Online learners overcome fears of returning to college

November 4, 2021

Part 2: Work-school-life balance

Online student Christopher Edwards asks, “How does someone with a toddler, working a 60-hour a week job, go back to school, let alone in the middle of a pandemic?”

His question touches on the second fear of this two-part series that is far too common. How can you balance school, work, and your other obligations? How can working student parents earn a degree and remain committed to all aspects of their lives without compromising their stress or sanity?

Here are four ways that Alamo Colleges online students have overcome these circumstances and found a way to balance their many demands.

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Be organized and strategic with your time.

With so many demands on your time, it is essential to organize your time wisely. Online student Derik Landis tells new students to plan and structure their time. As you prioritize and schedule your time accordingly, you may also gain insight into your discipline and character strengths.

For example, Erika Perez likes online learning because she “can be a mom and go to school—it’s not all or nothing.” She focuses on how online learning saves her time. Instead of spending time stuck in traffic or looking for a parking spot, she can dedicate valuable time to being a mother and completing her online coursework and, in some moments, both.

Communicate with your professors and use the resources available to you.

Even if you are organized with your time and honest about the demands in your life, you may still feel overwhelmed. One of the most crucial connections to build and sources of reliable information is your instructor. At the start of the semester, communicate with your instructor and build rapport. This way, you can ask questions and clarify course topics and assignments, which will ultimately save you time.

Online student Michael Hayes also shares with new students to “Maintain a good dialogue with your professors—they want to help you succeed. The professor might not be there physically, but don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask a question.”

Be willing to learn new study habits and set realistic expectations for yourself.

It can be tempting to expect yourself to return to school as the same student you once were. However, you are older and wiser, and in many ways, a different student. Michael Hayes shares, “A lot of returning students are afraid of failure and juggling school around our lives, so we just hold back. Not trying and not attempting will definitely guarantee you fail in your academic pursuits. I recommend just trying and being modest in your expectations like you know, don’t try to hit 18 credits right away.” 

Instead, ease your way into being a student, taking one course at a time, understanding that you are doing the best you can.

Remember your goals and focus on what you are gaining through the experience.

Sometimes, things will still feel challenging despite your best attempts to balance your job, classes, and other life responsibilities. In moments like this, it can help to focus on what you are gaining and the positive aspects of your end goal—in this case, earning your degree or college credential. Sometimes maintaining a positive mindset is the best you can do.

For example, online student Ariel Fraga expresses gratitude for what online learning offers non-traditional students like herself. She can balance her role as mother, employee, and student with online courses—working to meet deadlines at her own pace. This benefit is something that wasn’t possible with her previous experience, and she asserts, “I have the convenience to do my work when it works for me.

Unresolved fear can keep you from pursuing your dreams. It helps to remember why you enrolled in college and focus on your goals rather than your fears. It can also be helpful to reflect your own choice and agency in all your life decisions.

Alamo Colleges online professor Patricia Ann Lamson reminds online students that they have the power and the choice to succeed. To online students, she shares:

“Give your classes all you have! The classes you have chosen are for you and you alone. You have chosen a path of study; in doing so, you must put everything into your classes so that you can be successful in your life.”

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