Staying consistently busy is the new norm and most see it as being worthy and valuable. We fill our schedules as much as possible, and often see it as a sign of success. When it comes to an adult learner, their plate is even more full than most: managing work, family, school, and their own interests.  Finding a balance between all these things can feel like a constant trial. So, what are some challenges adult learners face and how can they overcome these challenges?  

Adult learners face a unique set of challenges when deciding to go back to school. They must overcome a vast array of hurdles in higher education, not just in balancing work and family, but in cost considerations, accessibility, and commitments necessary for returning to school.  

The balancing act of school and life responsibilities 

Even in today’s era of technology, school is a huge time commitment. A lot of time goes into attending classes, preparing for class and assignments, and other schoolwork and projects. Those who return to school struggle to fit all of that into their already busy schedules. 

Many adult learners who are pursuing higher education attend school part-time because they are still working full-time, have families support, and other obligations. This limits their time causing additional responsibilities and stress to the frustration of being an adult learner. It is also difficult for an adult learner to be physically and mentally present for their classes.  


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Another challenge adult learners face is accessibility to classes. With the extensive time commitments of balancing a full-time job and family, these responsibilities make it difficult to attend classes during regular school hours. Adult learners usually end up having to take night classes; however, the options are still limited since they’re only offered at certain times. This adds to the time commitment in travel time as well. The student then becomes tired and worn out from their long days at work, which risks burnout.  

While some students can make this type of schedule work, many adult learners cannot because of their unpredictable schedules being too full. Unfortunately, this leads to difficulty at succeeding in school and makes their educational process even longer. There are a few online institutions, like California Southern University, which offer flexible and asynchronous education so learners can attend classes whenever it is convenient for them. This helps to alleviate some pressure that comes with balancing existing commitments. 


What seems like the hardest challenge of going back to school is the cost, a particular issue for adult learners. This includes tuition, books, supplies, and fees which add up quickly. Student debt is a reality for many learners of all ages, and working professionals is no exception. For an adult learner, they already have their worries in child-care, mortgage payments, and existing debt. Adding education into the mix can be daunting. 

Adult learners often do not qualify for loans if they have a steady career, which makes it difficult to pay for education. While most adult students go back to school to earn a better job or career path, there is the possibility of losing income due to their focus being elsewhere other than work. Some people even step down to a lower role so they can maintain their rigorous school schedule. In some instances, employers offer partial tuition coverage, especially if the education pertains to the employee’s professional development. Additionally, scholarships are available to apply for, which can offset the costs to returning to school. 

Support Systems  

Returning to school doesn’t have to be so daunting. Despite significant challenges, the rewards will significantly outweigh the difficulties if students choose the right program for them. In the meantime, there are a few techniques that can support learners during their studies to increase likelihood of success and overall satisfaction with the experience. 

Adult learners have many reasons for returning to school, and it is important for colleges and universities to offer a customized experience to provide them with the right support as they face significant commitments and… Click To Tweet

Adult learners have many reasons for returning to school, and it is important for colleges and universities to offer a customized experience to provide them with the right support as they face significant commitments and sacrifices. It is pressing for adult students to have a strong support system throughout their educational path. Having the support of friends and family is crucial in order to keep a student motivated and uplifted through the process. This is especially true when a student has an emotional setback in school.  

In addition to friends and family, the institution’s student services team must act as a network and help students recognize problems they are facing and provide recommendations. This will help the learner with brainstorming, problem solving, and navigating difficult situations. The student support team should also help adult learners with tactics in having conversations with a work manager or spouse discussing their current educational experience. This helps identify individuals who will contribute in a positive way. When considering which school to attend, student support services are not often considered. But today’s students benefit tremendously when they receive institutional support. 

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Genuine Motivation  

Students develop a sense of pride and confidence in themselves when balancing their work-life despite the challenges in their way. For institutions, it is necessary to empower students to set their own goals and direct them to the correct resources. This includes great advisers and professors who offer encouragement as well. Most importantly, the adult learner needs to understand they oversee their academic career, which gives them great internal motivation and satisfaction when each goal is met. 

Because of the varied challenges faced by the modern student, internal motivation is vital for success. You have the ability to conquer challenges you face in your educational path with the right attitude and a bit of support. Click To Tweet

Institutions can and should provide support resources, however it is ultimately up to the student to take advantage of those resources when they are able. These types of motivations can intensify when the learner faces outward rewards in promotions, family and community recognition, etc.   

Bounce-Back Effect  

Higher education is a lot to balance even for the highly organized and energetic professionals. Moments of lapsed judgement and lackluster academic performance will inevitably take place during a student’s education process. It is essential to recognize the lessons from those situations and bounce back from mistakes along the way. Student support counselors and advisors should provide feedback and suggestions on coping with those mistakes.  This helps the students want to stay focus and get back in gear for their future.  

Adult learners are very different from what most universities consider “traditional” students and must overcome demanding challenges. Balancing work, family, and life is challenging enough, but going back to school is another strenuous task. Although these types of students are facing challenges as an adult learner, they do not have to struggle alone. If the adult learner understands the unique obstacles they must face and they have the tools to overcome them, it is ultimately up to them to determine their success during their higher educational path. 

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About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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