Going back to school as an adult, always a tough decision for the whole family. I remember one Saturday my husband and I were circling our laptops like sharks circle their prey. My husband was walking and rocking our newborn son, but the unspoken rule was that one couldn’t start working until the other was available to do the same. As soon as my son went down, our laptops went up.
This was the year we both went back to school to pursue our Master’s degrees. We had no kids when we started our program, but we needed a babysitter on graduation night.
Continuing one’s education as an adult can be intimidating, exhausting and tricky. Deciding to start a degree, finish a degree, complete a certification, take a continuing education class or even show up to Home Depot to learn how to pot a plant is always a good idea. Learning something new is always a good idea.
Going back to school is not the way we remember it. We adult learners demand more from our learning than we once did. Malcolm Knowles describes these learning demands in his theory of andragogy (method of teaching adult learners). According to Knowles, adult learners need to know why they are learning something, and that learning needs to happen through experience. Adults approach learning as if a problem needs to be solved, and it is most effective if that learning has immediate value. Think of the last time you learned something by watching a YouTube video. Each of Knowles’s principles most likely applied. (More information here: https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/andragogy/)
Sound adult education creates an experience such as Knowles’s research describes. Many of us have a goal in mind before we begin our education journey. Sometimes that goal is as concrete as a diploma or a certificate, and sometimes the goal is simply to pursue an interest or achieve a new level of mastery.
Regardless of the specific goal, set yourself up for success:
- Do the financial research. Some businesses compensate continuing education for their employees or the completion of education leads to greater earning potential or an opportunity for advancement. Scholarships and financial aid are not just for high school seniors. Spend time researching what payment options are available.
- Restructure your days and weeks to accommodate this new commitment. One thing never changes: we all have 1,440 minutes a day. Going back to school means you will have to take control of your day. Most education experiences ebb and flow with regard to demands, so savvy students take advantage of the ebb in preparation for the flow.
- Formalize your support system. Every one of us has a support system, but not all of us take advantage of ours. Communicating your needs, respecting others’ time and being willing to reciprocate are all keys to creating a tribe. At one time I was a member of three different carpools, and I was never so thankful for my trustworthy tribe.
- Tirelessly pursue balance. Guard a respectable amount of time for self-care. Plan time to sleep, to play and time to let your loved ones love you. Very few long-term goals are achieved alone. Let your loved ones help and support you and be a part of your accomplishment.
So the question is, when is the right time to go back to school? The answer: Always.
Written by: Dr. Pamela Roggeman, Academic Dean, University of Phoenix College of Education
Dr. Pamela Roggeman is a proven academic leader familiar with and passionate about technology in progressive education and has extensive experience designing curriculum and preparing teachers in a university setting. Roggeman currently serves as the Academic Dean for the College of Education at University of Phoenix. Roggeman currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Spark 101, a member of the 114th Partnership focusing on STEM education and the ETS NOTE Educator Prep Advisory Council. Previously she worked as a program coordinator and clinical instructor and led secondary education programs for the graduate and the undergraduate colleges at Arizona State University. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Education and Master of Arts in Education Psychology from The University of Arizona. She achieved her Education Doctorate in Education Leadership and Innovation from Arizona State University.