You know there are adults going back to school every day to earn their degree, but you have trouble believing you could be one of them. So much has changed since you earned your first college credits. You’re older, wiser and probably busier—particularly if you’ve started a family and have a full-time job. How can you know whether you have what it takes to go back to school?

You’re not alone in experiencing fears like these about going back to school as an adult. Those worries don’t have to hold you back from finishing what you started and earning your degree, however.

We spoke with adult learners who have faced these same fears and emerged from the other side with a degree in hand. They’re sharing their best degree-completion advice to give you the encouragement you need. Whether you’re returning to your old degree program or diving into a new area of interest, these real-life degree completion stories will help you find the confidence to return to school.

5 Smart pieces of advice for adults going back to school

So what should you keep in mind as you take on the challenge of returning to school to complete a degree? Here are five bits of wisdom from folks who’ve walked a similar path.

1. Don’t lose sight of your reason for returning

You need a strong “why” motivating you to return to school. Having a good reason for earning your degree will help you stay focused on the goal so you can persevere even when you feel like giving up.

“I had tried several other times to go back, but for one reason or another it didn’t work out,” says Brandice Taylor-Davis, a certified life coach and author of “The Declassified College Survival Guide.” Taylor-Davis says she was out of college from 2005 to 2012 before finally making the decision to return. She was unhappy with her career in retail management and knew that going back to school was her best option for achieving her career goals.

“It was also the middle of the recession, and I felt the only way I could improve my situation was by getting my degree,” Taylor-Davis says. Having a clear goal in mind gave her the perseverance she needed to carry on and earn her degree.

2. Do the work in front of you

Many adults going back to school face the challenge of balancing a full-time job and family responsibilities with their coursework. That’s the situation Anthony “Doc” Ameen found himself in. He completed some classes here and there during his time serving in the U.S. Navy, but paused his education after being severely wounded in combat in 2008.

By the time Ameen decided to return to school, he was the founder of the nonprofit Wings for Warriors and co-founder of defense subcontracting company Taylor & Lawrence. “The day-in and day-out operations of the charity were extremely time consuming, not to mention that I am married with four kiddos ranging from 12 to 2,” he says.

Despite his full plate, Ameen was able to make space for his education by maintaining focus on simply doing the work in front of him at the time. “Thanks to the way I am wired and the way that the Navy trained me, I just put my game face on and went to work!”

While it might be easy to get bogged down in negative thinking where you’re worrying about how you’ll be able to get everything done, you’ll often be better off focusing that energy on getting things done one small piece at a time.

3. Learn from your peers

Many adults are intimidated by the idea of returning to a classroom full of young students. No one wants to be the oldest person in class, especially if it could mean struggling to keep up with classmates who are already in the routine of studying and completing coursework.

“It was more difficult being the oldest student in the room full of 18-year-olds,” Taylor-Davis shares. Rather than allowing this age difference to hold her back, however, Taylor-Davis saw it as an opportunity to learn from and connect with her peers. “Once I embraced it, I actually realized how much I could learn from and teach them.”

4. Explore your degree options

Attending classes on top of your other responsibilities can seem nearly impossible, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Flexible online degree programs can make the difference between an attainable education and one that remains out of reach.

“I recommend researching information and empowering yourself with options,” says Mary Banos, a financial aid officer and motivational speaker who was inspired to complete her degree after working in a college setting. “Long gone is the restriction to only attend school in person. There are now so many options for how to complete a college education, as well as the financial resources.”

Exploring your options can lead you to flexible, affordable degree programs that make getting an education far less daunting.

5. Surround yourself with support

You’ll face challenges when going back to school as an adult, but those hurdles are easier to overcome when you have a support system of friends, family and mentors who truly believe in you. Banos struggled to finish college the first time around, saying, “I never had guidance, or any adult figure in my life to go to for advice.”

However, the support and encouragement of others in her life gave Banos the confidence to return to college and finish her degree 28 years after she earned her first college credits. “Over the years, two particular friends continually encouraged me to complete my degree,” she says. Now she’s achieving her career goals and is just months away from completing her master’s degree program. “Everyone deserves to reach their goals and dreams in life,” Banos says.

Envision your back-to-school success story

The encouragement of this degree-completion advice may have inspired you to write the ending to your own education story. Whether you’ve been out of school for one year or 20, these real-life stories of adults going back to school prove that it’s possible to finish what you started.

College is a challenge for any student, which is why it’s important to find a school that has the resources and support to help you succeed. Learn more about the support we provide our students in our article “9 Surprising Student Resources You Didn’t Know Rasmussen College Offered.”

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