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I teach adult students. I help them navigate course catalogs, degree plans and graduation requirements. I offer reassurance and moral support when they need it. I love my job. But what I’ve learned in almost a decade of working with adults is this — their biggest source of support is their peers. There’s just nothing like talking to someone who is juggling the same commitments you are, who wants to finish that degree as badly as you do.

I recently talked with three students who are in the thick of that degree hunt. I asked them how they manage to stay on top of projects and deadlines in their professional and academic lives — and what advice they have for other adults. Here’s what they said.

Go all in.

Deanna Pickrell didn’t think she would ever finish college. But after raising her family and going through a divorce, the opportunity presented itself. “Early on, I realized I was not the same student I had been 35 years ago,” she says. “I was motivated, I wanted to learn, and I was enjoying my college experience.” By her second year, Pickrell’s perspective shifted from identifying herself as a full-time administrative assistant who was going to school to seeing herself as a full-time student who was working as an administrative assistant. “I was all in,” says Pickrell, who recently completed her degree in Organizational Leadership.

Stick to a schedule.

Cheryl Dunn likes to joke that she’s on the 30-year degree plan. She has credits from three universities going back 25 years, but in the spring, she’ll complete her Accounting degree from St. Edward’s University. “I’ve taken it slow and steady this time around, with two classes at a time. When I get my syllabus each semester, I set a study schedule and stay committed to it,” she says. “I allot time to study each day, or I set aside a weekend day. And if I miss my study time, I decide when I’ll make it up. It really helps not to get behind the 8-ball.”

Utilize campus resources.

From writing tutors and research librarians to career counselors and financial aid advisors, your campus likely has a wealth of resources for you. Use them. “Everything you need to be successful is available on campus or online,” says Robert Barger, a police officer who recently finished his degree in Public Safety Management. “The library was an especially great resource. Asking a librarian is like a ‘phone-a-friend’ lifeline.”

Take advantage of on-the-job learning.

Barger also took advantage of the portfolio process and credit by exam, both of which allow you to earn credit for learning acquired on the job. “The prior learning class was instrumental to me graduating. I completed a portfolio that demonstrated I had successfully mastered certain subjects through my job, and I got course credit for that,” he says. “With these kinds of prior learning evaluations, the financial aspects and time constraints were easier for me to manage.”

Trust your support network.

“Going back to college was a little nerve-wracking,” says Dunn. “But when you see familiar faces in class every semester, they really become part of your support system.” As do your professors, says Pickrell. “To mark my 50th birthday, I trained for and competed a triathlon. Returning to school felt like training for an academic triathlon. Learning how to think critically and write academically has been quite a mental challenge, but my professors gave me amazing support and encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

New College at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, offers a flexible courses with a full range of majors that allow you to fulfill your dream of going back to college.

Lori Eggleston Thorp is director of New College Support Services at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

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