Rodney Dangerfield in the 1986 comedy film “Back to School”

Here are 7 tips to make your return to college successful as a working adult

As a U.S. service member on active-duty, a father of two young children and consistently on the road, I know how challenging it can be to pursue a higher education. In fact, it can be quite overwhelming.

Going to school added more stress to my already long list of responsibilities. Although I feel I have a strong work ethic, I knew earning my Bachelor’s degree would give me an advantage in my military career and increase my chances to get promoted to the next grade. As a U.S. Army Master Sergeant, I can say earning my degree helped me achieve that rank and allowed me to earn a military scholarship to pursue and earn a Master’s degree in Public Relations/Corporate Communications from Georgetown University.

Like me, thousands of working adults are in the same predicament. Many people enroll in institutions of higher learning as a means to get ahead in their careers or seek to change professions. Going back to school can bring a certain level of enthusiasm, but also unease among adult students. If you feel apprehensive about heading back to the classroom, I hope these tips can help reduce some of your worries as you pursue your goals.

Here are 7 tips to help you have a smooth return to school:

1. Make a plan

When selecting your school of choice, make sure you know the school’s accreditation and understand the difference between regional vs national accreditation. Personally, I would recommend selecting a regionally accredited school as it is considered the “gold” standard in the education space.

Once you are enrolled, work with an academic advisor at your school of choice and outline the best degree plan for you based on your schedule. It is also important to make sure you are taking the right classes and identify prerequisite courses in your degree plan. Establishing a good plan and knowing all of the classes you need to take ahead of time can help you stay on schedule and earn your degree as quickly as possible.

Here is a great resource if you don’t have a clear understanding of regional vs national accreditation: http://www.thebestschools.org/degrees/accreditation-colleges-universities/

2. Take traditional classes when you can

Most of the classes I took in pursuit of my undergraduate degree were online because it fit my schedule and gave me the flexibility to go to school while fulfilling the requirements that come with a demanding military career.

No matter the industry, many individuals are in similar situations. While distance learning is great for working adults, try your best to attend class the “old-fashioned” way by sitting in the classroom. I know certain subjects such as math and science were very different and downright confusing for me to understand. Subjects such as these feature a lot of formulas and abstract analysis, which for many can be challenging to comprehend in a self-paced setting. Taking a class in a brick and mortar site also allows students to interact with their professors and peers on a face-to-face level. Real social connections is something you cannot duplicate through a computer screen.

3. Learn and work with others

Whether you are communicating through an online discussion board or working in a team setting in class, learning and working with fellow students in a team environment will help you develop new perspectives and improve your management skills. Being a collaborative student can make your educational journey more fruitful and in the long run make you a much better leader in the work place.

4. Just keep writing

The American fantasy and science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said “You fail only if you stop writing.” Take this advice to heart as you had back to school because you will be writing a LOT! From short essays to long research papers, having the ability to write well will make a difference in your grades. Brush up on your writing skills and punctuation as you get set to return to school. There are plenty of resources online to help you out or check with your school to see if they have a writing center on campus. It is also helpful for someone to proof read your work!

5. Work-life-school balance

This is probably the most difficulty one to manage for full-time working students because well life is hectic. For me, I know it was quite the challenge to work, go to school and fulfill my requirements as a family man. On top of that, I was traveling across the Middle East, Central and South America over a span of years while trying to finish up my BA in Communications.

Trust me, you don’t want the feeling of being overwhelmed. I can remember having this feeling many times as I was pursuing my degree. I even recall a time where I was trying to submit an assignment in a small, rural town in Colombia. I was able to find an Internet café, but the connection was terrible. It took me over an hour just to submit one document, but I made the deadline.

While a true balance may be unrealistic, it is important to manage your expectations, lean on your family and friends to help you throughout your academic journey, and talk to your manager/supervisors about your educational goals.

6. Grind it out

It took me nearly a decade to earn my undergraduate degree as I could only take one or two classes at a time. Patience is truly a virtue as a working adult trying to go to school. Frustration may set in at times and thoughts of quitting will circle in your head. However, stick with it and don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end!

7. You are never too old to go back to school

Read Anthony’s Story here: http://www.people.com/article/anthony-brutto-94-year-old-college-graduate

So what if you’re in your late 30s, 40s or even 50s. While you may be older than your fellow classmates, don’t let your age deter you when you decide to go back to the classroom. I can see where you may feel uncomfortable. However, I want you to remember the name Anthony Brutto. At 94 years old, Brutto earned his college degree from West Virginia University. This great man is all the inspiration you need to finish your degree.

Follow me on Twitter @alexlicea82