You are here because you are a: 1) Working adult going to college or 2) Working adult considering going to college.
You, my friend, are in the right place. Before we get into these tips, I want you to take a second to celebrate yourself. You are amazing. Truly. Not everyone is willing to parent small children, work full-time, and/or to go to school. Just give yourself a round of applause, a pat on the back, a nap, or hell, even a drink if you want. (I won’t tell…)
You deserve it.
Who Am I?
I am a recent college graduate with a B.S in Healthcare Management. While working full-time, I went back to school full-time to finish my degree when my daughter was five months old – and managed to maintain a 3.75 GPA. I graduated a few months after my daughter’s second birthday. Sometimes, I felt like I was losing my mind, but these tips have saved my sanity many times. I hope they do the same for you.
1. Learn to say no – and don’t feel bad about it
When you are in college, working, and have a family, (or any combination of those things), family and friends just will not understand. They may say things like “I know you’re busy but…” or “If you have time..” But honestly, they just do not get it.
They will invite you everywhere: to parties, on trips, for lunch, to cookouts, ask you to help them, for family outings, etc. (we could go on for a while there..). These events can be anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day to longer. And let’s be real, you don’t have time for that.
These invites will be without regard for the fact that you just worked 40 hours this week, went to the grocery store on your way home from work, cooked dinner every night, cleaned the house, spent time with the kids, stayed up late to study, spent all day Sunday writing that paper, planned out your assignments, brought work home, worked overtime at work, etc.
I get it. You are exhausted. The last thing you want to do on your only free day (maybe) is leave the house all day and drive all over town.
Early on, give yourself permission to tell those people with invites no. Make it clear to family and friends that you are in school temporarily, and trying to improve life for your family. Give yourself permission to put your needs first (even if this is a hot bath, or just more study time)…
2. Learn to say no – even when you don’t want to
Now this is the really hard one. You might be thinking to yourself, “But, Andrea, I WANT TO GO…” I get it – you miss your friends and family. You are stuck in a rut, of always being busy.
Too often, I spent my study breaks, scrolling through my Facebook feed, looking at statuses and pictures of people having fun – or looking out the window, at the cars passing by. This led to negativity, and caused me to think to myself, “all of these people are out here having so much fun, but I’m stuck at this computer writing the 3 papers that are due today.” (If you are struggling with this, keep scrolling because I have some tips for you, too).
Even when you desperately want to go, sometimes you will just simply not have enough time, and will HAVE to say no. This is what is so hard about being busy.
3. Announce what you’re doing
When you are starting or going back to college, let people know! Now, unless they have been there, they won’t fully understand. But, let people know anyway. This isn’t to sound like you are bragging, or boasting about it. This is simply an announcement saying “Hey, I’m busy. Please understand if I’m temporarily unavailable to __________”
This is totally okay to do. When you are working a full-time job, going to school full-time, and have a family (maybe even a toddler like me), you are stretched thin and short on time.
Those who understand what you’re going through, and are accepting of your ditched plans are true keepers.
4. Plan, Plan, Plan
At the beginning of each class, download the syllabus. If it’s not available, most professors will provide it if you ask. You are paying for this college adventure, get the most out of it.
Once you have downloaded your syllabus, get out your calendar. Write down all due dates. Try to include any important appointments, social/work events, and other scheduled things. Plan early if anything overlaps. If you have a paper due in two weeks on Sunday, but also have your daughter’s soccer game, PLAN. Make sure that paper is done early. Give yourself time to properly research, write a draft, and edit. A lot of papers will be a lot of research and be based upon real life situations. To get the most out of this situation (and the highest grade possible), you must plan.
I always preferred to use two calendars. One short-term and one long-term.
The short-term was a dry erase board on my fridge. I would write out all of my assignment due dates, as well as schedule school time. This baby went on my fridge so I could see it at all times. This never let me forget anything that was due, or important that week.
The long-term was my planner. I wrote out all due dates in this planner. I would use this to transfer information to my weekly dry erase calendar. This allowed me to plan long term as well, for larger papers and projects.
You can use any type of calendar that works for you. Paper, your cell phone, planner, wall calendar, computer, etc.
