How To Be a Successful Adult Student

High school and adult level education programs differ significantly. As a result, different types of skills and qualities are required to succeed as an adult student.

The primary difference between high school and adult education programs aren’t the programs themselves, it’s the students. High school students don’t typically have full-time jobs or families to support–adults do.

Adult students must juggle the responsibilities of working, attending to family and other duties, while trying to complete their degree, certificate or diploma.

There is also a different set of expectations for adolescents and adults. Since adolescents are still maturing, teachers are more willing to accept excuses and poor effort, but teachers in adult education programs are less likely to accept excuses and will expect a higher level of dedication and performance from their students. They will work with students’ needs, but will not tolerate laziness or apathy.

Adults enrolling in adult education programs should always maintain a positive attitude and be willing to put in the work necessary to succeed. Since adults usually have work, family and other responsibilities, teachers in adult education programs will assume their students are mature, hard workers and up to the task. Notwithstanding, even for mature dedicated adults, school can be challenging.

The following are a few proven strategies that will help you succeed as an adult students enrolled in an adult education program:

Set Realistic Goals

Goal setting typically isn’t high up on the list of priorities for most high school age students, but for adult students, who want to be successful–while maintaining some sense of sanity–it’s an imperative.

Adults students have to juggle so many different responsibilities that compete for their time and attention outside of school that setting goals becomes a very important aspect of academic success.

Even for responsible adults, it’s easy to get behind or arrive at the end of the semester unprepared if they don’t set realistic, achievable goals at the beginning of the semester and review their goals on a regular basis.

Teachers and professors can help their students brainstorm goals, but ultimately it’s the students’ responsibility to develop goals and follow through with them. It’s very difficult to complete a demanding adult education or college program without setting and following through with goals.

We recommend setting daily, weekly and monthly goals. Daily goals should be oriented toward accomplishing weekly goals, weekly goals should be oriented toward accomplishing monthly goals, and monthly goals to longer-term goals.


Most adults returning to college or enrolling for the first time will likely take classes much more difficult than those they’ve taken in the past or during high school. They’ll be tested in tough courses and will frequently be overwhelmed with what they’re required to learn–and quickly they must learn it.

Moreover, students must deal with a myriad of challenges outside the classroom, such as relationships, family or work problems. Often, school and non-school related stress can make quitting seem very appealing to adult students. However, you must work through challenges and persevere until you reach your education goals.

If you have clearly defined goals and self-confidence, you can find the drive to work through challenging times and complete your degree or diploma.


It’s been eight years since you graduated from high school. You have three kids, a wife and 9 to 5 jobs as an office manager. The last math class you took was pre-algebra, you barely passed high school chemistry and it feels like it’s been an eternity since you read an actual textbook.

You feel like you need to get a college degree but are wondering if you’re really up to it. Adults returning to school after a long absence need to be confident in their abilities in order to succeed. They need to develop an “I can do this!” attitude. This is partly due to the fact that, unlike high school, you are not forced to attend, complete your assignments or even graduate.

To succeed, you must be confident, dedicated and have a strong work ethic. You must also have the ability and determination to solve problems when you encounter them and keep on going.

If you do not have confidence in your problem solving skills, are unsure of yourself or can’t really say you’re going to follow through to the end, you can become stressed and drop out.

Keep an Open Mind

It’s important to be open-minded when returning to college. You’re going to make mistakes, and no matter your work experience, your professors will be more knowledgeable about the subjects they teach than you will be. Therefore, you must be very attentive in class and closely follow test and project instructions. Be prepared to make mistakes, and apply the lessons you learn to become a better student.

Avoid Procrastination

If possible, avoid procrastinating homework assignments and putting off studying. This can be a challenge since most adults have family and work responsibilities on top of their education.

Unlike high school, it’s often not possible to score well on a college level test if you don’t start studying until the night before. Since college and adult education courses catering to adults usually only meet once or twice a week, you are expected to be studying or completing assignments the rest of the week during your time off.

Many working adult students must make sacrifices, and reassess their priorities, in order to meet their school obligations, or they’ll end up procrastinating until it’s too late. Students are usually expected to spend at least an hour studying outside of each hour spent in class. However, to learn difficult concepts, more time outside study time may be necessary.

Qualities of Success

In order to be successful students, adults returning to pursue a degree or complete a higher education program need to be dedicated, determined, able to set and achieve realistic goals, prioritize, believe in themselves, sacrifice and persevere.

Successful students are also self-introspective and are always looking for ways to improve themselves. If you haven’t developed all these qualities yet, don’t despair–it’s never too late to develop them.

Read also:
Facing Your Fears of Returning to School as an Adult

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