Blog Archives

What I learned about being an adult learner

In my tweet stream earlier this semester:

I read it, then shared it with my oldest friend who sent her oldest child off for her first year. Then I thought about my experiences as an adult learner, both going back to finish my undergrad in my late 20’s, then returning 2 years later for a master’s.

Going back to finish that degree

College wasn’t a priority in my working-class family. After high school I worked a few different jobs and went off on my own into the world. I had many friends in college and was encouraged to take some classes, which I did. But I didn’t feel committed to the pursuit an education until I figured out what I wanted to do in a professional sense. When I realized what I wanted to be (oddly, an academic) I was ready to get into school and earn a degree. If you feel it in your gut – do it. Make it happen. Don’t talk yourself out of it.

Experience counts

Because I was entering college as an adult with 10+ years working experience behind me, I wanted to see what options I had. I hoped to skip past basics so I could focus my limited time and financial resources on stuff that mattered. A quick search of the internet and a few phone calls to the admissions office led to the CLEP. It was not difficult to identify a few tests I felt confident in taking. I knocked out 12 credits by taking tests in Math, English and Computer Science.

  • Find a school that accepts College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits and offers other equivalency options.
  • Then, knock out as many credits as you can by sitting for tests and writing essays. The process provides you with two things – an opportunity to assess your own competencies and an opportunity to get your foot in the door with something that reflects your experience. Even 6 credits earned via CLEP is good. So look for it, ask for it, and do it.

Study what matters to you now

If you can do your job better because you are learning new things, it is inspiration to keep going. Talk with your manager and others at work about what you are studying, show them what you learn and why it matters. Ask them for feedback and help applying new knowledge to your work. If what you are studying is not directly connected to your responsibilities, look for and create opportunities to use your new knowledge. When I was learning web development, I offered to set up a company web page. When I studied marketing, I made regular contributions to the company newsletter and helped the editor redesign the layout and create page templates that could be shared via the company network. Both efforts allowed me to apply what I learned in class, and gave me a chance to build a portfolio of work to share later when applying for jobs.

Retraining for a new career

Of course, your purpose for school maybe to change careers and the course work may be completely different. It might mean that you cannot talk about your course work with colleagues. In that case, try to find a cohort of like-minded people in your academic program. Work with them – study with them, stay in contact with them during breaks and when in different classes. Ask for and offer support as you move forward. When the time comes to find that new job, share resources and leads with them and keep in touch after graduation. Retraining and entering a new job market is challenging and your current support system may not offer everything you need. Working with others in a similar situation could help.