By Lisa Pahl, 37
When I first enrolled in uni fresh out of high school, my biggest challenges were choosing the right outfit, making sure I had enough change for happy hour at the pub and waking up in time to make the 8am bus to class.
The one thing I didn’t batt an eyelid about was time – I had it in spades. Even while holding down a part-time kitchenhand job and maintaining a healthy after-hours social life (read: pub nights, most nights).
So, a decade later, when I wanted to upskill and add a postgraduate qualification to my resume to increase my future career options, I thought it would be impossible.
How could I possibly fit study at a city university around a demanding full-time job, while still enjoying time with my husband and friends, renovating our house and training our new puppy? And what would happen in a year or two when we added a baby to the mix?
I didn’t fancy turning up to a class filled with carefree, glamorous millennials as a mature age student with baby spit on my shirt and bags under my eyes, so I prepared to shelve my dream.
But then I got talking with a friend who had not only survived the juggle to graduate with a postgraduate diploma, she’d also gone on and got herself a Masters.
Her secret? Online study.
With so many tertiary education providers now offering courses externally, the option of returning to study is a far more accessible and flexible one.
External study meant I could complete a postgraduate course online, in my own time from home – and even in my pyjamas after the baby was asleep. I studied part-time to fit around my working week and took time off studying straight after having my son.
It took me longer than it would have for a full-time student, but I earned my qualification and it helped me land a new job I love in completely new career.
Here are my secrets to making mature age study work for you:
One advantage you have as a mature aged student coming into tertiary study is life experience.
By now you’ve learnt how to ask for help if you need it, prioritise your time and organise yourself.
You’ve learnt that good things come with hard work, patience, persistence and flexibility.
Use those skills to get up to speed with your course requirements by talking with university support staff or your course co-ordinator before your studies start.
Find out how much time you’ll be expected to set aside each week for study and assignments and plan that commitment into your weekly schedule.
Ask for credit
Are you already working in your chosen industry? You might have skills that you can gain credit for in your course of choice, which means you’ll end up needing to complete fewer subjects to gain your qualification. Check with your university when you enrol.
Learn to let it go
Just like Elsa in your toddler’s favourite movie, there will be times when you’ll have to let some things go. Prioritise the important stuff in your weekly calendar – work, study time, family time, appointments and other commitments. Then give yourself permission to say no to taking on extra responsibilities, whether it be volunteering at the school canteen or filling in at the last minute for flaky Fiona on the B-grade netball team.
Don’t be a perfectionist in other areas – it’s okay to have a clean but chaotic house if saving time on unnecessary chores means you have more time for study.
From school pick-ups to extra childcare, a homemade meal or a couple hours of babysitting – work out what you need in order to free up time for study and call on your support network.
If your partner, extended family and friends know why your study goal is so important to you, chances are they’ll jump in to help when needed.
Get back-up in your backyard
What I didn’t have when I studied was help just around the corner. When you enrol in courses offered through Murray River Study Hub, you’ll have student support on hand – so you don’t have to lose time travelling to Adelaide or stuck on hold on the phone waiting to speak to someone about your course and study needs.
Plus there’s access to a study space in case you need some quiet time to work away from the kids and their full-volume singing of the latest Disney songs.
About the author:
Lisa Pahl is a writer, researcher, journalist, Public Relations expert, mother-of-two… and of course, she now holds TWO university degrees. She’s had a love for learning ever since she can remember and has dreams of becoming a best-selling novelist.
Lisa is a great advocate for university study after recently completing her journey of external study (while juggling work and family life at the same time), which has led directly in to her new chosen career path as a public relations senior consultant.
But her learning journey will never end, as Lisa is always upskilling herself through various online and in-person study forums to continue performing at the top of her game.