You've decided you're heading back to school, and you've picked a program that will serve you well. But still, a lot of questions remain.
How will you fit in your studies among your many commitments that can include work, family, friends and church? How will you get the hang of being a student again, especially if it's been years since you last sat in a classroom? And, of course, how will you pay for it?
All of these are questions that must be tackled by many adults who opt to resume their education, says Adrienne Collins Runnebaum, director of student success at the Kansas University Edwards Campus in Overland Park, where many students are working adults.
And the key to finding answers to such questions, she said, is asking for help — from family, friends and the instructors and staff at your school.
The big challenge that faces many adult students who return to school, Runnebaum said, is how to juggle classes and studying along with perhaps a full-time job, a family and other commitments.
"I think one of the biggest things is finding that balance," Runnebaum said.
That can often mean perfecting skills that include organization and time management. But it also means making sure you've got a support system: family, friends, classmates, coworkers or others who can help out when your schedule seems like too much to handle.
Tonya Guinn of Olathe, a student in the Master of Science in Management program at Baker University's Overland Park campus, said the support of her family, friends and her employer have been crucial in her progress since going back to school about five years ago.
Guinn, an analyst for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., first went back to school for an associate-degree program and has continued through to the master's level. She's done that while also working full time to help support her family: a husband and a daughter, who's now graduated from high school.
"It's a sacrifice, and I've told friends and family that I can't commit to being there," Guinn said.
Her husband has been willing to take up household chores when her work and school become too much, and her friends have had to understand that between her full-time job, school, her family and church, she may have little time for much else.
"If my girlfriends want to get together or something like that, I have to limit the time that I can do that," Guinn said.
While outside support is important, Runnebaum said that many working adults who return to school tend to be devoted to making it work.
"They're there for a purpose, and they're driven," Runnebaum said.
Beyond finding the time to make it work, it can be a challenge for working adults to redevelop study skills, learn new technologies or become used to educational structures if they've been out of school for a long time.
For help there, Runnebaum recommends that students seek help and make connections. Seek help from academic advisers or student-support staff available. Form study groups with classmates. Take advantage of services such as libraries, writing centers or tutoring.
Some institutions, including KU, have groups or offices specifically to support nontraditional students, Runnebaum said.
And connect with your instructors, too, she says.
"It's normal to be nervous about that transition," Runnebaum said, "but I think it's reassuring to know that there are staff and faculty who are committed to all students."
Guinn said study groups helped her earn her bachelor's degree, as did an introductory study-skills class that her associate-degree program offered.
She also got support from her employer in one important area: finances. The Kauffman Foundation has paid the entirety of her tuition, for which she said she was quite grateful.
Tuition reimbursement is often an option for students with full-time jobs, Runnebaum said, so they should check with their employers about that option.
To take advantage of other opportunities for financial aid and scholarships, Runnebaum said, students should connect with their institution's financial-aid office as soon as possible to get on top of deadlines for applications and forms.
"The earlier, the better," Runnebaum said.
Online resources for students seeking scholarships and financial aid are also available at fastweb.com and finaid.org.
Get issues like financial aid, juggling responsibilities and adjusting back to life as a student out of the way, and you can set your sights on finishing your program, as Guinn has.
"After January 2014, my schedule will be free," Guinn said.