This Insights article was submitted by Fabiola Kinney, Admissions and Advising Coordinator of North Carolina Wesleyan College’s Adult Studies Program in Wilmington.
Earning your degree as a working adult can be challenging at times. Whether you’re entering college for the first time or going back to complete a degree, adult students can benefit from having a strong support network during their educational journey.
You might already have a network of family and close friends that you can rely on at all times, but forming meaningful relationships with classmates, academic advisors, and instructors can help you get the most out of your academic experience.
If you are a working adult returning to college, here are a few tips on how to build a strong support network:
Connect with your academic advisor - Regardless of your year in college, meet with your advisor early-on to create an academic plan that outlines the courses you will take from beginning until graduation while you are enrolled at the college. This plan is not “set in stone” and can be changed depending on your needs. Its main benefit is to ensure that you meet all the requirements for your major, complete prerequisites, and find out how many credits you need to take each semester. It is also important to update this plan occasionally to make sure that you stay on track and are able to graduate when planned.
Regularly connect with your advisor. Most students go through college only seeing their academic advisor when it is time to schedule classes. Academic advisors are there to not only help guide your course of study, but they can also help you explore and define your educational and career goals, assess your interests and skills, select courses required to complete your degree requirements, understand college policies and procedures, and provide study tips and insights about classes and additional academic support. This will ensure that you have support when you really need it. Let your advisor know if you are struggling with a course early-on. They can help you connect with other resources. At North Carolina Wesleyan College, academic advisors get to know their students and can help them navigate specialized support such as online tutoring, career services, and community resources.
Use college resources - Visit your college's career services office and take advantage of the assistance they can offer - from resume writing to professional networking. Career counselors can help students prepare for the working world and explore their personal strengths and interests. Many colleges also offer online resources to assist students who live off-campus. According to a 2011 NPR report, up to 80 percent of jobs aren’t published or advertised – most people are hired through personal connections, so keep in mind that your college network can translate into future career prospects. Faculty and staff can provide you with reference letters, internship opportunities, volunteer work, or informational interviews.
Reach out to your peers - Getting to know your classmates can help you form strong study groups, which can provide you with the encouragement you need to stay focused and motivated. Those students who participate in study groups are more confident and comfortable about reaching their academic goals. In addition, you will also meet people who have similar personal and professional interests as you, creating excellent networking opportunities. Often classmates can help you resolve problems. If you have a question about a class or the school in general, it’s very likely that a fellow student has gone through the issue already and can help you get the right answer.
Keep your communication open with instructors – An effective college support system wouldn’t be complete without instructors. Most instructors have office hours, and many colleges require them to respond to questions within a reasonable timeframe, especially for online courses. While getting to know your instructors, you may also find a mentor, a person with whom you can talk about your professional and personal goals and who will guide you in the right direction. Your mentor and other faculty members can also write letters of recommendation for you and help you develop your professional network.
Support networks in and outside college are fundamental in helping adult students stay committed to earning a degree. If you are an adult student returning to college, juggling school work with career and family isn’t easy. Building meaningful connections and utilizing college resources will ensure that you will have the help you need to lean on through the challenging times.
Dani Somers is the Assistant Director of Admissions for North Carolina Wesleyan College’s Adult & Professional Studies. She started her career with NC Wesleyan College in 2016. NCWC offers students the ability to obtain their degree in an affordable and conveniently formatted program. Please visit www.ncwc.edu/BelieveNow or email [email protected] for more information.
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