In today’s extremely competitive job market, many people consider further studies in an effort to boost their careers, broaden their horizons, or improve their chances of landing a promotion. But going back to school years after you thought you had closed the book on studies, is a very challenging endeavour and not to be tackled without due consideration.
Tammy Oppenheim, Head of Programme: Applied Humanities Faculty at The Independent Institute of Education, says too often adult learners throw in the towel without having ensured they have the basic structures and strategies in place. “Studying while having to juggle a job and family is hugely stressful and intimidating, but staying the course will almost certainly give successful students a new lease on life. Accept that compromises will have to be made, and don’t allow life’s daily challenges to trip you up,” she says.
Oppenheim proposes five strategies that adult students can put in place to smooth their path:
1. Create a study roster and stick to it
“Working on your studies as and when you have the time can create unnecessary stress and is setting you up for failure. Find a standard block of time every day, or at least four days of the week, which will be used only for study. This time needs to be free from interference so that you can focus. Choose the hours that work best for you – early morning, a few hours before bed each night, or a block of hours every Saturday and Sunday morning.”
Oppenheim adds that creating a consistent study block is also a useful mechanism to manage the expectations of friends, family and colleagues, who will come to learn that you are unavailable to them during your designated study time. “But also ensure that you balance the amount of time spent on the administrative side of your studies and the amount of time spent with your nose in the books. Those hours should not be spent on endless admin and drawing up of schedules, 85% of it should be spent learning.”
2. Get your ducks in a row
Oppenheim notes that being a parent – whether single or in a partnership – can make study a little bit more complicated, but not impossible. “If you have children, ensure that that you have reliable child-care lined up as well as a back-up plan. Having group-work meetings, lectures or exams interrupted because of unreliable child-care creates unnecessary stress and can damage your focus and motivation.
If you are employed, make sure that your colleagues and your line managers are supportive of your studies. Understanding and empathic colleagues can provide much needed advice and emotional support. Explain the value that your studies will add to your ability to do a better job and how it will be to the advantage of your company. Make sure that your decision is supported, and use the study leave available to you, should your company make provision for it.”
3. Remember that maturity is not a disadvantage
“Studies can be daunting from the perspective of an adult with a number of other responsibilities,” says Oppenheim. “Younger students do seem to have the easier time of it, as they may not yet be financially responsible for themselves and they may not have as many responsibilities to focus on. However, the value of life-experience and maturity should not be underestimated. As an adult learner, you have a wealth of experience and greater familiarity with socialisation to draw upon. This contextualises theoretical studies, which makes the material easier to internalise and remember. Be confident in what you already know.”
4. Harness networking opportunities
Furthering your studies is about more than just mastering the subject material, says Oppenheim. “It is an opportunity to cultivate relationships with lecturers, guest lecturers and fellow-students. An academic discipline that you have in common with them is an easy conversation starter. In the future, these people can be great resources for potential job opportunities or providing professional advice, so make sure you build your network.”
5. Nurture a support base among your fellow students
You are not alone in this, and many other students in your course will be going through the same stress and pressures that you are, says Oppenheim.“Cultivate relationships, and start an online support group via WhatsApp or Facebook, where you can share resources, emotional support and remind each other of scheduling or deadlines. Before you know it, you and your new friends and future colleagues will write your last exam, and the sacrifices you made to get there will pale against the victory of holding your qualification in hand.
“Come to terms with the fact that it is not going to be easy. You are going to have to commit a sizable chunk of your time and energy to your studies. Keep reminding yourself of your end goal and the benefits that will far outweigh the stress and effort.”
Content supplied by The Independent Institute of Education, the largest, most accredited registered private higher education institute in South Africa. The IIE offers a wide range of qualifications, from post-graduate degrees to short courses, on 20 registered higher education campuses across South Africa.