Adult Student’s Guide to Survival and Success – Chapter One

The Adult Student's Guide to Survival & Success, 7th Ed cover

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Chapter One

Lots of Help Is Available

Did you know that over half of college students work while going to school?

How many services does your college provide to help you succeed?

Did you know that the abilities you use to succeed in college are the same abilities that employers look for?

What, in addition to a résumé and good grades, do employers look for?

Yes, You Can Succeed!

Your decision to go to college and then doing what it took to get registered means that you have a very good chance of completing your college program. Psychologists know this even though you may have some fears and doubts. The truth of this prediction can be found in your answers to the questions below.

Answer "yes" or "no" to these five questions:

Yes No During your elementary years in school were some of your classmates praised for being very bright?
Yes No When you were going to high school did you have to work hard to get passing grades?
Yes No When life hits you with difficult challenges do you feel optimistic about finding ways to overcome them?
Yes No Before you begin something difficult, do you think about what problems and barriers you might encounter and think of ways to avoid or overcome them?
Yes No When trying to cope with a difficulty, do you seek guidance from experienced people and experts about how to handle it well?

If you answered "yes" to most of the questions above, then the possibility that you will successfully complete your college program is very good. Here’s why:

Research by psychologist Carol Dweck shows that many students who were praised for being very bright during their early years in school do not go on to achieve much career success. Because their early identity was to be one of the best and brightest, many of them become reluctant to take on new challenges or try new learning where they might not do well at first.

Dweck’s research shows that students who were praised for getting passing grades by being persistent and sticking with difficult assignments often achieve more career success than their brighter classmates.

An accidental conversation during an airplane flight led psychologist Martin Seligman to conduct research about the importance of optimism in newly hired life-insurance sales agents. The insurance executive he talked with on the plane said that newly hired agents had to obtain high scores on the technical aspects of insurance, but many of them dropped out of the business after a year or two—which was an expensive business cost.

Seligman, famous for his research on "learned optimism" with depressed mental patients, set up an experiment. The results showed that if optimistic expectations were high in newly hired insurance agents, they had much more career success than new agents who had higher technical mastery but lower optimism scores.

David McClelland, a well-known Harvard psychologist, spent years trying to answer this question: "Why do some people achieve more career success than others?" His research—done with thousands of people in many countries—identified four factors. Successful people:

  • Daydream about what it will feel like to reach a goal that is meaningful for them.

  • They feel it is possible for them to reach the goal with good effort.

  • They spend time listing and anticipating how they will handle difficulties and problems that they may encounter.

  • They seek out experienced people and expert resources for guidance on how to succeed.

These research findings mean that you can succeed in college if you are willing to be persistent and work hard to obtain a passing grade in a course, feel optimistic about the results of your efforts, will take time to anticipate and deal with possible difficulties, and take advantage of all the expert resources available to you.

How The Adult Student’s Guide Will Help You Reach Your Educational Goals

Every chapter in this book contains valuable information about how to succeed in college after you have been away from school for a while. It will show you how to succeed even if you have a family, work, have many responsibilities, and need time to spend with friends.

Most adult students take college courses to improve their job skills or career opportunities. The Adult Student’s Guide contains many useful suggestions on how to be highly desirable to employers. (Translation: hired quickly and paid well.) Getting a diploma or a degree is not enough, however, in today’s world. Employers in today’s world of non-stop change are looking for people with college degrees who can prove that they:

  • can work well in teams
  • are self-motivated to keep learning new skills
  • have good communications skills
  • don’t have negative attitudes
  • are dependable
  • have good computer skills
  • can work without a detailed job description
  • do not need constant supervision
  • provide excellent customer service
  • use common sense to solve problems
  • hold up well under pressure
  • are resilient and handle change well
  • do high-quality work

To help you develop abilities that will give you an advantage in the competition for a better job and help you reach higher levels of success on the job, we have included many suggestions on how to develop and document the abilities listed above. You will find, for example, guidelines on how to work in "learning teams," tips on how to improve communications skills, coaching on how to be highly resilient, and guidelines on how to develop a portfolio of accomplishments.

The Adult Student Online

If you are going to be employable in this age of technology, computer and internet skills are essential. The Adult Student’s Guide gives you many opportunities to go online to practice and develop your internet skills.

The Adult Student’s Guide is the first "student success" book designed to be interactive with its own website. Almost every chapter has additional information and updated resources at our website. You can access this site at Throughout the book whenever you see the symbol zipzop you will find a file or resource at the website.

Chapter Contents

The first half of the book covers academic challenges. It shows how you, as an adult student, can handle the challenges successfully. The second half covers non-academic challenges that can prevent you from succeeding in college and in your career if you do not handle them well.

Chapter 2 shows how to confront and overcome many fears and concerns of adult students. It answers most of the questions that adult students ask. (If your question isn’t answered in the book, ask us at the Adult Student website!)

