Taking on a challenge of any kind is easier to accomplish if you have a support system—people you can go to for questions, advice, a shoulder to cry on, or encouragement.
Earning your degree as a working adult is no different. Whether you’re entering college for the first time or going back for an advanced degree after years of professional experience, all adult students can benefit from having a network of support during their educational journey.
If you’re a working adult heading back to school, here are a few tips for building—and leaning on—support networks in and out of school.
4 biggest pressures adult students face
- Time. Adult students are already busy with work, family, friends, and outside commitments. School is a time commitment, and making it fit into an already busy schedule can be a big stressor for anyone.
- Finances and paying for the education. Most people take out loans to finance their schooling, and they worry if they don’t finish the degree, they will have debt without any real benefit. There is pressure to succeed and graduate on time.
- School challenges. Each course can be challenging at times, leading the individual to wonder, “Is this right for me?”
- Life challenges. One or more life challenges may throw students off track. In addition to their busy, day-to-day schedules, adult students are likely to have important professional and personal obligations pop up that might interfere with their studies (e.g., health issues, promotions, moving, family crises).
2 Types of support networks
- Internal. In school, you’ll be supported by your instructors, coaches, tutors, advisors, librarians, tech support, and classmates. Many universities also offer specialized supports such as a writing center, quantitative support center, or even career counseling to help you along the way. Universities can provide this academic support, but they cannot be there to pick up the kids after school, do the grocery shopping, or shoulder more of the household chores while you study. This is where your external network comes into play.
- Family and friends are a significant part of your external support network. You can be asking them for advice, tips, and emotional support from the very start. In addition, it’s a good idea to set up a system at home to support your new study habits before you start school. For example, meal plan or grocery shop on the weekends or switch to commuting by bus or train to find more study time.
3 Ways to build your internal support network
- Regularly work on connecting with your advisors, coaches, instructors, and fellow students. This takes time to do, but it doesn’t have to be a lot of time in any one sitting. The important thing is to be consistent–set aside a small amount of time daily or weekly to work on these connections. This will ensure you have support when you really need it. Capella University hosts several different communities where students can meet others in their program, profession, geographic location, or even hobby. In addition, Capella has a peer mentoring program and many online tools available to students looking for tips and advice.
- Make lists of the types of support you need and have conversations that share your plans and how you would like the individual to support you.
- Thank people for their time, ideas, and encouragement. Keep up the relationship by providing updates and feedback, especially about areas in which the support person gave advice. A little bit of time consistently devoted to developing and maintaining your network can produce big results in the long run.
3 Ways to develop your external support network
- Talk about your educational experiences and career ambitions with colleagues, mentors, friends, and family, especially those who have been to an online school before or are currently going to school.
- Think about the types of support you need from external contacts and then list people who might fit in each category. Some might be more comfortable doing this by developing an outline of the points you want to cover or questions you think would be helpful to ask before contacting the people on such a list. If you run across an individual who is unable to offer support, you can ask, “Can you suggest someone else I might ask for assistance?”
- Be sure to acknowledge any help you receive, and keep your network apprised of your challenges and accomplishments along the way.
Benefits of support networks during the educational journey
Support networks both in and outside of school can help keep you going when things get tough. They can provide insight and ideas on coursework, internships, career advice, and they can connect you with others who can help you further. These are networks that can be expanded and used to encourage your dreams now and in the future.
Learn more about Capella’s support services.