The transition from high school into uni can be an awesome whirlwind — assigned homework becomes non-existent, you can hit the campus bar at 11 am on a Tuesday, and you can finally wear whatever you want every day — among many other things.
However, transitioning to study while working full-time is a different kettle of fish.
However, mature age students are at the most vulnerable risk of not completing their degree — a pattern that likely has a lot to do with the additional financial and social pressures that come with returning to study as an adult.
If you're considering returning to school, there’s a couple of things the experts want you to know. We spoke to Liz Hendry, Manager of the Careers Centre at Charles Darwin University, to get her advice on the essentials you should know before starting.
Start preparing before the semester commences
Transitioning to study while working full-time requires adapting to a whole new routine and mindset. While you might be comfortable in your current routine, three-hour lectures, tutorials over Zoom, and group assignments might have to take priority over Friday work drinks and Sunday resets.
To be prepared for a change in pace, responsibilities, and learning environments, Hendry highly recommends getting your ducks in a row before the semester starts. Heading out to Orientation Week and engaging in activities, checking out the campus and online portal you'll use to study on demand or upload your assignments and learning about the services available to help you with your study is an excellent way to start.
Additionally, much like you would before the school term started as a kid, heading out to do a stationery shop to organise your space is an easy way to adopt a study-ready mindset. Who doesn't love any excuse to buy an excessive amount of colourful post-it notes, highlighters and organisational folders?
Once you've done this, it'll be much easier to set goals and plan your approach to the semester (factoring in your work and life schedule).
"Take some time to set academic goals and plan your approach for the semester. Identify what you want to achieve academically and break it into smaller, actionable goals. Then, create a study schedule or a planner to allocate time for studying, assignments, and other commitments," suggests Hendry.
Get your finances in order
Returning to study may have some financial implications. While there are costs associated with study, like fees, textbooks, and any new equipment you'll need, your work schedule may also have to change to accommodate your degree's needs.
In this case, ensuring you've assessed your current financial situation and planning for any required budgeting before starting is essential. To aid any potential burden, Hendry recommends exploring any scholarship options or employer-sponsored study programs you can apply for before starting.
It's also worth researching the potential return on investment your chosen course or program may offer in terms of career advancement or higher earning potential.
Reach out for available support
"Juggling work and study can lead to increased fatigue and a higher risk of burnout. Long work hours combined with studying can result in mental and physical exhaustion. It's important to establish boundaries, practice self-care, and ensure adequate rest to avoid burnout," says Hendry
To avoid this, Hendry suggests reaching out to your support system and informing your lecturers and tutors about your work commitments to ensure they understand your situation if any tricky deadlines arise.
Most universities, like Charles Darwin University, will also offer a range of counselling and wellness services to support student well-being, which will also help with stress management, time management, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. They also offer flexible study options, with 100% online courses, and the ability to switch between part-time and full time, which can help students stay connected to other aspects of their life while studying.
"Joining study groups or forming peer support networks can provide a sense of community and understanding. And connecting with fellow students who are also working full-time can be beneficial," says Hendry.
"Collaborating with others in similar situations can help you share experiences, study resources, and support one another through the challenges of balancing work and study."
Overall, going back to study while working full-time (or after an extended period of the 9-5 grind) will take some readjusting. But, given the long-term benefits of upskilling in your area (or a new field) and the plethora of support networks available for mature aged students, there are ways to make it a whole lot easier on yourself.