Returning to study after a break

Enrolling in a course for the first time (or the first time in years) is challenging for most students. If you’ve been in the workforce for decades or have a family, it can be terrifying. This makes it more important than ever to remember that you are not alone. You are joining hundreds of other students who have returned to the classroom later in life. 

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to help ease the concerns of returning to study as an adult. Let’s dive into it.

What to look for in an education provider

Once you’ve chosen what you’re going to study, the next question is usually where. Ideally, your education provider or RTO (registered training organisation) will have the following attributes:

  • Flexibility. Look for a provider that offers fully online or hybrid learning and allows you to switch between part-time and full-time study as your workload and family dictates. The best online RTOs will also allow you to progress at your own pace with no scheduled deadlines for submitting work.
  • Accessible coaching. You deserve to be more than a number. You have real challenges in the real world, so look for expert adult coaching that understands your circumstances.
  • Cost-effective. Look for a course that gives you the most value for your money and your time. Depending on what you’re doing, a VET qualification such as a diploma or certificate costs less and upskills you faster. Studying should be about acquiring professional credentials and competencies. Choose the best institute to achieve this, not the institute with the biggest name.

return to study

Set clear study goals

If you’re returning to study, you probably know exactly where you’re heading career-wise. So a course that doesn’t enhance your prospects is a waste of time and money. 

Without a clear goal and structure, it can be easy to lose focus. Effective goal setting puts you in the driver’s seat with the opportunity to transform your own life into whatever direction you desire. To accomplish your goals, you need to carefully set, monitor and review them.

One of the golden rules of being a student is that you only get out of it what you put in. So if you set out to do your best and be as comprehensive in your studies as you can be, you’re bound to do well and achieve competency in your units. 

However, sometimes despite your best efforts, you’ll receive a ‘not yet competent’, feel out of your depth, or get a knock to your confidence. If this is the case, take a step back to try and figure out where you got stuck. 

  • Did you skim the course content rather than trying to understand it? 
  • Did you rush the assessment? 
  • Did you make an educated guess about something you weren’t sure about? 

Once you’ve found your struggle point, decide how you’ll overcome that obstacle next time. For example, you may decide to pre-book your coaching calls, leave yourself more time for a particular segment of study, or ask more questions in discussion groups. Make sure you give yourself a bit of grace too – it can take some time to get back into study.


Build a study support network

Each year, hundreds of qualifications and certifications are earned by mature-age students who are just as busy and financially constricted as you are. An RTO that provides flexible study conditions is invaluable – but one of the best resources you have? Your family, friends and fellow students. 

One of the realities of returning to study is the need to put some things on hold. To set yourself up for success:

  • Ensure your immediate family or roommates know that you’ll need a bit of space and grace while you complete your studies and get them on board.
  • Get the support of your friends and loved ones and don’t be afraid to ask for help if and when you need it.
  • Put measures in place so that dependents or kids can cope with your absence.
  • If you intend to continue working as you study, get the support of your colleagues to ensure you have people to rely on.

Recruit your boss to support you

Investing your time and finances in a credible qualification will give you a substantial advantage in years to come. Many employers see the benefit to their business in upskilling existing staff. A savvy employer will subsidise costs and allow time for on-the-job learning, knowing it will have a positive impact on the bottom line. Provide your employer with a course guide that contains all the relevant information your boss needs to make an easy decision.

Prepare your environment for study

Set up your study environment for success. Always keep your laptop and other study devices fully charged wherever you go. When taking an online course, any time could be a good time to get your homework done.

Keep an eye out and make a shortlist of reliable and familiar backup Wi-Fi locations. This could be a local library or cafe. You’d be surprised how widely connected you can be once you pay attention.

With Wi-Fi, you can study anytime, anywhere. Read a chapter while finishing lunch, solve a problem at soccer training or ask a learning coach a question on the trip home.

Set boundaries to minimise study distraction

Online study allows you to study flexibly, at any place or time that best suits you. In fact, many courses are designed specifically for busy professionals and stay-at-home parents. As fantastic as this is, studying from home can result in distractions if you don’t set boundaries from the offset. Try the following:

  • Encourage your kids to do their homework at a similar time or bribe them with screen time or a play date at a friend’s house.
  • Turn off any electronic devices (phones, TVs, smartwatches, etc.) while you study.
  • Close the door. There’s nothing like a physical boundary to show people you’re not available.
  • Don’t make any excuses for not finishing your homework. Place your study plan on your desk and commit to working through it one step at a time.

Make studying fun

Despite the concerns of returning to study as an adult, mature age students rarely regret getting back on the pathway to a qualification. More often, they regret not engaging in studying sooner! 

If you are thinking about going back to study, remember to have fun with it if you can. It may feel like a long slog now, but you’ll look back a few years from now wondering where the time went. Finding ways to enjoy the journey will make the time pass more pleasantly and help you learn better, too.

Returning to Study After Family: What To Expect