Technology allows for a robust and more connected online experience. However, you have to be willing to communicate any questions or concerns. If you know you are going to miss a deadline, it is best to let the instructor know in advance. Depending on the situation, they may be able to offer an extension for the assignment.

Collaboration with your peers is also a large part of the learning experience. This is true in both the traditional and online classroom environments. Not only does it measure participation, but also it allows for the exchange of ideas, experiences and opinions.

As adults, you bring a variety of unique perspectives that are valuable in learning. Be willing to share those perspectives with your classmates.


Every student needs some level of support. This includes support from family, friends, peers, bosses and others you count on. Being a lifelong learner isn’t meant to be lonely.

Some of my former students did not have strong supporters as they pursued their education. Their lack of support made the journey more challenging. Find at least one person who will be an advocate for your learning. This advocate role involves asking about your progress, listening to your concerns and celebrating your victories.

Some students will connect with their fellow classmates. They’ll support each other as they all pursue their education together. Being on the same journey can be comforting.

There will be challenges along the path to degree completion. You may feel like giving up or question the value of the added work in your life. This is when having someone who will support you is crucial. Students who have no support can become disengaged in learning and fail to complete their educational goals. Find those people in your life who will be your advocate as you chase your dreams.


When things get tough, you may ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Focus on the finish!

What motivated you to start this degree program? What goals do you want to accomplish? Education can open the doors to opportunity. You can set a positive example for your family in persevering and finishing what you started.

Establish what your desired final goal is early. I suggest keeping items or pictures near your study area that help with motivation. These items can be a constant reminder of why you are working so hard. Photos of your kids who look up to you, of your mom whose wish for you is to finish school. Maybe it’s a quote or a picture from your family member who knows you will succeed. Whatever it is, find something that will bring you encouragement when times get tough.

Always staying focused is not going to be easy. Life has distractions. Balancing everything will take a deep commitment to focus on what matters. Think about how you will feel once you have completed the degree.

Some students lose focus and allow immediate distractions to derail them from their desired finish. Each class you complete will bring you closer to the degree you desire and closer to achieving your goals.

Approach your learning experience in steps. Looking too far ahead on the journey can overwhelm you. Create milestones to help check off progress along the way. Take one step at a time.


Finally, if you are considering returning to college, congrats! This is a major step in your personal and professional development. The tips I provided are only the basics, and you may develop other methods to help you succeed. Learning is a personal journey. Each of you will have your own approach and experiences.

Important to being successful in a degree program is being supported through academic resources. As a student at PGS, you have access to a plethora of helpful tools such as writing and excel labs, Miller Library, 24/7 on-demand tutoring and many more.

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