How to Succeed in College After a Long Break

Returning to college after taking a long break is an exciting opportunity but comes with unique challenges. Getting your degree is an amazing achievement alone, but can be especially tough if you are working full-time and balancing a family. We know that non-traditional students face different challenges than younger students and we are here to offer guidance. Our innovative education works with our students’ lifestyles, commitments and responsibilities to help you succeed. Here are our best tips to make your transition back to college smooth and successful.


Going to college is expensive, but attending later in life can give you more flexibility around paying for education expenses. For example, does your job offer education benefits? Are you able to reallocate your retirement deposits to free up more of your paycheck to go toward school? Maybe the school insurance plan is less expensive than the one provided by your employer. 

Apply for scholarships! The PSU Scholarship Universe is a great place to get started.

Talk with your significant other or support system about how you will manage your new responsibilities. It can be helpful to build a plan beforehand about how tasks and responsibilities are divided. It’s best to be as specific as possible here. Are you planning on doing schoolwork during your lunch break? Will you need to arrange childcare in the evenings so that you can focus on school? How will you get to campus?Portland State’s Services for Students with Children can help with flexible childcare, childcare subsidies and general resources for students with children.


Preparation is key to a manageable college experience. This can include things like: packing lunch the night before, writing down your to-do list every morning to help stay focused, or devoting one day during weekends to get schoolwork done. 

If you need to ease into the shift, you can talk to an advisor and see if it is possible to start out taking just one class to ease into the college rhythm.

Buy a planner or use a virtual calendar to log your tasks and keep them in one place. When you receive your syllabus for classes, put due dates in your planner to keep you on track.


This could be your dining room table at home, a booth in the library, or a small folding desk. Make sure this area is free of distractions and has everything you need, like chargers, highlighters, strong Wi-Fi connection, pen and paper, water and good lighting.


Sleeping, eating right, getting exercise and taking breaks can all help you have a clearer, healthier mind. Remember that it may take time to adjust to a new schedule. Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Program that can connect you with help for mental health, emotional wellbeing and overall wellness.

There are a ton of helpful resources available through the Center for Student Health and Counseling, including accessible emotional wellbeing, physical health, dental services and the MindSpa. These services are available to PSU students.Check out the resources available through Campus Rec, like virtual GroupX fitness classes, special events, and the Outdoor Program.


This is best done early and can make a huge difference in your college experience. Form study groups with other students in class to have a structure for difficult assignments. 

Did you know that the average undergraduate age at Portland State is 26? We are proud to have a diverse student body population and many students appreciate the diversity of opinions and experience. Variety of age groups gives much more real-world experience to the classroom and discussions.

Talk to your professors and see if they have any recommendations for you to succeed. Ask how much time you should allocate to homework every week, so you can plan accordingly. Let them know your situation so that if anything comes up, like a sick child or overtime at work, they know how to help you.Attending social sessions and networking opportunities can help you build connections if you are looking to boost your career. Portland State has strong industry connections to large companies like Nike, Intel, Daimler, and others. Read our Alumni Stories to be inspired by how our incredible graduates have achieved success.


Professors are understanding of your situation if you explain what’s going on. They may be able to work out a plan to help you stay on track.

Additionally, procrastination is one of the hardest challenges in college. Almost everyone struggles with this. It can be beneficial to explore procrastination with curiosity to find out the root cause of it. Are you worried about making a mistake? Not sure where to start on an assignment? Professors want to see you succeed. Use office hours to ask questions when you don’t understand something or visit the Learning Center to get extra help with tutoring and academic coaching.

Just starting on assignments can be the hardest part. Promise yourself that you will do 30 minutes of homework and then take a break. Likely, after the 30 minutes you will be motivated and in the mental zone of doing work, so it will be easier to continue. If you really don’t feel like continuing, at least you got some work in!


What are your goals for getting a degree? It is to further your career or do a career pivot? Is it a personal goal to achieve a college degree? Whatever it is, your reason can give you the motivation you need when things get challenging.

Portland State strives to meet students where they are in meeting their academic and career goals. We know that all of our students are on their own path. We are here to provide support and help you challenge the status quo. Check out our academic programs and see how a degree can help you create the future you want.

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