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#GCTopTips 6: 7 tips on returning to college as an adult learner

8 February 2018

Choosing to go back to college as an adult can be daunting, especially if you are going to be studying with people who are much younger than you. But remember, you have a wealth of life and work experience and much better versed in your strengths and weaknesses to enable you to quickly create the best study routine for you and steer you towards success.

Our top 7 tips below will help you prepare yourself for going back to college as an adult learner, and help you to give yourself every chance of getting a great qualification at the end of it.

Top Tip #1: Be honest with how much time you will need to dedicate to your studies

One of the hardest things to juggle when going back to college as an adult learner is fitting your day-to-day work around your studies, especially if your course requires you to go into college for classes. Part-time courses, on average, require 1 - 2 evenings a week, and around 6 - 8 hours reading, research and homework on top of that. Some may be much more, or less, but making sure you can dedicate the time to your studies around working and having a well-balanced home life can make learning more fun, and keep you motivated to continue in education. Research the different types of courses available that will help you to achieve your goals and choose the one that not only best fits your educational goals, but also your time availability.

Top Tip #2: Know your learning style

Everyone has a different style of learning. There are three main types of learners - visual, auditory, and tactile (or kinesthetic). Working out what kind of learner you are can help you modify your studying behaviour in the classroom to get the most out of your course. 

Visual learners find learning through visual aids easier, for example reading, using charts and visual aids. They often visualise the learning material and like to leave space around their work for notes. If you're a visual learner, try sitting at the front of the classroom so you don't get distracted by other people. Highlighters are also a visual learner's best friend.

Auditory learners find it easier to retain information by repeating texts and reading aloud, and enjoy brainstorming. If you're an auditory learner, playing calming music while studying can help you to concentrate and memorise more easily.

Tactile learners learn by movement and touch, and can often loose interest in a subject if there is no interaction or activity involved. Tactile learners also like to learn things in order. If you're a tactile learner, using sticky notes and taking exercise breaks between studying are all helpful tools.

"I've always been interested in engineering and took the decision to study at Gloucestershire College to gain additional qualifications, alongside my job as a Service Engineer at Mitie. My lecturers were superb; always willing to help and very supportive to those who want to learn. The equipment is perfect too. During my first year I was asked to design an instrument for the lower level students to use for testing, and in the second year, we worked as a collective to design a 3D printer for a parts supply unit"
Sylvester Ghanney, HND Electrical and Electronic Engineering
40-year-old Sylvester worked as a Service Engineer at Mitie while studying, one of the UK's foremost integrators of technology-based security solutions and end-to-end managed services.

Top Tip #3: Get your basic skills up to date

Education, and technology, moves at a fast pace and a lot of adult learning, particularly if you're undertaking a distance learning course, is done on computer and involves writing essays. These are both essential skills to have, but can be something that not all adult learners are confident with - either because they don't have a lot of experience using computers for education, or because it's been a long time since they have had to write an essay.

At Gloucestershire College, all our learners have access to computers and other technology to aid their learning, and our lecturers are on hand to help you with your learning outside the classroom too. If you have an area that you aren't confident in, don't be afraid to ask for help. The best way to learn is by asking and practising - dedicate some time to practice writing and using a computer in college or at home.

Top Tip #4: Develop a study routine - and stick to it! 

Many adult learners work full- or part-time alongside their studies or have other commitments, and this can make it difficult to split your time effectively so you are able to dedicate enough time and energy to your studies, even if it's just a few hours per week. Once you know how much time you will need to dedicate to your learning, put together a schedule for when you will put time aside for your studies around your classes.

Choosing a time when your brain is active (i.e. not late at night) and a location where you are able to create an environment that's distraction free will help you be able to study effectively. It can be more difficult if you have other commitments such as children - why not try incorporating your learning into the time they are at extra-curricular activities, or work out a schedule with friends or family when they are able to look after them for you.

Top Tip #5: Have a dedicated study space

As an adult learner at Gloucestershire College, you will be able to take advantage of our quiet libraries and dedicated study areas to give you a peaceful environment in which to learn. However, studying at home isn't always this easy. Before starting your course, designating a quiet area in your house where you can study can help you not only stay organised, but can help with your concentration. It can be a dedicated office in a spare room, or a desk in a quieter room where you can't get distracted by the TV or family activities. Making sure you have all the essentials - pens, paper, sticky notes - can also help you focus on your studies without being distracted by having to search for these things.

"I loved the flexibility of my course and was able to work full-time alongside studying in the evenings and at weekends. What really stood out for me was the library; plenty of resources, including via the virtual library, and the staff were so helpful."
Rebecca Revill, Foundation Degree in Early Years
Rebecca, who is 37, left school with no qualifications. She has always worked in the childcare industry but wanted to work towards her qualifications for professional development.

Top Tip #6: Research college facilities and support

Many colleges that offer adult learning courses, including GC, have a wealth of resources and support systems in place for adult learners including nurseries and childcare support, student support advisers, and bursaries to support you financially.

If you are aged 19 or over and want to study an Access to Higher Education Diploma, or a Level 3 to 6 Vocational Qualification, you will be required to pay for your course, however you could be eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan. This government-funded loan is easy to apply for and is just one of the ways college can help you in your studies financially. There are a number of options of financial support based on your circumstances - speak to the college and ask what they would advise if the best option for you.

Top Tip #7: Enjoy it!

Finally, enjoying the course you are learning is one of the most important ways you can make college easier to return to as an adult. Studying as an adult learner is challenging, but can lead to a number of benefits at the end of your course - more than your qualification!

If you're thinking of returning to college as an adult learner, take a look at our courses for 19+ here. We have a range of courses for pre-employment, professional development, and university level courses. If you would like some further advise on what path is best for you, contact our Advice and Guidance Team on 0345 155 2020 or email


Why Gloucestershire College?

We have a lot of experience offering Apprenticeships and work-related training. We have industry-standard facilities and experienced teaching staff which provide the ideal complement to work-based learning.

We are here to help

0345 155 2020

90% of students would recommend GC and 95% said that the teaching on their course was good.

Ofsted has rated us good.

  • We offer industry relevant facilities
  • Our lecturers are passionate subject specialists
  • Employers value our students' skills

We'll look after you. We have dedicated teams to help you and a great Learning Mentor scheme.