Six Emotional Stages You Face in Pursuing Higher Education

By Ellie Walburg on October 24, 2017

Some decisions are easy. You want cereal for breakfast. You pick the blue shirt over the orange one.

But some decisions may not come with as much ease. For example, the decision to return to or start a college degree comes with much consideration. This valuable choice may be more complicated than deciding between a slice of toast or scrambled eggs.

We hear you. We've shared how the value of a degree is abundant—increased lifelong earnings, achieving a personal goal, receiving a promotion and many more.

But the fear of jumping into something unknown is also very real.

We've identified six stages and emotions you may experience in your pursuit of a college education. If you're nervous, timid and anxious about returning, you're not alone. If you're thrilled and excited about starting or continuing this new endeavor, you're also not alone. You may also be a combination of both—it's totally normal. You're not alone in this.

1. Initial Excitement

You're accepted into the program that can change your life. You dream of the promotions and opportunities that will await you during your program and after you complete the degree. It's like you've turned back to that first day of elementary school with your new pens and fresh notebooks, and you're ready to rule the school.

This stage can bring encouragement and energy and provide motivation to write those papers and read those books. But sometimes, it doesn't last forever.

2. Conflict

You take a peek inside your new folder of course material and see the syllabus. The courses seem fairly straightforward. But this next assignment might take you a while to write. The textbook reading isn't as much fun as spending time with family or going out to a movie.

Yet you remember that promotion, that dream, that goal. It's going to take effort. To be successful, sacrifices may be required.

3. Doubt

There seems to be a lot in your way. You may feel you don't have the time, or the kids need more attention or your boss isn't giving you the extra time to focus on your studies. These roadblocks look high and you may wonder if you can actually overcome them.

The fear of failure or not performing as well as you hope may feel real. You've poured so much effort into this program, this pursuit of your personal and professional goals. You're doing well in class, but there's always that fear in the back of your mind, that barrier to thriving in confidence, that appear with roadblocks along your educational journey.

4. Resistance to Change

Things are not the same as they were before beginning the program. You may not have the amount of free time you would desire. Your schedule may have changed. Your routine includes activities like reading textbooks and writing papers. Life is scattered with late nights with just you, a book and a computer finishing up assignments.

Yes, things have changed. Which has been hard at first. But then you remember why you're in this program in the first place: to encourage your kids, to finish what you've started, to pursue that dream career goal.

5. Commitment

Then you ace a test. Your five-year-old daughter says she's proud of you. Your co-workers buy you coffee for staying late. You hear of an opportunity for a promotion you've been dreaming about. You experience a renewed sense of dedication for the work and effort you've contributed in pursuing your goals. You want to succeed with a renewed passion and will do whatever it takes to get it done.

6. Acceptance and Action

With fuel in your fire, you're convinced that you are capable of achieving your goals and reaching them successfully. The doubts of feeling not good enough have subsided and you're assured that you can and will thrive in earning your degree. Confidence is yours.

While these six stages aren't the exact steps all students journey through, they recognize that fears and doubts are real—but overcoming and thriving is easily within reach. Accept the fears you have and move forward. It's normal. But by keeping your goals, both professional and personal, in mind, you can move through your educational journey with passion and success.

Are You Ready to Jump In?

These six emotional stages won't always be easy, but we're here to walk with you every step of the way—from enrollment counselors to academic advisers to faculty to your fellow cohort members. Begin your journey today by having a conversation with one of our trained enrollment counselors at 800.947.2382.

Categories: Academic Resources, Why College