Chapter 3 shows how to make certain you are in the right educational program, get financing, and get oriented. Did you know that financial aid is available for adult students? Even part-time students? Chapter 3 (and the website) has information on how to finance your education.

Chapter 4 explains how to succeed in your courses. It shows how to find out what is required in each course, how to organize your notebooks, and how to take lecture notes.

Chapter 5 provides you with guidelines to online classes that are now being offered by most colleges. You will also learn how online classes differ from face-to-face classes.

Chapter 6 shows how to manage your time and how to study using an effective study method. Here you will learn how to reach a study goal, stop studying, and reward yourself. Self-motivated people must learn how to be self-stoppers!

Nervous about taking tests? Chapter 7 shows how to prepare for all kinds of tests, so that you feel confident, less nervous, and score higher than you suspected you could. It also covers the type of critical thinking that earns high grades.

Term papers are always a challenge. In Chapter 8 you will find efficient and effective ways to research and write papers that get top grades.

Chapter 9 shows how your way of learning may create conflicts between you and some instructors. It shows what to do about these mismatches and how to influence all kinds of instructors.

In Chapter 10 you will find many practical tips on how to gain cooperation, support, and encouragement from your family, friends, and employers.

Most adult students work. Chapter 11 shows how to combine working with taking college courses. Many employers offer special work schedules and reimbursement for courses completed. If you need to find a job to support yourself, or searching for a new career, we have many good suggestions at the Adult Student website.

Feeling pressured to get more work done in less time? Chapter 12 explains effective ways to handle pressure, reduce stress, and develop inner strengths.

Could you succeed in a job that does not have a job description? Chapter 13 shows how to be resilient in this world of non-stop change, bounce back from setbacks and gain strength from adversity.

At the end of most chapters you will find:

  • An Action Review Checklist for reviewing how well you are putting into action what the chapter covered.
  • Learning Team and Support Group Activities that will enhance your learning.

Create a Personal Support Group

Research into understanding why some people handle stress and difficult challenges better than others shows that the people who cope best have good support groups. Your college may provide a seminar for new students. These seminars increase your chances of succeeding in college.

If you can’t fit a college success seminar into your schedule, we still want to encourage you to create your own support group or find a study partner. You’ll be less lonely, develop good friendships, help each other through tough moments, and increase your chances of succeeding in college. You will find guidelines for creating a support group in Chapter 2.

Your Accomplishments Portfolio

You probably know that artists, models, and photographers have portfolios to show their work. Nowadays, because employers are overwhelmed by job applications, the applicants with the best chance of getting interviewed, in addition to a résumé, submit a one page summary outlining what they have documented in their portfolio of accomplishments.

Employment interviewers need your help! They appreciate and are impressed when someone has empathy for them. A one page summary of what is in your portfolio gets their attention.

Today’s employers are looking for abilities not usually covered by traditional application forms and résumés. Throughout the book you will find activities you can use to help you document your ability to:

  • be a team member in a culturally diverse group,
  • communicate well,
  • problem-solve difficult challenges,
  • use critical thinking skills and good judgment,
  • research ideas,
  • use computers and software programs,
  • do consistently excellent work,
  • function well in constant change,
  • hold up under pressure keeping a good attitude,
  • reach your goals, and
  • are self-motivated to continuously develop new skills.

Many colleges provide their students with a portfolios website. With this arrangement, a potential employer can go online to examine accomplishments that you have documented at your college website.

To provide you with valuable guidelines we enlisted the help of Barbara Ritter, one of the pioneers in developing student portfolios. The steps she describes for creating an excellent portfolio would take too much space here, so we have placed her guidelines on how to create an accomplishments portfolio at our website.

Look for the file "Your Accomplishments Portfolio" at

You are Special as a Student

Have you noticed that when you tell people about going to college they treat you differently? When Mary Karr started college she noticed an immediate change in how people treated her. She says:

Before I started college, when my husband and I went to a party or social gathering, people would ask what I did. When I told them I was a housewife raising four children they’d say, "Oh," and start talking to someone else. On a scale from 1 to 100, I felt like I rated about a 3. After I enrolled, when people found out I was a college student, they’d say, "Oh!" I got treated like I had something important to say. My rating soared to the high nineties. The difference was fantastic! —MK

Another student reported that he needed to change his working hours by half an hour to make a night class. He hesitated about approaching his supervisor, but finally spoke up. He asked for what he needed and explained why. His supervisor approved the change and from that day on his supervisor took a more personal interest in him and asked frequently about how school was going. Being a student can have some unexpected dividends!

The World Wants You to Succeed!

Going to college is an exciting challenge. It will take hard work and some sacrifices but the benefits are worth the effort. The main point to understand is that you are not alone. There are many people and many resources available to you. The world wants you to succeed in your effort to better yourself!

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