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Going to College in Your 30s: How to Balance School, Life, and Family

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Deciding to go back to school as an adult older than the traditional college student is an exciting and challenging endeavor. This demographic of college students has been on the rise for decades as the demand for employees with higher education increases with it.

Most students who choose to further their education later in life have many responsibilities already occupying the majority of their time. With more bills and financial responsibilities than almost all traditional college students, those who go back to school after some time usually need to work a steady job with regular hours and pay.

Going back to school in your 30s (as an adult)

It is not always an option to stop working or even reduce work hours in order to go back to school. Taking on schoolwork is a big commitment, even if you choose to attend online. Many of these older students also have families, including spouses and children who require time, care, and dedication.

While it may be an option for some to cut back on work hours, it is not reasonable to cut the time spent with your partner and/or children. Both, family and work responsibilities are largely permanent and entirely necessary.

Many adults already struggle to balance the two without the added commitment of returning to school. Furthering one’s education will benefit the future of the student and their loved ones, but it requires a large level of commitment.

Older student college attendance (In thousands) Source: NCES
This chart illustrates that in recent years, more older students are choosing to go back to school.
Older student college attendance (In thousands) | National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Adding such a responsibility to an already busy routine will come with a number of challenges and complications. Despite the hard work, unwavering dedication, and large amounts of time and effort, obtaining a degree can have an immeasurably positive influence on students’ lives.

There are many important tips and suggestions that can help older students achieve a productive and healthy balance between work, school, and life. To adequately attend to each of these commitments, and perform well while satisfying them is a challenging task.

However, with some adjustments to your habits and routine, it is entirely possible to do so. By incorporating these tips into your regular routine, the balancing act between life, your job, and your education can become less intimidating and much more manageable.

Plan your schooling carefully around our job, and family

Before you decide which schools to apply to, it is a good idea to first consider your schedule to manage your time wisely. Older students who go back to school have more responsibilities and commitments than most students entering college right from high school.

If you have a job, you need to remain employed to pay your bills. If you have a family, you have people in your life who need you care and attention — meaning you probably do not have a surplus of free time. Considering these things will help you decide what kind of commitment you are able to make so that you can continue to uphold your other responsibilities.

Decide what kind of degree you wish to obtain and how much time you have to dedicate to your studies each week. This will help to determine how long it will take you to complete your degree.

You may discover that you need to work part-time instead of full-time, that you need more coverage for childcare, or that an online program may work best for your needs.

Consider things like what times of week and day you can commit to your school work, what kind of traveling you can do, and other things that may affect your education. Finding an educational program that fits your unique schedule and needs is an important part of ensuring your success in this endeavor.

Remaining focused on everything that matters

Finding a harmonious way to balance work, school, and your other responsibilities and commitments is a challenge for even the most dedicated student. Life can be hectic, and stressful even without school, but furthering your education takes a lot of time and perseverance.

Though obtaining a degree takes a significant commitment, there are far more benefits than detriments. Earning a degree can help launch you further towards your ultimate career goals and may better position you to achieve them.

It will open the door to a multitude of opportunities that you would not otherwise have. In addition to the career benefits, the time spent working towards your degree expands your mind in ways that improve your ability to think critically.

When the challenge of balancing life, work, and school becomes overwhelming, it is important to focus on these benefits of your hard work. While it may be stressful or difficult at times, remembering the personal and career benefits to obtaining your degree can help you remain motivated.

It is imperative to your success to stay focused on the reason why you are working so hard.

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Establishing a support system

Going back to school undoubtedly makes your already busy life even busier. In order to ensure that you remain focused and motivated, it can be helpful to have a strong support system of people who care about your progress and understand your needs. There are a number of people in your life who can make up a strong support system.

More than just a gameSource: DOD
Having support from family, friends, co-workers and more can really make the transition back to school much easier.

How going to back school may affect family

Going back to school while managing a family can be extremely challenging. Finding the optimal balance can be difficult. Have an open discussion with your family, and explain to them what changes they may see in day-today life.

