male adult student expresses emotions

Whether you’re going back to school to continue earning that degree you started years ago or you’ve decided to pursue your college studies for the first time, this life-enhancing decision was inevitably preceded by first weighing lots of factors, including: your schedule, your finances, your support system, and your career goals. Having decided that there is no better time than right now to put your academic goals into action, the more prepared you are, the more enjoyable the adventure will be. As you embark on this wonderful, exciting, and challenging academic journey, it’s important not only to be aware of the different emotions you will feel along the way, but also how to handle them when they show up!

#1 – Initial Excitement

Commencing something new that is good for you is exciting. Just like when you meet someone new who interests you, or you’ve (finally) figured out how to access and use all the gizmos and gadgets on your new technology, or you walked an extra 3000 steps on the treadmill, it’s exciting! And that feeling of excitement is good. It motivates you, inspires you, and propels you forward to keep feeling the passion and excitement about the new experience.

How to handle it: Tell the world

While sometimes it’s better not to tell the world what your plans are (like if you plan to be out of town for three weeks or you plan to send your resume to a particular employer), this is not one of those times. Pursuing your undergrad or advanced degree is something you want to share with your family and friends. Excitement is contagious. Sharing your enthusiasm about your college studies will not only inspire others in your life to begin working towards their goals, but also motivate you not to give up when it gets challenging. Think about it. If you don’t tell a single soul how excited you are to begin your college studies, then you’re not accountable to anyone but yourself to continue with your studies. However, if you let your close-knit circle of family and friends know what you are doing, they will be able to encourage, support, and help you when you may feel overwhelmed, stressed out, or feel like quitting.

#2 – Internal Conflict

Of all the conflicts we have the potential to face in life, certainly the conflicts we have with ourselves are the most common and the most debilitating. Asking ourselves: What if I try and I fail? What if I can’t keep up? What if it takes me longer than I thought? Can I really achieve this goal? No one else in my family completed college, what makes me think I can? is not productive.

How to handle it: Replace it

When the negative thoughts and conversations come in, replace them with positive ones. Here are a few for your back pocket:

“Nothing worthwhile is ever easy; if earning a degree was a breeze, every single person would have a degree or an advanced degree.”

“I have a support system both at the university and in my circle of family and friends.”

“I can do this; it’s been done by others and I can do it, too!” 

“If I don’t understand something, I have access to phenomenal resources and people to help me understand it!”


With every big decision in life and with every big change, different emotions will come and go. Understanding that it’s ok to feel the way you are feeling, that you’re not alone on your journey, and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be will help you enjoy your academic journey. While earning your degree is the goal, all the experiences, accomplishments, and friendships you make along that journey will be just as integral to your development and success as a contributing member of society as the actual degree.

Read more in this series:

6 Emotional Stages Every Adult Student Experiences: #3 & #4

6 Emotional Stages Every Adult Student Experiences: #5 & #6

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