Dave was getting a bit antsy about starting back to college after a 22-year absence. His greatest anxiety was being just three weeks away from the first evening class and having no list of required textbooks or other supplies. This is a common hurdle for adults going back to school.
When I earned a master’s degree by distance education, I was 30 years past graduation with a bachelor’s degree. Adults in that situation do sweat the small stuff, especially if also working outside the home. We want lists: names and contact information for instructors, titles of required textbooks and suggested materials, a description of required computer capabilities and a syllabus for each course.
Unfortunately, the Internet, which has made so many flexible degrees possible, can be an adult student’s worst enemy. Because faculty and staff depend on the convenience of the Internet, they sometimes wait until a couple of weeks before classes to send out information.
If you’ve paid your tuition and are waiting for lists to arrive, you can still get started putting together materials for your back-to-school adventure.
Textbooks: If you already know the required texts, first decide whether to get them from your school or from an online site. Sometimes the school ships prepaid orders, but for some nontraditional or specialized programs such as career transition or personal enrichment, materials might be available for purchase at the first class. If you’re attending a local college or university, pay a visit to the bookstore to see what’s already in stock. Even without knowing all the texts you’ll need, you should visit the bookstore just to see where things are and how it operates.
If you decide to shop online, keep in mind that if you order from multiple vendors, you’ll need to find out up front if shipping is free or will cost more than ordering from just one. Typical sites for finding new and used textbooks are Amazon, Alibris and BuyUsedTextbooks.
Also consider renting textbooks if you think you’ll never use them again. It’s also possible that your school will make texts available online so that you don’t have to purchase them.
Computer requirements. The question isn’t whether adults need one to go back to school. The issue is what the school requires. Will you need to bring a laptop or a notebook to class with you? Does the instructor ban computers in the classroom as a distraction? Even if you don’t know all the requirements, you can call the school’s information technology department to inquire about minimums like speed and memory.
Basic office supplies. These are largely a matter of personal preference for adult students going back to school. However, your shopping list should start with a calendar with plenty of room on each date for making notes unless you play to track all life’s obligations on a computer. Everyone needs pencils and pens, a backpack or tote bag (some use a different color for each course), paper on which to write and a calculator with associated batteries. Most students find it handy to use sticky notes or sticky tabs to mark pages and colored highlighters for important material. One of the most-overlooked items is a flash drive to transport information from one computer to another. Also helpful are file folders, a few protective transparent sheets, a stapler with staples and a hole punch. If you carry a cell phone for emergencies, make sure the battery stays charged.
Special requirements. Some classes have special requirements, such as a lab coat or supplies for art projects. Call the department offering the course if you don’t yet have a list to get an idea of the basics.
Contacts. If at all possible, get contact information from students who have already taken the course. The school probably won’t provide it due to privacy considerations. The most likely source is a friend of a friend or a co-worker. You’ll want to weigh the potential time expended on the effort against personal time if you’re also working or otherwise have a tight schedule. However, former students are usually excellent sources of information about course expectations and requirements.
Snacks. Buy something you can tuck into a bag to tide you over on occasion. Think power bars or comparable snacks that won’t spoil.
Cash. Always carry a stash of around $20 for on-the-spot purchases and emergencies. Make sure it includes both bills and change.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember as an adult going back to school is that all the other students are in the same situation. Take a positive, can-do attitude and add a dose of self-confidence to make your return to class smoother than you thought possible.