So you've decided to go back for that higher degree after age 50...great! Going back to school requires a strong desire to succeed, turning a tone-deaf ear to family and friends who doubt you can succeed, and a solid plan to ensure you do succeed.
Success is guaranteed when you make it your priority. Here are some ways to ensure you meet your goals and avoid the pitfalls of disappointment.
Before you start school, get ready for it in the best way you know how: prepare, prepare, prepare.
1) Get Family and Friends On Board
Warn your family and friends that the process of obtaining a degree late in life means all of your previous commitments to social responsibilities, family functions and other familial commitments will be reduced or eliminated. Those who support you can remain in close touch with you; those who do not support you must be ignored or tolerated. It's up to you. Do you believe that friends or family who are not supporting your desire for extended education are truly helpful to you? If they are not, soldier on and remove them from your contact list. If they are, soak up their support and call them when you can.
2) Get Your Financial Ducks in A Row
Those pesky credit cards and financial responsibilities should be cleared up before you start school. You can either pay off the cards, or if that's not financially feasible, set up an online billpay so that all your bills are automatically paid out of your account. You have to give up the lavish lifestyle or the free and easy ways that created the credit debt. College life is sparse and driven by limited funds, so if you want to eliminate the creation of a mountain of debt when you graduate, don't spend while you learn!
You should determine financial aid as soon as possible, so apply for online scholarships and fill out the FAFSA at least six months before you plan to start school. You must begin scholarship planning in January...that's way before the August/September start date when college begins. Universities and colleges like enterprising students with scholarships, and they like to believe you have something to offer the school when you are accepted. The FAFSA should be completed by February to receive the optimal student aid and scholarship monies.
3) Determine Which School Best Meets Your Needs
What type of setting suits your learning needs? Do you like the hustle and bustle of a city or the tranquility of the country? Does Washington, D.C. or New York City excite you or frighten you to death? Where do you want to get a job?
If you have to work while attending school, find a school nearby and get to know the campus well before attending. Walk the campus and get to know the feel of the place.
What area do you wish to study in school and how is the program designed? Make sure the education program exemplifies and creates the field of study you want to master.
Once you settle on a campus, find its nooks and crannies...the quiet place that helps you to study, that really good place for coffee...A good supply store nearby is extraordinarily helpful, whether it's a dollar store or a Staples.
4) Marshall Your Learning Tools
Repeat after me: technology is your friend. Cell phones, ipads, and laptops are essential to the learning process. Many schools have e-books that can only flow through an ipad. A thin, light laptop is essential for class and often will eliminate the need for heavy books. This is where you spend your money and it is well spent. Don't cart around an antiquated Acer that has no gigabytes storage and weighs a ton. I did and suffered through it. Get to know all the bells and whistles on the laptops and ipads, and make them part of your tool set because they will make learning easier, lighter and quicker.
5) Organize Your Life
Scrutinize everything you need for school, eliminate everything you don't and pack accordingly. Review everything with a fine tooth comb. That goes for everything. Let's take school materials first. You only need one notebook for class, if you need it at all, with a laptop. You only need one stapler, one box of index cards, one lamp, and one desk. Simplify your needs so that studying is the primary goal. Make studying comfortable. Find the most comfortable chair and yes, spend extra on that pillow because it makes you feel good.
Fancy clothes are not necessary. That pretty dress that makes your derriere look good or those torn jeans that show off your prowess: unnecessary! We are competing for good grades, not good looks! Minimize your closet and only take what it is necessary for school. Find a uniform: like a nice pair of slacks and shirt and keep it simple. Instructors like you to look nice and clean, but they aren't looking for supermodels. You need to spend every spare minute studying, not applying mascara or trimming your sideburns.
6) Manage Your Time
The toughest part of going back to school is balancing your time. You need to create a study/work schedule, stick to it, and never deviate except in the event of an emergency. Everyone will attempt to disrupt your schedule: other students, your family, your social sphere; anyone around you! Resist the temptation to watch television, play a video game or talk on the phone. How do you resist temptation? Use your reserves to ignore temptation: meditate, pray, use the force and utilize whatever resources you have at your disposal to ensure that the reading and homework are done.
7) Document and Take Care of Those Handicaps
If you have worked in the workforce for more than 20 years, you have ailments. That just goes with the territory. It is part of the glorious age that you worked so hard over the years to arrive at. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome (typically shared by old reporters, like me! or old teachers!), get the carpal tunnel glove or the ergonomic keypad and a letter from the doctor so that when you take tests, they will allow you to type those answers, if handwritten tests prevail with that professor.
Let's face it: When you hit your 50s, you have bad knees or tennis elbow or any number of injuries from years of working or exercising hard. All these problems require notice to the school so they can give you the accommodation you need.
8) Stay Away from Negative People
Cell phone callers and well-meaning friends who give you bad advice will not help you. I know that many 50-year-olds hate those endless cell phone users who hold up our line at Sam's Club. These cell users enjoy regaling those in line with their ridiculous prattle that interests no one and offends everyone. I get that. You are tired of passwords and user names. You are tired of the trivial buzzwords such as lol and bff and omg. I know. I am, but you will be surrounded by people who revel in this nonsense, so tolerate it without complaint. But observe the fray around you and find people who make you feel good. Finding positive people can be a real challenge but you must search them out and ignore the others.
9) Take a Leap of Faith
You have to believe in yourself when others doubt your abilities. You are the one standing between you and your dream. If you listen to others doubting your abilities, you will not do what must be done. I have been surrounded by people who do not believe in me and have found that one person's opinion is not your opinion. Trust that you can do this. I believe in you.
Author Maria Vogel-Short is a freelance reporter and a law student at Vermont Law. She wants you to know she may not have time to return your call until the semester break!
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