A Professor’s Top 6 Study Tips for Adult Learners

Struggling to balance your college education with other responsibilities like a job and childcare? Read a professor's top study tips for adult learners.

portrait of Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.
by Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.

Published on June 15, 2022 · Updated on June 16, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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A Professor’s Top 6 Study Tips for Adult Learners
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Many students rely on tried-and-true study tips. But not all of these work well for adult learners and nontraditional students, who make up a large percentage of the U.S. student population.

In fall 2019, 15% of full-time undergraduates and 41% of part-time undergraduates in the U.S. were age 25 or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Many adult learners find it challenging to balance their education with their day-to-day responsibilities, like working a full-time job, raising children, and managing a home. Study tips that consider these commitments can help ease the stress of going to college as an adult student.

These six study tips for adult learners can help you fit your studies into your already-busy life.

1. Put Together a Class Schedule That Works for You

Many adult learners have responsibilities that make it difficult to focus only on their education. Balancing it all starts with building a class schedule that works for you and your family.

See whether your college offers evening, weekend, or asynchronous online classes so your coursework doesn't interfere with your job and other commitments. You also could take classes 2-3 mornings a week while your kids are at school.

Of course, actually attending class is only one part of college — finding time to study is another challenge.

2. Plan Out Your Week

Did you know that many professors recommend studying 2-3 hours a week per college credit you're taking? For adult learners, this recommendation can pose a major hurdle.

Find time each week to sit down and plan for the week ahead. One commonly overlooked study tip is planning exactly what you'll study and when. Most students use a planner for time management. However, they neglect to include the finer details of how they prepare for classes.

Instead of only including your class meeting times and marking important due dates, block off time in your calendar for studying. Then, write down the specific task you'll complete during that time, such as reviewing class notes, forming a study group, making flashcards, etc.

You're much more likely to follow through with key tasks and avoid procrastination if you plan out specific items to accomplish that week.

3. Create a Family Calendar

Getting your work done is much easier when everyone in your household knows about it.

Take time at the beginning of the term to create a family calendar that includes all your important academic deadlines. You'll benefit from planning ahead. And you can get everyone in the routine of giving you time to study.

Keep a physical calendar in a high-traffic area of your home. Or, if you're more digitally inclined, create a shared family calendar you can all access on multiple devices.

4. Prioritize Your Tasks

One of the most crucial study tips for adult learners is to prioritize.

One great study tool is educator Stephen R. Covey's time management matrix. It can help you prioritize your responsibilities by importance and urgency.

This matrix gives you space to organize both tasks needing your immediate attention, such as an exam you have tomorrow (both important and urgent), and longer-term tasks, like a paper due in two weeks (important but not urgent).

It also accounts for likely interruptions and distractions (urgent but not important) and the lowest-priority tasks, such as rewards and time-wasters (neither urgent nor important).

With a time management matrix, you can plan out your week and see more clearly where you need to spend the most attention.

Be sure to focus as much as possible on important tasks before they become urgent.

5. Build Rapport With Professors

As an adult learner, you may find you have more in common with your professors than you do with your peers. Most professors welcome the opportunity to share study tips for their courses with students, though many learners hesitate to ask.

Take advantage of the shared life experiences you and your professors may have to help you build rapport with them. Go to office hours, ask for study tips for upcoming exams, and request in-depth feedback on your work.

6. Embrace Your Peers

Adult learners may feel reluctant to work with younger peers. Today's students are inundated with standardized tests and rigorous school curricula that are designed to prepare them for college. So they often have great study tips fresh in their minds.

If it's been a while since you were in school, chances are that many college study tips have changed or been updated. Rather than always working solo, take the opportunity to learn from your peers when you can, especially during collaborative in-class work, during group projects, and in study groups.

You'll benefit from their new study tips — and, more than likely, they'll also learn from you!


College may present more challenges to an adult learner than to the traditional student. By practicing some of these study tips that take into account your busy life, you can increase your chance of success and reduce stress.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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