Important things to discuss with family

  • Discuss your expectations
  • Explain to children
  • Financial changes
  • Responsibilities
  • Make a plan

It can be helpful to sit down with your family and discuss the added work that will be part of your daily routine once you are a student again. If you have children, you can tell them why you are going back to school, the importance of dedication and hard work, and how it will be benefiting your family long term.

Cover any financial impacts your education may have on your family’s budget or income. It is a great opportunity to talk about how the benefits of higher education are worth the investment of time and money.

Your family members may need to take on more responsibilities around the house, like chores and childcare, so that you have sufficient time to commit to your studies.

It is also a good idea to discuss specific times you will be working on your school assignments. Establishing predetermined study hours and even a study space can help ensure that you are able to study undisturbed. Discuss how long it should take you to earn your degree so that your family knows how long to expect these changes to last.

Discussing your decision to return to school with your social circle

School can also affect your social life as well. It is a good idea to discuss these changes with those in your social circle so you can be on the same page in terms of your commitments.

Important things to discuss with friends

  • Changes in your availability for social activities
  • Any adjustments to your budget for social events that will need to be made
  • What you need from them in terms of emotional support

Your social availability, and ability to socialize the same way will change when you add the responsibility of going back to school. Discuss these changes with your friends so that they understand your needs and limitations. Explain to friends you’ll need more time to write papers, that you would normally use to socialize.

Friends are also a wonderful source of emotional support. Seeking a degree is a challenge and it is helpful to have friends in your life who can motivate you when you feel discouraged and perhaps even help you study for an important test.

Your financial situation may change as well, due to the cost of college courses. Your social abilities may change in that same respect. Communicating this with those in your social circle can help establish an understanding of what you are able to commit to.

Talking to people at work about your schooling

While it is important to not let your schoolwork affect your job performance and professional relationships, it can be helpful to speak to certain people at work. Make your employer aware that you are going back to school, and see what accommodations may be available.

Who to speak with about returning to school

  • Your boss/supervisor
  • Co-workers with whom you interact with regularly
  • HR department

It is important to communicate about any changes that may affect your schedule or availability. Also, it is not uncommon for employers to help pay for their employees to obtain a degree, particularly if the degree is related to the work you do. Speaking to HR about these options is an excellent idea.

It is courteous to notify those you work with directly if your availability or work habits will be changing while you are in school. That way, they can adjust their own work if necessary.

School programs to support different types of students

There are a number of additional resources that are likely available through your school. Most colleges have learning centers where you can dedicate time to study, or conduct research. Your professors, and fellow students can be a valuable resource as well!

Taking advantage of the learning center at schoolSource: NICC
Learning centers often provide a quiet place where students can study, and do research. These centers can be invaluable to older students who make not have a quiet place to study at home.

If you are unconfident about your grasp of certain class materials or are anxious about an important test or paper, your school’s learning center can be an invaluable resource. Most schools, even online universities, offer tutoring and extra assistance for those who need it.

Working in study groups or discussing course concepts can help further your understanding of the material. There is also a tremendous amount of resources online, including this very site. Ultius offers many other resources that can be invaluable to students.

Staying orderly and organized

Being sure to stay organized is an excellent way to make balancing school, work, and life responsibilities as an older student much more achievable.

Write out a schedule for work, school, and family

It is important to allocate enough time each day to perform all your necessary responsibilities. With so many commitments, it is easy to slip and fall behind in your schoolwork. Between projects, readings, homework assignments, and discussions, there is a lot to keep straight.

Scheduling out your commitments ahead of time can help you remain focused and on track.

Work out a routine for homework/schoolwork

Set specific times to complete each of your school tasks. Try to do your schoolwork at the same time every day to establish a daily routine. If you have children, for example, you can set aside a certain amount of time each day for everyone to do homework together.

Incorporating your assignments in a way that fits smoothly into your daily life is an important part of being successful. If you do get stuck, another option you have will be to turn to various research paper writing services for relief. However, it's best to first map out what your schedule can reasonably afford and then make the decision when and if you are in a true bind with competing commitments. 

Keeping course material handy

Organizing your school materials and notes can also help you save time and stay efficient. Having everything in its proper place can make your school work easier and less overwhelming. This applies digitally as well. Bookmark valuable sites like this one!

