Dear Kelly,

I waited a long time to re-enroll in college, and I finally found the courage to do it. Now, with school about to start, my anxiety is through the roof. What advice do you have to share that might help me over this hurdle?

Reading this question seemed to catapult me to the days leading up to when I went back to school. That was after a 22-year break, and I was so excited. I had bought a Vera Bradley backpack, notebooks to match, a planner, different colored pens and highlighters. I was ready to go! In my mind everything was set; however, the closer I got to the actual first day of class, the more anxious I became. I still remember the rock I felt in my gut as I walked into my first class, wondering if I had made the right decision.

Guess what? I had emphatically made the right choice! Here I sit, just five years later, with an associate degree in early childhood education, a Bachelor of Science degree in education/special education and a master’s degree in higher education leadership. And I am a student success coordinator for Mercer University! There is no doubt that I learned to curtail and navigate that anxiety.

Now, I want to share with you five strategies I learned throughout my journey to help quiet the anxiety before classes start.

1. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Enrolling in college is certainly a process. There is the application, sending in transcripts, test scores, meeting with admissions counselors — it all takes time. And sometimes, once all of that is complete and you are accepted, you are so happy that you forget to keep the momentum going. One of the greatest contributors to anxiety is knowing there is a lot to do in a short amount of time. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done. Instead, go ahead and get them out of the way. That way, if you accidentally forget to do something, you aren’t juggling other items on your to-do list at the same time.

2. Be prepared.

While it sounds simple, sometimes you think you are ready, but at the last moment, you realize there is more to do than just buying your backpack, notebooks and pens. Truly being ready to start classes means you have transitioned your way of thinking from nonstudent to student. You have met with your adviser and are registered for classes. You have printed out your schedule, added it to your calendar, and know what days and times you will be in class. You also should research which books you will need, and purchase or rent them. If you have the Bear Book Bundle, look for an email from Auxiliary Services asking you to select your delivery preference. Know where your classes are located and how to access them if they are online.

3. Purchase a planner.

Planners are a key tool in helping to ease your anxiety. First, make sure that your classes’ dates and times are marked in your planner. If you have a job, write your work schedule in the planner as well. As soon as you get the syllabi for each of your classes, look for the assignments section, and write down your due dates. (It’s always nice to give yourself a little buffer for each of them.) By being able to see what you need to do and where you need to be and when, you will have greater confidence that you won’t miss anything.

4. Connect with other students.

While this step may sound a lot like your mother saying, “Be sure to make new friends,” when you were in elementary school, the truth is that it’s a key strategy to helping you ease the anxiety you may feel about going back to school. In each of your classes, there is likely to be someone who is experiencing the same fears and worries as you. On the first day, whether the class is in person or online, there is a good chance that you will meet someone you connect with. I encourage you to reach out to that person and say hello. They may become your confidant, someone who understands what you are going through, someone who you can lean on, as well as someone you can offer support to. Throughout the final two years of my classes, I was part of a group of five ladies who texted back and forth constantly. We laughed together, we cried together, and we got through group projects together! We were each other’s support system, and to be honest, if it wasn’t for those women, I think I would have many more gray hairs and a whole lot less sanity.

5. Make time for yourself.

One thing that can cause anxiety when going back to college is the fear of not having time to juggle your school, job and personal life. The truth is you need time for yourself. In my planner, I wrote my to-do list items in different colored pens. My school-related entries were always written in blue. My work-related entries were in red, and personal events were written in green. You must plan for your own self care. Each week, make sure you have time scheduled for things like family meals and activities, along with time to unwind. Whether it’s an hour to go shopping or get a pedicure, or 30 minutes to read the next chapter of your favorite novel while sitting on the porch drinking a cup of coffee, you need time for yourself. It’s time to relax, time to reboot, and time to let your mind focus on something other than what you have to do.

You are clearly purpose-driven, focused and well on your way to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself. After all, you didn’t let the passage of time stop you from doing what you have always wanted to do. That was the first hurdle you overcame. The second was going through the application process, which sometimes isn’t easy. You were determined and you did it! You were accepted and not just into any school — you got accepted into Mercer! This next piece, while a challenge, is not beyond what you are capable of. You’ve already proven that. Now, allow yourself to believe in your abilities, and be the person that you have always known you can be. You can do this!

As always, I wish you health, happines, and continued success throughout your journey.

Kelly Browning, student success coordinator at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.

Feature photo by Mercer University


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