I’ve wanted to study for a good while now, but it never seemed the right time…until now. We have finally settled into an area after a decade of moving, I enrolled myself in a nearby university. Creating writing is something I want to pursue, and I don’t feel I have the right foundations for the type of skills I want to develop, so I’m hoping to skill up in that area in particular. I’m studying full time this first semester (to get core subjects done) and I’m dropping back to 2 subjects next semester. I’m setting out below some of the ways I’ve handled this transition, while still working and looking after my family, plus some general tips on studying as a mature age student.
1. Before Starting
a) Familiarise yourself with the university
In the weeks before university started, I went to a lot of the prep courses available. This gave me the opportunity to find good parking spots and familiarise myself with the university. There are great online options available for study too, and finding your way around the website is also a good way to prepare.
b) Buy gear
This is the fun part! Buying stationery! Although, I didn’t know exactly how much I would need. It turns out, that I didn’t need a lot. Below is my list of what items I find useful:
- 5 Subject A4 note folder – to take notes for different subjects. I find I like to take notes manually (not on a computer) and the divided folder is great because it keeps all subjects in the same book. This will last me an entire semester for all of my subjects.
- Pencil case – with highlighters, pencils/pens, mini sticky notes (to bookmark pages), and a mini kit with a stapler and sticky tape. I bought these from Kikki K.
- Note book – for general scribble notes, brainstorming and general reminders. Although, I have found I don’t really use this as much. I have a spare section in my 5 Subject folder and I tend to use that for brainstorming.
- Laptop/iPad – I thought I would just bring an iPad with a wireless keyboard to university, however I found it best to just bring my laptop with me. This is mainly due to how I structure each day to be the most efficient I can be (which I go into further below).
- Course material – all that is left to do is buy course material and textbooks.
I didn’t need as much as I thought I would. Just one book for notes for all my subjects, writing materials and course material. Instead of a backpack, I bought a bit satchel type bag for all my gear.
It all fits nicely into my satchel.
c) Organise timetable
Once I got my timetable, I had to scramble to make it all work. All my kids are at school now, so that is part of the reason why I can manage this around my family. If you enrol in classes early, it’s possible to organise a lot of tutes/lectures within hours that work with family life. I do have an afternoon where I finish late, so I have to organise other arrangements for the kids that afternoon.
d) Mark assessments
I have to be super organised, and so I printed off monthly calendars and marked in my assignments and tests so I could see at a glance what I had on in a particular month. In the front of my 5 subject folder is a pocket, so I slip them in there for reference. I have a different colour for different subjects so I can see at a glance what I have in a week, and upcoming.
2. First Weeks
The first weeks was a lot about me trying to find the right room to be in!
a) Plan ahead
Stretching my brain in all sorts of new ways is exhausting, so I made sure I was super organised, mainly with food for the family. Easy meals, and lunch box options was a must, especially for those first weeks.
b) Success is relative
I’m a high achiever type, which is a great quality in a lot of respects, but it also comes with anxiety, and perfectionism pressures, which aren’t so good. I also have a lot of my plate juggling family life etc, so I need to keep reminding myself that I need to be realistic about what I can achieve. It’s about mentally setting myself up for sustainability.
c) Find other mature age students
I have found there quite a few mature age students in each of my courses, which is great. Not that it’s not a positive thing hanging with school leavers, however it really does make a difference to find people with similar level of life experience to bounce ideas off, and it makes you feel like you’re not alone in going back to school when you’re older. Once you find those students, it’s helpful to organise to be in the same tutorial class too.
d) You have skills
It’s nice to be reassured that you have a surprising amount of skills you’ve already developed from life and work that you can fall back on and use in your study.
e) First Assessment
It took me a very long time and I had post-submission anxiety. When I talked to others who study as a mature age student, they said it’s perfectly normal to feel that lack of confidence but just to do it and push forwards. Many universities offer success advisers, and I have found it great to use the service to refresh myself on things like writing an essay etc.
a) Find a routine
I think this is the one of the most important thing to nut through: establish and work out a new routine. I tend to go to university right after school drop off and stay there until I have to be there to get the kids, regardless of how many lectures or tutes I have that day. I go to the library in between to both work-work and study-work. This means that I don’t have time to grocery shop or do a lot of housework during the week anymore, so I do that on the weekend.
b) Something has to give
That brings me to this point. Something has to give and it can take a while to work out the best combination of what the shift and move. I fortunately have a husband who is incredibly supportive of me and he has been also happy to adjust things to enable for me to do this as I have done in the past/and continue to do for him (because that is what you do in a relationship: compromise and give to each other). As an example: I don’t bake as much as I did last year so that is one of the compromises I make.
c) Family life
I have also found my kids also to be incredibly supportive of me and my pursuits, however, it’s always challenging in a transition time, and in that juggling I have had moments of weariness about making things work. Next semester I will go to 2 subjects which I’m looking forward to, but it was important for me to smash out this first semester full time and so I’m just making it work. One of the things I have learned in this parenting journey so far, is the importance and value of being a family…just doing stuff – living life in togetherness, whatever that looks like in the season you’re in. As an example, my husband and I enjoy running together, and often the kids will come and ride their bikes while we run. I can tell you that just running without monitoring kids is much easier, but I feel that importance of taking opportunity to do things together.
Half way through my first semester at uni studying creative writing and sociology. I am absolutely loving the challenge of learning new things. I’m surprised at just how much I’m loving it! But I am very, very weary too. It’s always the juggle isn’t it? There have been down moments when I’ve said to my husband, “It’s just easier on family life if I don’t pursue things.” It feels like that sometimes…especially when we are adjusting to change…that it would just be better if I am grounded for everyone else. But my husband always encourages me to keep going because he knows I get pretty miserable without personal challenges outside my role as mum. It was my privilege to dedicate the early years of my children’s life to their care, and I’m grateful for that precious time. Don’t regret it for a moment! But my children are now all at an age that IT IS possible to do some of the things I decided to put off for a while. What I remember during these busy times is the little moments are always there as we live life – as we live life together – no matter how much is on my mind. This morning as I walked my son to school, I made an intentional decision to not just listen to him, but to look at him, enjoy a light brush of his blonde head in acknowledgement, to enjoy those 5 minutes of togetherness, to focus on that moment without thinking about the 1000 things ahead. I felt the sun on my face and looked up at the trees. I kissed my son goodbye at the school gate and left with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Onward.
I’m still working things out about this new phase I’m in right now, but I do know that I’m absolutely LOVING my studies. Someone asked me recently what I do for ‘me-time’ and that concept has never quite sat well with me. You see, I don’t do ‘me time’, I do life. That means I do, and pursue things I enjoy, and I love my family fiercely, and I invest in my friends, and I just live life with passion and love.