What It Really Means When You Dream About Being Back In School

In 1900, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud published his book "The Interpretation of Dreams," in which he took the stance that dreams are the "royal road to the unconscious." Although there's proof that dream interpretation dates as far back as the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and other cultures, it's Freud's book that put this form of trying to understand the brain on the map for modern times. However, researchers today aren't completely in agreement with what Freud had to say on the matter.

According to 2018 research published in Frontiers in Psychology, dreams stem from the "self-organization theory." This theory suggests that, even when the brain is sleeping, it's organizing thoughts, concerns, beliefs, and emotions. It's filing away the things that may not be at the forefront of our brain and trying to make sense of it all. If we hold the self-organization theory to be true, what we dream is the result of everything we experience in our waking life. In other words, those dreams about sex are the brain evaluating sexual connections in real life, just as much as dreams about being back at school are about taking those experiences and adapting them for current situations. Even if you're not consciously aware of these things in your waking life, your brain is acutely aware on your behalf and is trying its best to untangle it all. 

You're facing some challenges

Long after graduating, we continue to learn lessons throughout our lives. What we learn as kids inevitably follows us into adulthood, and when we're facing challenges or situations that call for us to turn to life's past lessons, we're more likely to dream about being in school, per The Pleasant Dream

"Dreaming about school is often about reflecting on going through a learning experience," dream expert Delphi Ellis told Newsweek. "School is a metaphor for learning, so if something happens that you have learned from, you might dream that you were back at school." Even if the knowledge you're processing in your dream doesn't pertain to the specific challenges you have on your plate, it represents that you want to learn more to tackle it or you know you need to learn more in order to succeed. These dreams can be reflective of challenges you're facing in your personal life, as well as your professional life. 

You're dealing with anxiety and insecurities

If you ever had a dream about being back at school, it was probably stressful, as opposed to just a walk down memory lane without a care in the world. According to The Pleasant Dream, school-related dreams tend to involve a lack of preparation, a need for guidance, dealing with burdens, social issues among peers, and heavy, life-altering situations. Basically, anxiety-inducing stuff. Who hasn't woken up in a cold sweat after being locked out of a class where the big exam is taking place?

But at the core of this anxiousness is the ultimate fear that you won't live up to the expectations of others, particularly an authority figure, as dream researcher Diedre Barrett told The Atlantic. "It's a really common theme," said Barrett. "And it's common not only for people who are still in school... It's a very common theme for people who are far into adulthood, who have been out of school forever." These dreams reflect your memory of your school days and how those feelings and emotions can be attributed to what you're experiencing as an adult — and adulthood involves a lot of anxiety and second-guessing ourselves!

Takeaway? The likelihood that you'll never dream about being in school again is pretty slim. As long as you come across challenges in life — and let's hope you always do for the sake of being stimulated — and anxiety-inducing scenarios, school-related dreams will be there.