I recommend this if you are a planner type of person: (It’s cheap, has both monthly and weekly planners, and assignment tips in the back).
I recommend this if you are a on-the-fridge kind of person:
5. Use Those “Free” College Services
Most, if not all, colleges offer writing services and tutoring for various subjects, such as math. USE THEM.
The first professor I had at my final college (yes, I attended three different colleges), put this in a way that finally made me understand. There is nothing free about college. You are paying for everything. Even though these student learning centers are marketed as “free” services, you are still paying for them essentially, with your tuition.
Use them! They are there to help you: to advance your writing abilities, get a better grade in math, or have a completely new understanding of economics.
Some colleges offer these tools online. For example, at two of the schools I went to, you could submit your completed draft paper to the writing services team, and receive feedback within a couple of days. This either gives you confirmation that you are an amazing writer (you go girl), or will give you tips to be an amazing writer.
These are totally worth your time, especially if you are stuck on problem #41 in that dreaded math class, and have no idea how they got the answer.
Having a better understanding of the material can be a huge time saver in the long run, especially when it comes to those large project, exams, and finals.
5. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
This can apply to a lot of areas of your life. But, can also be applied to your college life.
Your friends and family may have time to go shopping, play outside, sleep in, take a vacation, etc. But, because you are in school and working, you may not. I struggled with this while finishing my degree.
I would come into work on Monday and would be asked, “How was your weekend?” Of course, I lied, and said, “Good! How was yours?”
Deep down though, I secretly hated my weekends. I would hear about much fun everyone else was having, and jealousy would rise.
Honestly, though, they might think the same about you. When you are nearing graduation, people will finally realize what you have been doing all of this time.
Just don’t compare yourself to others. You are on your own journey, and they are on theirs. There is nothing wrong with what you’re doing, nor is there anything wrong with what they are doing.
Life, and the choices we make, can be broken down into simple economics. You might have two choices, you might have 1000 choices. But if you choose one, you may not be able to choose the other.
6. Don’t be Afraid to Plan Vacation around the End of a Semester
Okay, yes. We don’t want to spend our vacation thinking about college, while everyone else is out having so much fun.
But, decide what is important. If you are behind or feel as though you are going to need time to study, don’t be afraid to plan out a couple of days (or even an entire vacation) around the end of your semester (you know, when you have that big project due, or lots of exams to take).
This has saved my butt a couple of times.
7. Use breaks at work, and other times to study
Here’s the thing. You’re going to be busy, and probably the last thing you want to do after work is read. So get in the habit of taking that textbook EVERYWHERE. Have a E-book? Okay, even better. Pull it up on your mobile device.
Use your breaks at work to read. Breaking it up into 15 to 30 minute increments will make the task of reading a few chapters a week less daunting. Waiting at the doctor? Read. In line? Read.
Just get in the habit of doing it as much as possible. I want to see you enjoying your weekends, not spending 4 hours reading, THEN assignments. 😉
8. Look into Tuition Reimbursement with Your Employer
I don’t know about you, but I’m not rich. I’m sitting with student loan debt up to my eyeballs. I wasted an entire year of tuition reimbursement, when I could have been getting money back.
Look into tuition reimbursement with your employer. Some will offer reimbursement for any kind of class, while some will require your major to be applicable to the company. It just depends on their policy. But do yourself a favor, and look into it. It might be putting extra funds back in your pocket!!
9. Connect with Professors
I can’t tell you how valuable the relationship is between you and your professor. They are professionals in their fields, and maybe your chosen field as well. They have real-world experience and bring that to the class. Ask questions. Get involved. Professors who feel connected to you as a person are more likely to give you 1) great feedback on your assignments 2) a better learning experience and 3) may even be more lenient with due dates and such.
And you just never know when you might need a great reference 😉
10. Don’t Forget to Enjoy Life
Many of the tips I’ve given you today probably sound like I don’t have any fun (or didn’t during school). Sure, I turned down my fair share of outings, but don’t forget to enjoy life also. You need that down time to allow yourself to stay sane. You need time to forget about school and have fun. Enjoy your family and friends, go bowling, go on a real vacation, do something to get your mind off of work and school.
What are your favorite tips for working adults going to school? Let me know in the comments below!!
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