Why Adults are Afraid to Return to School

One reason adults are afraid to return to school is the concern over generational vocabulary and word usage differences for both potential classmates and teachers. Even a basic word such as “hot” has taken on the different meaning for different generations. Lack of understanding of common current language and colloquial speech could make following lectures difficult and interactions with classmates awkward. The teacher may be younger than the adult student as well. Having a younger teacher could compound that situation because the student may feel even further removed from the classroom interactions. Often younger teachers make efforts or naturally relate to students, using timely words and pop culture references.

Because of the age differences, gadgets used in the classroom or a lack of technology knowledge, in general, could hinder the learning experience. An assignment that requires using what today’s student may consider a common tool such as Excel or Powerpoint could prove particularly frightening if the adult student has to first learn to use the tool to complete the assignment. The adult student may not relate to teaching examples from a younger teacher. If adult students have to work in groups or with partners, they may fear that no one will want to work with them.

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Even assuming that adults can traverse the complexity of language idiosyncrasies and such, adults wishing to return to pursue education opportunities worry they will not fit into the student environment or will seem antiquated in their views. Clothing, hair styles differences, and mannerisms make it impossible for the older student to remain anonymous in the classroom. Adults are afraid that simply their age itself will result in a negative perception and lack of acceptance from classmates.

Adults are afraid to return to learning mostly due to the perception, real or not, that they will not fit in to the current academic environment. They fear they had forgotten everything they learned when they were younger and worried they would sign up for classes with requisite knowledge that has been lost or was never offered when they were younger. There may be the additional worry they will not master the material as readily as their younger counterparts.

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Adults returning to learning after a long absence worry about what classes to take, what to study or major in, and how to begin that decision process. They may be uncomfortable seeking academic counseling support from someone younger or in discussing their fears and concerns. Some of the course offerings may refer to topics and information that is so foreign that they question even those topics with familiarity. There is a strong concern that getting immersed in a situation with new subject matter will result in embarrassment and rejection. No one, adult or otherwise, purposefully seeks new situations they perceive will result in embarrassment and rejection.

Additionally, adults seeking to return to school, particularly after a long absence, may not find support from other adults. Those adults may not be encouraging and may question or criticize the decision to advance academically, even feeling threatened that a friend would take on such an endeavor. There are many reasons for adults not to return to learning, particularly without a support system to provide needed encouragement.