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10 Tips for Going Back to School at 40 

May 17, 2023

Each year, the number of college students over the age of 25 continues to rise as more people seek to make their dream of earning a college degree a reality. With many new and flexible education options, there’s never been a better time to return to school as an adult learner. Whether you want to stand out in a competitive workforce, change career fields, increase your salary potential, or learn about new developments in your field, a degree can help. 

Through higher education, you can also hone the soft skills that benefit you in nearly all aspects of life. From technology and time management to research and improved communication, this type of personal development will remain with you long after you earn your degree. Read on for 10 tips for achieving academic success as a student in your 40s and beyond.  

1. Don’t Be Afraid of New Topics

Talking to academic advisors and finding a degree program based on your interests is important as you begin your back-to-school journey. The right degree will help you build a career in a field that interests you and can make you feel fulfilled as you invest your time and energy in learning. 

2. Managing a New Schedule

As a student in your 40s, you likely have more commitments outside of school than the typical student. This may include holding a job, raising a family, or other responsibilities that students in their 20s may not have. As a result, effective time management is critical to your academic success and can help eliminate some of the stress of being a student. Some simple solutions to help you manage your time include:

  • Using a planner or online calendar to document your daily activities, including studying, completing schoolwork, meetings, etc. 
  • Avoiding doing things at the last minute by scheduling time to work on assignments long before they are due.
  • Taking free time each week to rest, relax, and spend time with family and friends.

3. Find a Study Partner

Studying alone can sometimes be challenging, especially when you have kids and limited space to learn at home. Inviting a friend or classmate to study with you is a great way to approach your academic commitments by sharing knowledge and can help keep each other motivated. You can compare notes with a study partner or ask them for help if you need clarification on a topic or assignment. When you study with a friend, you may feel more motivated. A study buddy can also help keep you accountable when working on assignments or preparing for a test. 

4. Analyze Time-Consuming Activities

Going back to school requires you to commit your time to attending classes and studying the coursework and material. To find ways to optimize your time, consider what activities you engage in outside of your professional, personal, and academic responsibilities. For example, if cooking takes up much of your time, consider preparing food over the weekend to have ready-made meals during the week. To be successful in school, you’ll have to examine other areas of your life and assess what may prevent you from reaching your goals. 

5. Forget about Perfection

Expecting perfection in your life can often lead to disappointment. Prioritizing the things that need to be done well, such as studying or taking notes, sets realistic expectations about your back-to-school journey.  

Earning a college degree can mean sacrifice, including having less free time for leisurely activities. For students with families, asking for help when you need it or assigning chores to family members, for example, might allow you more time for studying or completing schoolwork.

Remember, the idea that your life needs to be perfect not only distracts you from your goals but can lead to other negative effects, including draining your energy, leaving you feeling irritated and not allowing you to celebrate the small but important victories. Returning to school as adult learners isn’t easy, and students in their 40s should feel proud of themselves for taking on the challenge. 

6. Study with Your Kids

If you have school-age kids at home, scheduling study time with them is a bonding activity that the entire family can benefit from. Studying with your children can help you concentrate better because they’re beside you and learning, too. For parents of older kids, create a fun activity by having them quiz you in preparation for an exam. Not only will you set a healthy example for how to approach education, but it gives you the chance to enjoy your family’s company while not falling behind on your schoolwork. 

7. Take a Closer Look at Your Pain Points

To be your best at school, it’s important to recognize pain points, or challenges that make something difficult. Students in their 40s, for example, may sometimes find it difficult to concentrate, may have many responsibilities, or may not be able to study at night. These are all examples of pain points, and knowing these can help you find the solutions you need to do your best. 

8. Consider Becoming a Tutor

Immersing yourself in a subject or topic is a smart way to get ahead as you complete your degree. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. Consider becoming a tutor or instructional assistant, working with students to highlight areas or topics that need review or in-depth explanation. Tutoring can be a fun, engaging, and social way to learn and even make money. Whether you become a tutor or join a tutoring group, you’ll be able to get the most of an interactive experience that can get you excited about learning. 

9. Plan Your Free Time

Quality time on your own or shared with friends and family is important in your daily life. Designating this type of free time, however, is vital if you’re a student and looking for ways to improve in your academic career. Students in their 40s are often at a higher risk for burnout because of their varied daily responsibilities. Managing a healthy balance between daily to-dos and free time is important to remain focused and motivated. 

Consider activities that boost concentration and help reduce stress such as taking walks in nature, meditating at a nearby park, dancing to your favorite music, or enjoying family fun at an outdoor activity or sporting event. On your time off, participate in activities to take your mind off schoolwork or studying and help you connect with friends, family, and loved ones. 

10. Set Milestones

Earning a degree at any age isn’t easy, and it often takes reaching several smaller goals before achieving your ultimate goal. Rather than become overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to receive your bachelor’s or master’s degree, think about dividing your entire educational experience into milestones. 

For example, use exams as milestone markers or create smaller goals to tackle every month that will allow you to celebrate the smaller victories that lead you to your goal of earning your degree. As you begin seeing the progress you make every day, don’t forget to celebrate the milestones or to remind yourself that you’re doing great. 

You’ve Got This!

Going back to school can be a life-changing event, and having confidence in your decision can make all the difference when it comes to achieving academic success. By the time you’ve reached your 40s, you’ve likely found time to self-reflect and examine your goals and long-term ambitions. For these reasons, it’s an exciting time to take on new challenges and share experiences that will lead you to the future you want and deserve. 

Take the next step toward realizing your higher education goals at WGU, where students earn their degree online and on their time. Discover how WGU can help you gain the skills and knowledge you need to thrive in today’s competitive job market.  

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