Enrolling in any degree program is a monumental decision, and is bound to generate some feelings of doubt and insecurity - regardless of the student’s age and experience. However for students who have taken some time away from their studies, these doubts can be particularly nagging, as they wonder whether they are truly prepared to re-engage in higher education. Whether it has been two years or twenty, non-traditional students often fear that they have lost some of the skills basic to higher education, and worry that they might not be able to keep up with the rigors of course requirements.
While these fears are certainly well-founded, careful planning and honest communication can ensure that students begin their new journey on the road to success.
Melissa Thomas is well-versed in the struggles and anxieties faced by non-traditional students. As the Director of the College of Charleston Center for Student Learning (CSL), she oversees academic support programs that serve approximately 4500 students each year. The CSL offers a variety of services for CofC students - including supplemental instruction, individual tutoring, walk-in labs, and workshops - as well as a large library of online resources. Although students typically seek out the CSL when they have reached an academic impasse, such as negative feedback, a poor grade or an overall lack of understanding, the CSL also provides assistance with planning, study strategies and other pro-active measures. “We are a busy and well-utilized center,” says Thomas.
Thomas has found that adult students tend to differ from traditional students in both their common fears, and their approach to seeking outside help.
“Adult students generally know that they need help sooner than traditionally-aged students,” Thomas explains, “so they are more likely to come before they are in academic trouble.” Adult students are also more likely to be unfamiliar with more recent technology, and may rely on the CSL for guidance with certain applications, such as the use of electronic databases for conducting academic research. While traditionally-aged college students might be focused solely on coursework and campus life, non-traditional students often have outside responsibilities to consider. “Many fear that they don’t know how they will balance life—work, and school, and family,” says Thomas. For these students, the CSL can provide assistance with time management and planning, often first by completing a semester at-a-glance calendar. “It’s the most popular resource on our webpage,” says Thomas.
Among the more common doubts that adult students bring to a degree completion program is whether they still have the study skills and writing ability necessary to complete course requirements. The CSL Study Strategies workshops can be especially helpful to these students. The Study Strategies workshops offer a comprehensive overview of common study strategies, and assist students with tasks such as time management, stress management, goal setting, and motivation. “We meet one-on-one to talk about those skills that they think are lacking,” explains Thomas, “and then make a plan of attack!" Students also acquire techniques to better understand college-level readings, take effective notes, and prepare for finals.
In addition to customized workshops, the CSL offers approximately 15 study skills workshops on YouTube, and provides over 70 different handouts on their website, offering refreshers on common stumbling blocks including reading, note-taking, and studying. The CSL also provides support to students who are struggling with essays, research papers, and other academic writing. The walk-in Writing Lab in Addlestone Library allows students to receive the individualized feedback necessary to hone their writing craft .
Thomas, who has been involved with learning assistance programs since her undergraduate days, is happy to help non-traditional students in the School of Professional Studies (SPS) with any academic issues that they encounter. She stresses that careful planning and time management are key to non-traditional student success, particularly for those students who may be struggling with balancing responsibilities. “Part of what we do is look at a week-at-a-glance calendar and have [the student] just mark off how they spent last week,” Thomas explains. “Then we build a model week that takes into account the 'immoveables' - commitments that can’t be changed - and then schedule time for [the student] to study, live, work, and breathe.” Thomas encourages students who are planning a return to school to begin consider the time management challenges they will face, and bring spouses/partners and other families on board.
“[Make] sure that those in your life value your return to school as much as you do and [have] open communication about how life might change—you might not make dinner every night…you might need that time later at night to study instead of relax with your spouse…you might miss things on the weekend. This is an important discussion.”
Although it is normal to approach a new and existing endeavor with apprehension, SPS students can be assured that they will find the support they need at the CofC. Every student has the potential for success, regardless of how long it has been since they last attended college. In the words of Melissa Thomas, “Plan well, communicate well, and do it!”
The Center for Student Learning has two locations: Addlestone Library, on the main CofC campus, and the North Campus facility, home to the School of Professional Studies. The North Campus location offers space for tutoring and studying, as well as individual Study Strategies appointments. For more information, or to make an appointment, please visit the CSL website.