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Going back to university

11 February 2019

Beginning university (uni) for the first time is daunting. If you’ve been lucky enough to attend a high school or college at which you could enrol in uni-based subjects, then you’ve got an idea about what to expect. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the demands and processes of a tertiary education institution are very different from those of high school. At the tertiary level your education is up to you. You control what you study and how you spend your time.

It’s worth noting that the self-motivation, independence and self-discipline required for university make it ideal if you’ve had some life experience, which is why returning to university after a break can be amazing because most of us will have some or all of these skills under our belts… but that return also poses its own challenges.

Financial and time management challenges, for example, as well as reconnection with a different way of life and new people.  Most importantly, being prepared and passionate about why you are going back to study and what you are going back to study can be a challenge.

Students straight out of school get plenty of assistance: ongoing career advice, career days, help from teachers and parents to apply, O (orientation) weeks which are often very youth focussed and which can be off-putting when you’re older. These layers of support evaporate when you are not school-age. There are other supports you can consult: family, friends, your employer, the universities themselves, staff and tutors, work colleagues. Each of these sources can help steer your decision, while consultation ensures they’re on board.

You might want to consider these questions:

  • How will returning to uni affect family life and your finances
  • Will education enhance your career prospects
  • Does your selected course suit your current job and workplace or are you wanting to take things somewhere else
  • Are you passionate and involved in your chosen subject(s) and have you done your research into what the subject needs and what the outcomes will be for you

When it comes to finances, funding your next steps should include working out the costs and establishing where they fit in your family budget so you and your family can cope. Having a side hustle at which you can make money while you are studying is one plan. Studying part time and or working part time might be another way through. Talking with your employer to see if taking a career break, so you know you have a job to go back to, is an option, as is establishing if your employer will pay your fees.

Don’t be put off attending O weeks, you’ll find out a lot about uni life: the supports available to you, the course(s) that interest you and you’ll meet people – tutors, students, club members.

Go online and research the uni you want to attend and the course in which you want to enrol. (You can connect with tutors online to ask questions and get to know more about what you have chosen to study… and them.) Look into scholarships, book allowances and, of course, university course fees and costs and what supports are available to help you meet those costs.

Start the work, the reading list, etc. as soon as possible.

Another very practical piece of advice is to have a schedule and share it. Start with what a typical week looks like: work, family, friends, RnR, sleep, meals… Add in tutorials, lectures, study, reading, essays and assignments and then pare back activities to fit without losing sleep over it. Share the schedule with family and work, it will help keep you honest and let them know what you are doing.