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The rocky return to uni study – the mature student’s guide

TALA LADKI provides some essential survival tips for mature students back in uni after years in the “outside world”

Resuming education after several years of breaktime or work can be exhausting, mentally, physically and emotionally. Spending years away from books and studying, while focusing more on career goals and growth, or on personal health and wellness, means additional time to get ease back into “student mode.”

For the past seven years, I have been immersed in the “working life” and had almost forgotten how it feels to worry about submitting an assignment on time. My worries were my clients and their satisfaction. The kind of desk job I had had taken its toll on me, and my journey to resume education has proven more exhausting than I thought it would be. As excited as I am to be a student again, I cannot lie and say that it doesn’t come with some struggles.

Yet here I am! Trying my best, so my younger self can be proud. If you’re like me, and you’re resuming your studies after a few years’ hiatus – whether for a personal break or for work – this one’s for you.

Set clear goals

Goal setting is important for anything we do. Whether it’s a personal goal, wellness goal, work goal, or educational goal, it’s these promises to ourselves that keep us driven and motivated.

Even as adults, we often find ourselves acting on whims. Call it human nature. But when it comes to commitments such as this, it’s important to make sure your decision to pursue a higher degree is not one you’ll regret down the line. Before you begin, or even as you’re already studying, have a conversation with yourself about what your goals are from your chosen program and what you aim to gain from this experience.

If you’ve quit your job (or are juggling a job and a programme), if you’ve moved your family from one part of the world to the other for this degree, or if you’re simply here on your own, your biggest motivator to excel will be the goals you had set for yourself.

Set intentions, set goals and objectives, and embark on chasing them.

Create a routine

If you’ve spent your time off from education working, parenting, or trying to figure out your next steps, then you know too well that our lives crave routine. Mothers, fathers, workers alike, even those of you who took a few years to backpack across Europe or to hide away in their basement, you all had a routine once, and you’ll need it again.

Routines are crucial because they give our days a productive structure, and without knowing that we should start studying at a specific time, it's easy to lose track of time or feel lost and directionless. Wake up at a specific time, even if you don’t have class. Allocate time to study, to cook, to run errands, and most importantly, to spend time with yourself every day.

Not only do routines provide structure, but they can also reduce anxiety and stress, and help us feel productive and focused.

Figure out your productive hours

As we mature and evolve, our habits change. I had always been accustomed to studying in the morning. To some extent I still am, but I'm also comfortable leaving a chunk of my studies for the afternoon.

What's important here is to understand that your practices may have changed, so don't force yourself into anything, nor expect the same patterns you followed years ago. Even as workers or as parents, your abilities were different than they are now as a student. It might be helpful to first figure out when you're most productive and focused. Then, try to schedule your study time to take advantage of that.

This can also depend on several variables, such as family obligations or a part-time job schedule. Whatever you have going on, make sure you find the times most suitable for you to get your thinking hat on.

Balance your personal life and your studies

You might have chosen to resume your education on a part-time basis while maintaining a job, you might have chosen to focus solely on your education, you might be a parent or caregiver with responsibilities at home – whatever the case, there needs to be a clear distinction between personal life and academic life.

Try to find a comfortable place to study in, limit your distractions, make sure you’re studying in a pleasant environment that allows you to focus and get your creative juices flowing. It might be easier for some to resort to the campus library, for others a café in town or even back at home with a cup of coffee.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take regular breaks – for your own sanity and for the sake of your personal life. Establishing a balance doesn’t mean sacrificing one aspect of your life for the other, it just means knowing how to ease into an equilibrium of both. It might take time, and at first distractions might get the best of you, but give yourself time and don’t let the frustration of the process wear you down.

It might be easier to create schedules that include when your personal time fits best and when your study time or academic activities fit best.

Know that you’re not alone

While university campuses may be buzzing with undergraduate students excited to kick off their journeys, keep in mind that a lot of people are returning to education after a few years away. Reach out to others, they might be of help.

It may also be helpful to have a support network such as family, friends, classmates, or mentors, who can help you with your responsibilities and household chores, or lend a listening ear, especially during exam time.

Enjoy the process

One of the most important tips here is to not allow yourself to feel demotivated. Be who you are unapologetically and enjoy whatever comes your way. Don't feel awkward asking for help or putting your hand up to ask the questions that no one else is. Talk to your classmates or people you meet on campus and engage in activities that you once liked or may have developed a recent interest in.

Having left education for several years and coming back to it anew can be a challenge for many, but at the end of the day, it’s the takeaway from classes and from the experiences that matter. Make sure you take away only the greatest of things, and good luck!

Written by Tala Ladki

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