Adult learners often face a difficult path to graduation. Many have to juggle full-time jobs, family care, and other responsibilities on top of school work.
For these students, balancing school and work can be precarious and overwhelming, writes Natalia Lusinski for Bustle. To understand how adult students find their footing, Lusinski spoke with 13 women juggling college and a full-time career.
The women represented a variety of different industries and degree paths. Some are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or a certificate, others are working toward an advanced degree. Although their experiences differed, a few common themes emerged. Here’s what adult students say they need to balance school and work successfully.
“I’ve been able to find balance by keeping myself grounded, focusing on what I love, and being thankful every day for the opportunities I have in front of me,” says Larisa, a 20-year-old professional wakeboarder and student at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s challenging to juggle so many different things at once, but if you know what you’re passionate about, it’s easier to prioritize the things that matter and to avoid wasting time.”
2: Time management
“It is very important to have a schedule and to stick with it,” says Becky, a 30-year-old marketing professional and MBA student. “Getting school work done after working is exhausting, but if you organize when you have deadlines, around your work schedule, it’s possible.”
Adult students need to choose their commitments carefully to avoid burnout, says Dani, a 22-year-old communications professional and business student at Simon Fraser University. “When you are balancing school and work at the same time, there are some things that you will have to sacrifice,” says Dani. “Learning how to say ‘no’ is one of the most important life skills that I’ve learned, and it saves me a lot of disappointment and wasted time.”
3: Flexible schedules
Research has found that flexible course schedules are critical to adult student success. Spencer, a 25-year-old digital marketer and interdisciplinary studies student, says the flexibility of online courses were her saving grace. “Being able to essentially attend class in my PJs in the comfort of my home allowed me to keep my sanity, especially during those hectic work days.”
A more flexible schedule at work can help, too. Jenn, a 29-year-old resume writer and doctoral student, advises adult students to be upfront with management about their academic responsibilities. “My manager understands that my homework load can get heavy sometimes, and whenever that happens, she tries her best to give me fewer clients,” says Jenn. Anna, a 20-year-old communications professional and student, echoes the same sentiment. “In the best case scenario, working for an employer who is open to flexible hours makes it much easier.”
4: A support system
A strong support system will help adult students power through the stress of juggling school and work, says Elizabeth, a 30-year-old production manager and business student. “I wanted to get my MBA so I would never be dependent on someone else and, ironically, I don’t know if I would be able to finish with my sanity intact if it weren’t for my family and my fiancé.”
Clare, a 27-year-old product support specialist and sociology student, offers similar advice. “Be honest with those around you: There will be days when you feel like it’s all too much and you’ll need an understanding support system to get you through” (Lusinski, Bustle, 7/10/18).