THE BLOG
10/14/2014 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Surviving Your First Semester: 5 Strategies for Adult Learners

Have you been to the grocery store recently? Just a few weeks ago, spiral notebooks and three-pronged folders filled the shelves. Now, aisles are overflowing with snack-sized chocolate bars and pint-sized superhero costumes. Fall is in the air -- and back-to-school is packed away.

Just like the shifting stock at your local supermarket, this is often the time that fear and doubt start to replace adult students' initial excitement about returning to college. Don't let it. The same reasons that brought you back to school -- wanting a better job, setting an example for your children, doing it for yourself -- can override any apprehension you might be feeling. These five strategies can help, too.

Lean on your support system.

Find people who support the educational goals you've set for yourself. Enlist help from family and friends -- they understand that the laundry may not get done on time and you won't be cooking dinner every night. And don't be afraid to rely on them to pick up some of the slack. Often, they want to help out but don't know how. Delegate specific tasks like taking over the Wednesday grocery run or chauffeuring the kids to karate.

Also find a support system on campus. Just because you take evening or online classes doesn't make you any less a part of your university community. Take advantage of the many campus resources available, from writing centers and math tutoring to computer workshops and career counseling.

Make studying your second job.

Carve out time for studying -- treat it like a second job. And though we're all guilty of it occasionally, don't procrastinate. Stay on top of reading assignments, write drafts of papers in advance, and review lecture notes as often as you can. Spend Sundays at the library or get up two hours early when your house is still quiet. Remind yourself: You're important enough to make this commitment.

Talk to your professors.

So many adult students I work with are afraid of meeting with their professors. Here's what I say to the students who overcome that fear and visit during my office hours: "I want your first semester to be a really good experience. I want to see you in classes next semester. How can we make that happen?"

Remember that your instructors are here to help you be successful. You have to do your part, of course, but they can be one of your greatest assets. A new mentor, job reference or research partner may be just one email or meeting away.

Work the buddy system.

Like any other commitment we make -- think eating right or exercising -- it helps to have an accountability partner in your classes. Find classmates who will help you meet deadlines and do your best work. Remember that they're in the same boat, facing the same time constraints and doubts.

Try to meet in person between class sessions. If you can't, leverage technology. Start a Google doc together to share notes or review presentations. Use Skype for study sessions. A buddy system, whether it's in person or online, can keep you motivated when you run out of steam (or coffee).

Make some changes.

Reflect on your first few weeks. Are you sitting in the front row? Are you an active listener and participant in class discussions? Are you staying on top of deadlines? If not, get in there.

Believe me, I know it's tough to work all day and then sit in class for three hours. Or concentrate on an online lecture after the kids are finally in bed. Or write a paper when you've already spent your workday staring at a computer screen. Ultimately, though, it's up to you. Make the time and do the work. Keep telling yourself: "I deserve this opportunity. My learning is my responsibility, and I can thrive here."

And with a lot of well-deserved help and support along the way, you will.