Healthier habits make for a healthier mind

When you are an older student trying to balance school work, your job, and the other demands of your daily life, there is no doubt that your life is busy and perhaps a bit hectic.

Because students in that position have so many commitments, it is not uncommon that such a lifestyle could lead to less-than-healthy habits, including eating too much fast food.

Tips for healthy living
These tips can have long-term benefits on your overall health and ability to perform well academically.

While it is easy to fall into these habits while one is under the pressure of so many commitments, these habits will eventually lead to cognitive and psychological deficiencies.

Though the responsibility of balancing work, school, and everyday life certainly adds up, it is still important to take some time out of the day to ensure that you do not neglect self-care.

When you are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy, meeting all your commitments and responsibilities will be much more manageable.

Familiarize yourself with your school’s resources

The cost of tuition does not only cover your classes. As briefly mentioned above, your school likely offers a number of resources that can assist you while you are working on your degree. It is wise to take advantage of all the services your school has to offer, as they can help ensure that your education is successful.

Inquire about academic assistance

Many schools offer academic assistance with tutoring and workshops. Some online schools even offer tutoring you can receive through online chat systems or video chat. You can arrange for meetings, online or in person, with tutors through your university and receive extra help on any lessons you may be having trouble grasping.

Debates, lectures, and forums

Guest speakers, professors, and fellow students participate in these stimulating and educational events, providing unique perspectives to course material and ideas that you may not have previously considered.

Common speakers at college events like these include historians, politicians, artists, and esteemed academic experts. Some online schools even provide videos and transcripts of lectures, debates, or forums for remote students to take advantage of as well.

Fine arts

Some schools have their own museums, art exhibits, and performances as well. These things can be just as informative and can help to broaden your intellectual horizons. Such resources can help make your college experience even richer.

Career services

Another valuable resource that your school probably provides is a career services center. This is an extra free resource that almost all colleges provide for their student body. The career resource center is the source for job listings on and off campus, meetings with recruiters for a number of available positions, and information on the companies currently hiring.

The career resource center can also provide help writing resumes and cover letters and practicing for professional interviews. It is a good idea to visit your school’s career resource center (or their career resource center webpage if you attend an online school) and see what other kinds of resources they offer.

Adult student centers

Adult student centers are another great resource that some schools provide for their students. Older adult students have unique perspectives on college life as they have other responsibilities and a more mature mindset than younger students taking the same courses.

Adult student centers offer resources and information that is particularly helpful for older students trying to balance life, work, and now school, too. In addition, the adult student center is a place where adult students can meet other students who are sharing the same experiences as they are. This can be helpful, as students are able to strengthen their support systems and socialize with students who understand their educational experience.

Additional services for older students

There are more resources that some schools provide that can be helpful to older students.

Childcare at the University of MichiganSource: UM
The University of Michigan started a “Childcare initiative” in 2005 that not only offers an on-campus daycare, but also provides in-home care in certain circumstances.
  • Medical insurance: Some schools provide medical insurance for their students, which could help cover the cost of medical expenses and save you some money as you fund your education.

  • Childcare: Obviously this is not an option for online students, but childcare provided by a college or university is often economically priced. Often staffed by the universities’ students who plan on going into early childhood education or psychology, services like these make it easier for older students with children to attend classes. It can be difficult to get to class every day when you need childcare; this is a resource provided by some schools that can make it more manageable for older students to balance their education with their everyday life.

  • Clubs and organizations: With dozens of options to satisfy any interest, everyone is bound to find something that they will find appealing and fulfilling. Getting involved in activities that interest you, and surrounding yourself with students who share similar interests and goals, can be a motivating force behind the perseverance required to further your education.

  • Online library: Most universities also offer an online library for students to access for homework assignments, papers, and other studying purposes. These online libraries include electronic books and academic journals; accurate and dependable sources of information pertaining to any subject imaginable. To not take advantage of such a resource would be ill-advised and disadvantageous.

Each of the resources mentioned will undoubtedly be helpful in striking a balance between everyday life responsibilities, your job, and your school work.

Establishing a productive routine and study habits

An important tip for ensuring a harmonious balance between work, school, and everyday responsibilities is to establish productive study habits right away. With so many commitments already that require significant amounts of attention, studying productively and efficiently is a crucial skill to possess.

