5 Reasons Adults Fear Going Back to School — and How to Get Over Them

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Adult learners fear going back to school

Taking a class can be a step toward that promotion you’ve been angling for, or lay the foundation for a full-on career change. But for many adults, committing to weeks, months, or even a day of lessons can be nerve-wracking.

It’s true: The back-to-school jitters are real at any age. Learning new skills often involves rearranging your schedule, planning for additional expenses, or combating the nerves that come with venturing out of your comfort zone. But if you can overcome these barriers, your potential will skyrocket.

Skilling up has innumerable benefits: It can give you a competitive edge in the job market; increase your value within your company; and, of course, keep you ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing tech environment. On a personal level, it can boost morale and give you creative inspiration. There’s truly nothing to lose.

Here are five common reasons you may be hesitating to return to a school environment. To help debunk them, we spoke with Suzanne Abate, who teaches various product management courses at General Assembly’s Los Angeles campus. She’s also a co-founding partner of the product design and development agency The Development Factory and CEO of the time-management app My Time Blocks.

Abate gave us her best advice for getting over the back-to-school jitters — so read on, stop holding yourself back, and give your career a boost.

1. “I’m too busy — now’s not a good time.”

We get it: Balancing a day job with family, a social life, and/or any other high-priority adult responsibilities is hard. But you aren’t going to transform your life by simply thinking about what you want your future to look like. It’s up to you to carve out the time to make changes.

Learning new skills doesn’t have to be a full-time commitment. It can be, but there are less time-intensive opportunities too, from weekly courses to one-off classes and workshops. And don’t forget about online courses and tutorials that you can tuck into your schedule where they fit, without the commute to and from a classroom.

Abate suggests looking at it this way: If you have a goal — like strengthening your skills, making a career change, exploring a subject you’ve always been interested in, or getting a promotion or pay increase — then you should have something on your to-do list every day that’s in service of that goal.

“What you’re actually doing is setting yourself on a direct course toward that goal you want to achieve,” she says. “If [your procrastination is] based on this idea that in some future time you’re going to have more bandwidth, you’re never going to have more bandwidth.”

2. “Taking a class is too expensive.”

Cost is a valid barrier to education. With bills to pay and, often, families to support, many adults struggle to make ends meet as it is. It can make the cost of a visual design class feel like an indulgence or a financial sacrifice.

If advancing your career is truly a priority, you can focus on free or low-cost workshops and tutorials, or work the cost of a class into your budget: Try packing your work lunches instead of buying them, or cutting back on Uber rides and bar tabs, for starters. Looking into financing plans or asking your employer to cover the cost are great options, too.

But for those who physically have the funds — even just barely — and are still hesitating, Abate recommends looking at it from a cost-versus-value perspective. “What you really need to be asking yourself isn’t ‘How much is it going to cost?’ but ‘How much value am I going to yield from this investment?’” she says. “What is the value of getting that job you want, and getting that salary, and is the expense of a class worth that investment?”

If the answer to that last question is yes, then what are you waiting for?

3. “I’m intimidated.”

Venturing out of your comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable. But that’s normal, and you won’t be the only one with nerves on your first day.

“It’s 100% natural to feel very vulnerable walking in [on the first day of class],” Abate says. “I think a lot of the time people feel vulnerable because they think, ‘Who am I to be here?’ or, ‘Everybody else is going to know more than I know.’”

Abate says she starts her classes by acknowledging the nerves — but she also salutes students for the courage it takes to say, “I want to go out and be better,” and commit to being in the class.

“Don’t worry about what you don’t know,” she says. “Be confident in the experiences you do have, and know that every other person is in the exact same position as you. It takes about five minutes for all of that to dissipate and the fun to start.”

4. “I’m not convinced that taking a class will help my job or my career.”

Fast Company called 2016 “the year of the hybrid job,” which means employers are looking for candidates with skills that overlap across different fields. A study commissioned by Bentley University found that 71% of in-demand skills are required in two or more job categories.

Even a basic understanding of a subject outside your current day-to-day role — say, learning web development fundamentals if you’re a product manager — can give you a competitive edge in the job market. It can also strengthen your ability to communicate with other stakeholders and give you a wider view of your company or industry.

“[Learning new skills] inherently makes you more valuable as a job candidate because now you can come into a role and you can support on either side of that role,” Abate says. “Even if you’re hired specifically as a marketing person, or specifically as a developer, the more you understand about the way other departments operate, the more valuable you become to the team.”

5. “I don’t know if I’m signing up for the right class for me.”

Sometimes you know you’re ready to take the plunge and get learning, but you’re not sure which course will give you the most benefit. Abate says that’s “absolutely natural.”

A chat with a mentor, HR manager, colleagues, or the organization through which you’re considering taking classes can help you determine a track that fits your aspirations or interests. But chances are, wherever you land is going to be valuable, even if it ultimately points you in a completely different direction from where you expected to end up.

For example, Abate says, many students in her product management courses — which touch different parts of technology, user experience design, and business fundamentals — leave knowing they want to pursue a career in user experience or business.

“It provides them with a point of departure to go and pursue their skills further, whether it’s through more courses or more independent learning,” she says. “Learning is a journey. You’re never finished, and if you do it right, you’re always hungry for the next thing.”

Whatever it is that’s keeping you from getting back into a classroom, there’s a way to get past it. Overcome your hurdles, start learning again, and reap the benefits.

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