How to Go Back to School When You're "Old"

May 29, 2013

As I rapidly approach 30, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I'm one of “those people” who never graduated from college. It’s not that I never cared or wanted to – frankly, I’ve been 14 classes (about 1.5yrs) from a BA since my last stint of college in 2008. It just never seemed like I needed it for the jobs I was looking for, and my experience trumps my education any day -- so why bother?

Still, there's something disheartening about filling out a car loan application and checking that “Highest Level of Education Completed: High School” box when you’re ...you know... "old." To make things worse, my kid brother is finishing his last year of college, which sparks my competitive edge. Long-story-short, I've decided to buck up and go back full-time while also keeping my full-time job.

Obviously I’m not the first person in the history of night classes and unpaid bills to do this, so I took to Facebook to do some research. What have others done to make it work? Though I discovered that going back to school at my age mostly means having no life, developing a strong caffeine addiction, and accepting a dirty house, I was able to compile a few key pieces of advice to get you through.

Exercise Discipline & Time Management
Though my initial response to this was "DUH," I realized this concept isn't just about managing your time around classes, work, and homework. It’s also important to schedule downtime, too, for the sake of your own sanity. There was a time when I could go dancing until midnight, stay up until 4 a.m. writing a paper, and still function the next day, but unfortunately those days are over for me. Schedule time for work and school and stick to it. Schedule time for a picnic and a movie and stick to it. You earn what you work for.

Create a Study Playlist
Many blogs and forums recommend that you go to a separate place to study. That’s a great idea, so long as you aren’t managing a household. Many working students have kids to keep track of, dinner to cook, dogs that eat said dinner before said kids…the list goes on. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to take three hours out for Starbucks (where there are often more interesting distractions).

What I’ve done is create a playlist of classical music that isn't particularly engaging for my brain, so when I hear those first notes of Bach, I’m in my zone. Studies show that music from the Baroque era with tempos at or around 60BPM (beats per minute) are best. At 60BPM, the right hemisphere of the brain activates, while the left hemisphere processes vocabulary words and math equations. When both hemispheres are activated, information is processed more efficiently. The Study Music Project has an entire YouTube channel of pieces designed to enhance studying. Or, you can check out Playlist.coand search “study music.”

Be Forgiving of Yourself
This is the hardest for me. I know watching a movie instead of studying makes me feel lazy, even if I've blocked out the time to watch Star Wars. I also know that when I’m sitting in class next to a younger student, I’m going to feel way behind the curve. If I get a C, I'm anticipating that I'll be disappointed in myself, because of how great of a student I was a decade ago.

With this in mind, I have to constantly remind myself of how important it is to stay focused on my goals. Being able to check the “college graduate” box on a loan application is a simple way I like to think about my own goals, and staying focused on this helps me get less distracted when I feel discouraged.

If you need some solid proof, you should know my grandma graduated college at age 60. You are finishing what you’ve started. You – we –  can do this.

This post was written by Amanda Erck, a customer service representative at Colorado PERA.

(Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.)