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Adult Students | Reducing Stress | October 2012

Adult Learning and Education: Reduce the Stress of Returning to College

By Elana Peled, Ed.D. | For

adult-learning-educationToday an endless number of colleges offer adult learning and education programs. By offering courses on nights and weekends, they supposedly make it easy for adults to return to college, earn a degree, and begin the a rewarding career. But after years of teaching and learning in college settings, I know that the real trick to making adult learning and education easy lies in reducing the stress that being an adult college student can bring. If you are considering going back to school to earn a degree, and you already have multiple demands on your time, here are some tips to help ensure the price of your degree doesn’t include your sanity.

Step One: Determine what’s really required
Most institutions will readily provide all the information to understand requirements of the program you are entering. However, they are less successful at giving you an estimate of the amount of time it will take to earn your degree. The one variable the institution cannot control is the amount of time you can devote to earning your degree. Sure, you might have plenty of time to attend evening classes. But going to class is just one small part of the educational experience.

To figure out how much time a college education really requires, use the 1:3 rule. This rule says that for every unit you attempt in college, you should plan to devote 3 hours per week to studying and completing assignments. So a three-unit course requires 9 hours per week of study time.

Step Two: Prepare for success before you begin
You’ll be able to significantly reduce the stress of going to college if you know how much study time you actually have before you enroll. To calculate your available study time, keep a calendar journal for one week of your life when you are not in school by writing down everything you do, every hour of the day. At the end of the week, review your calendar. How many free hours do you have for studying each week? Are there enough hours for you to meet the 1:3 rule? If not, what can you remove from your schedule to allow more time for your studies? What can you ask others to do for you?

Getting a clear picture of the time that you actually have available for going to school will help you to avoid the pitfall of over-enrolling. This way, you won’t end up like the students who begin the semester thinking they can take four or five classes and collapse under the stress of trying to meet numerous competing demands. Frequently, these students drop out before getting anywhere near their goal.

Understanding how you spend your time outside of school will also allow you to gather the support you need to sail through the semester, further reducing the amount of stress you will have. So, make sure you’ve identified and asked for help from people who can help manage some of your life’s more mundane chores, like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and getting the kids to and from their activities.

Naturally, not every course you take will place equal demands on your time. You can learn which courses are most likely to be time and energy drains by doing a little research before you enroll. The easiest place to start is with the professors who teach the courses you are interested in taking. A quick email to the professor to request a preview of the syllabus and to clarify the assignments (including the amount of reading) will help you know which semesters to take multiple courses, and which to focus on only one.

Step Three: Ensuring your success throughout the semester

The best way to achieve success is to plan for it. Your calendar can help you do that. On your calendar, record the days and times of all your class meetings. Be sure to record due dates for tests and assignments as well. Then, go back and create regular study appointments. Make sure you schedule enough of these each week to complete the work you are being assigned. Be sure you treat your study appointments with respect. You wouldn’t blow off an appointment with your doctor or dentist, or a meeting for coffee with a close friend, would you?

By treating your study time with the same respect you treat other important meetings in your life, you’ll never have to stress wondering when you are going to get work done. The bonus of creating such a stress-free learning experience is that you are more likely to retain what you learn during the study sessions you maintain.

Interested in learning additional tips for reducing the stress of going to school? Academic Success Coach Elana Peled, Ed.D. offers support to students who struggle to achieve their academic goals. Her book, Academic Success for All: Three Secrets to Academic Success explains the impediments to learning created by stress and offers a simple process for overcoming struggle and achieving success. Learn more at

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