Facing the Quirks, Pitfalls, and Trials of Returning to School


It’s high time to talk about the challenges that come with getting settled back into the rhythm of school. Whether you’re going back to finish a degree you already started, or venturing into new academic territory, chances are you’re a little apprehensive.

Only having just recently (maybe semi-) permanently finished with wrestling the semester-ly ritual, I know that the subject matter alone is challenging…add in other people and processes to the mix, and you’ve got a herd of monsters to face.

But monsters are always less scary when they’re unmasked. So allow me to introduce to you (in no particular order) five of the seemingly fiercest back-to-school challenges. (And let me stand as living proof that you can overcome them)

1. The Professors
I’ve never ever met a teacher or professor that I hated.

We weren’t always best of friends, sure, nor did we always see eye to eye. Which is, actually, totally okay. That’s not a requirement for a quality educational experience. Disagreement can actually be a healthy thing.

The trick, though, is figuring out where each professor stands in their teaching style (and where you stand with them). This is no small task. Not only do you have to keep up with your assignment deadlines, you also have to pay close attention to any notes and/or feedback your professor is offering.

Finding any clue about their teaching style is helpful. I recommend you do this as early as possible. Some professors are okay with you lacing ‘Phineas and Ferb’ references into your work when appropriate. Others may steadfastly believe there is no such appropriate time. (They’ll see. One day. They’ll see.)

And those syllabi they write…

2. The Syllabus
Can I just say something here? Be completely honest?

Syllabi scare me.

They always have. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve never come across another compilation of paper nearly as intimidating as the syllabus. I’m married. I have insurance. I have kids. I’ve purchased a home. None of those stacks of papers ever caused me to sweat nearly as much as a syllabus. So many demands, so little space.

I know they exist to help…you know, with setting proper expectations and the like. (Or something schmaltzy like that.) But as nicely as they can be dressed up, they always smack me in the face with the weightiness of their expectations.

I’m sure there’s more than one reason for my aversion to syllabi, but there was always one in particular that stuck out to me: Syllabi are a stark reminder that your relaxed, schoolwork-free life is about to go the way of the dinosaur.

My recommendation? Take it one small step at a time. Get into a flow, and just go with it. Don’t dwell too much on what lies ahead. You’ll get there in time.

Speaking of flow…

3. The Schedule
Maybe it’s the unvoiced expectations of the syllabus that can make them nerve-racking. Or, actually, maybe it’s their voiced expectations.

I mean, we all know school takes up a lot of time, but when a syllabus tells us that one class is going to take up 15 hours of the week all on its lonesome… even pocket planners start to sweat. And how many pages is that final research paper again?

While time management is a key component of scholastic success, it is also a key component of mental health. So try to preserve a little flow. Give yourself some time to clear your head. I was particularly bad at this one, and because I didn’t do it right, I left my sanity hanging by a thread more than once. Once I started to get it figured out, my stress levels decreased exponentially.

So do make schoolwork a priority, but don’t forget that you will, in fact, flunk your finals if you’re locked up in an institution. Here are some time management tips to keep you sane and productive.

4. The Friends
Friends are basically the best. In fact, a wise king once said, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

But we mustn’t forget that, right before he said that he also said, “one who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin.” This is especially true for students of any age. Friends can be great, but certain people can make getting back into the rhythm of school a bear.

Solid friends are hard to come by, but they are worth every penny. (Just kidding, don’t buy friends.) So make sure to surround yourself with people who will support you and push you toward success. They can mean the world to your success. Be wary of people who constantly push you to ignore your commitments and/or tell you to take shortcuts on your work.

5. Thine Self
Never forget about your own worst enemy: You. Seriously, I know you’re a great person and all, but stop being so awful… to yourself, I mean. You’re going to be fine.

I know school can feel daunting, and that it’s easy to undersell our own abilities — especially to ourselves. But never let your worries about how capable you are preventing you from taking on important challenges.

School is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s no sense expending your energy on anxiety.

Feel better now? Capable of facing the “giants of Syllabi”? Of taming the “wild beast of Schedule”? Besting the “knights of El Professorini”? Good and good. If I could get past them, I know you can too.

Oh, and best of luck in your academic journey. You’re going to kill it.


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