Habits for healthy studying
Use the tips below to help stay focused while you study.

School materials

Students should have a notebook dedicated to each class and use it to write all class-related notes and tasks in. Keeping track of lectures, lessons, and assignments in one place makes them easy to review or study later on in the course.

Your grade point average will benefit when you are able to quickly and methodically find the information you need to help you complete homework or study for important exams. In addition to helping you keep organized, the act of writing something down helps you to recall the information later.

This is seemingly obvious but is sometimes a challenge to keep up with, though it is incredibly valuable strategy for performing well academically.

Working out a study routine

Studying well can also help older students balance school work with their already demanding responsibilities. As noted previously, establishing a set time and location to complete any school assignments, readings, or studying can help develop productive study habits and assure that you will not be disturbed or tempted to skip a study session.

Turning off cell phones and other electronics during study time is another suggestion that may seem obvious but makes a significant difference and is sometimes difficult to do. While it may be tempting to check your cell phone during your study time, even compulsory, doing so often leads to wasting more and more time away from your school work.

Keep important information handy

It is advisable to keep contact information for all of your instructors, advisors, and tutors in an easily located place in the event that you need to contact them for anything. Professors are often available for office hours to help students who may need any extra help.

Because older students typically want to finish their degree without any delay, it is important to take advantage of your professors’ office hours if you ever have any questions or struggles.

Ensure your gadgets are updated and protected

Another simple but helpful tip is to ensure that your computer’s internet browser and virus protection software are up to date. Whether a student attends school online or on a physical campus, they will be using a computer often.

Making sure to keep up with updates to the internet browser and virus defense can save valuable study time later in the event of a computer problem. It is also helpful to bookmark our security bulletin page, and your university’s login page to their online portal and perhaps even their online library and help desk so that you can easily access anything school related you may need during your study time.

Considering online educational options

Though it is a non-traditional option, obtaining your education online is a perfectly viable option for a busy adult who wishes to earn a degree. For many, especially those who work full-time jobs and have families to take care of, an online education offers a certain efficiency in terms of time that one simply cannot get from earning a degree in a classroom.

Older college students in online courses (2014) Source: LH
As the internet expands, so does the number of schools, and students (of all ages) attending them. The chart below shows that a considerable percentage of students enrolled in online classes in 2014 were over the age of 30.
Older college students in online courses (2014) | LearningHouse.com

Without sacrificing on the quality of your education, you can earn a college degree on your own time. Online schools provide you with the ability to fit school into your schedule in a way that works best for you and your busy life. Being able to work with a flexible schedule and saving time on commuting to and from school makes earning a degree much more convenient.

Using helpful services to ensure your success

There are many online services that are easy to access and demonstrably helpful to your successful balance between school, work, and regular familial responsibilities.

Planning programs to help manage your schedule

There are countless online programs or applications for smartphones or tablets that provide detailed personal planners. Many of these programs contain meticulous scheduling software, or have automatic reminders for important events.

There are programs that enable you to schedule out each day by hour so that everything receives the proper amount of attention it deserves. They can even be set to remind you of events and responsibilities beforehand, enabling you to remain prepared so as not to waste any time.

These kinds of programs are incredibly useful for helping students stay organized, efficient, and successful.

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E-therapy can help provide guidance, and unwind the mind

Other helpful services that are conveniently available online are e-therapy services. When older students go back to school, they are adding more responsibility to an already loaded plate. Being pulled in so many directions is bound to build up some tension as the pressure builds to perform well in every area in the wide range of your responsibilities.

Therapy onlineSource: Pexels
E-therapy is very similar to regular therapy of counseling, but done online and is much more convenient for those with already busy schedules.

Students in such a situation may find themselves in need of help achieving mental peace and clarity but their busy schedules may not allow for traditional therapy sessions.

E-therapy, or electronic therapy, involves therapy sessions through video chat software.

Benefits of e-therapy

  • Much like traditional therapy sessions
  • Certified therapists
  • Confidential sessions
  • Helpful for coping with mental stressors

These services allow extremely busy students to experience the benefits of therapy in a way that fits into their chaotic schedules. E-therapy sessions are just like traditional therapy sessions; they are with certified professional therapists, the sessions are completely confidential, and they are a viable option for treating any number of mental obstacles.

Students can gain from real therapy sessions while customizing them to fit their individual needs. This can be beneficial to the success of older students seeking to efficiently balance their education with work and familial responsibilities.

Online resources like Ultius can be a huge asset to students of all ages

Another resource for older students balance their commitments are services that provide guidance for writing papers. There are some excellent online services that provide sample papers for you to preview, or help with editing papers, and even provide exams and quizzes.

Students who are older than the traditional college student often do not have the time not the desire to not finish their degree as quickly as possible. Also, with work responsibilities and social or family commitments in addition to school work, there is little available time to make any necessary corrections or guess on something you are unsure of.

Benefits of writing and editing services

  • Provide samples of your assignments
  • Offer academic guidance
  • Help with projects, PowerPoints, and exams
  • Save time on school work
  • Boosts grades

Services like Ultius connect students with writers and editors who can help with these problems. Ultius works with professional writers that are available to write sample papers to provide guidance and examples for those have troubling figuring out how to proceed with a particular piece of writing.

Services like this can save students valuable time so they can avoid making time-consuming corrections or rewrites, and ensure they get the assignment right immediately. Moreover, Ultius also offers editors who can review the work students do before they turn their assignments into their professors for grading.

Not only does this also save time on editing and rewrites, but it also enables students to earn the highest grade possible.

If any needed corrections or adjustments are caught before the assignment is turned in, the student can avoid any loss in points that may have resulted from the mistakes. Services like these are an undeniably valuable resource and should be taken advantage of to achieve an efficient balance between work life, school work, and other commitments.

Closing thoughts on going back to school

Obtaining a higher level of education is a large and important commitment for any student, whether they are entering college upon their high school graduation or are returning more than a decade later. For those older students, though, the commitment comes with a significantly higher price and even gaining admission can be more challenging.

Older students most often have more responsibilities than traditional students. They likely have full time jobs, with inflexible hours and unlimited duties that are imperative to keeping their bills paid. In addition, many older students have partners and children that require a significant portion of their time and devotion.

With many other important commitments, it is, no doubt, a challenge to stay in school and perform well for this demographic of students. Still, these students and their families will see a number of positive consequences from earning a degree in higher education.

Not only will the student’s earning potential noticeably increase, but their room for growth within their field and their opportunities for advancement will grow as well. The dedication and commitment of time and effort required to obtain a college degree is challenging but worth the exertion.

If followed diligently, the tips and suggestions discussed here will help make the balance between work tasks, familial responsibilities, and school work much more manageable. The success of older students is hard-earned but just as achievable as it is admirable.

Works Cited

“Digest of Education Statistics, 2016.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, 2016, nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_303.40.asp?current=yes. Accessed 29 Sept. 2017.

Farhud, Dariush D. . “Impact of Lifestyle on Health.” Impact of Lifestyle on Health, vol. 44, no. 11, Nov. 2015, pp. 1442–1444., Accessed 28 Sept. 2017.

Naka, Makiko, and Hiroshi Naoi. “The effect of repeated writing on memory.” Memory & Cognition, vol. 23, no. 2, 1995, pp. 201–212., doi:10.3758/bf03197222. Accessed 28 Sept. 2017.

Clinefelter, David L, and Carol B Aslanian. “Online College Students 2014: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences.” Learning House, Learning House, June 2014, www.learninghouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-Online-College-Students-Final.pdf. Accessed 29 Sept. 2017.



Ultius, Inc. "Going to College in Your 30s: How to Balance School, Life, and Family." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 11 Oct. 2017. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/going-to-college-in-your-30s-how-to-balance-school-life-and-family.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Going to College in Your 30s: How to Balance School, Life, and Family." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. October 11, 2017 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/going-to-college-in-your-30s-how-to-balance-school-life-and-family.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Going to College in Your 30s: How to Balance School, Life, and Family." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. October 11, 2017 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/going-to-college-in-your-30s-how-to-balance-school-life-and-family.html.

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