Every person has their own unique circumstance whilst attending university - including me, as a mature student returning to education.
For a lot of students, it’s a chance to feel more independent and to learn more about themselves, to make new friends and to learn more about a subject they feel most interested in.
For mature students with children, the circumstances can seem very different. Speaking for myself, it’s plain to see that I don’t have the same luxuries that younger students have. For example, as an older student living in my own home with family, I simply don’t have as much time to socialise. That’s not to say that it is impossible. I have made some friends in my first year, we have met up in the library to work on projects and to help each other learn the technical aspects of our degree. I have also been part of the volleyball team, going to training and playing games whenever I had the time.
My second year will consist of juggling two part-time jobs, a new baby, and taking care of our toddler – so going out on student nights and living a party lifestyle, for me, is not on the cards. And I wouldn’t expect my classmates or teammates to fully appreciate my situation yet.
If you find yourself in a similar situation to me, then here are five top tips for you to consider.
Here is a simple yet powerful tip that is harder for some than others to implement (myself included).
If you are living with or in close proxity with a partner/friends/family, it is very important to be very open on how you’re feeling, what your plans are, and if you are facing any kind of difficulty. Demands on yourself will be greater during the term time, and you need to acknowledge this. It’s also a good idea to be open about potential issues with your personal tutor, so that they can try to accommodate you as much as possible.
If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, then the best policy is to be open about it and address the issues. ARU has a wellbeing service that students can access.
This is another fundamental tip which is crucial to helping you with your well-being and indirectly, your final grade. You must be on top of your health.
If you have a sick child, for example, your sleep will be impacted, and most parents understand the consequences of sleep deprivation; poor mood, less concentration, etc. So whenever you can, a good night’s sleep will help keep you manage the challenges of having a lot to juggle.
Everyone’s sleep requirements are different. I wish I could function on four hours a night but I have learned that for me (and most people) aiming for eight hours of sleep is optimal. Power naps are not a replacement, but can prove valuable. Set an alarm for 20 minutes and get some shut-eye.
Diet is another key pillar underlying your health. Most of us know the basics: avoid processed foods and drink; don’t drink too much alcohol; avoid cigarettes; and keep the caffeine intake in normal amounts. ARU’s canteens and Students' Union cafe can help provide you with good nutritional food at a reasonable price.
ARU has a gym and provides fitness and sports sessions for students. The gym can be great to use in between lectures if you have the time.
Again, for different people the circumstances are different. For me, the big mistake I made in my first year was to underestimate the time it took me to find a part-time job. It took me four months longer than I expected! This caused a few heated discussions with my wife and some restless nights...
I would recommend having enough savings to last you a while if you don’t currently have a job, or at the very least, start your job search early so that you have something lined up before you begin your studies. You want your university experience to be as smooth and fruitful as possible, so try your best to get into a good position.
ARU has an Employment Bureau that can help you get temp jobs. It also provides a Money Advice Service, so you can see if you are eligible for any bursaries or further aid.
4. Keeping your eye on the prize
I went back into education feeling slightly too confident over my abilities. I thought that due to my life experience, I would be in a better position than my younger self to focus on the task at hand and to be able to handle multiple things at once. I wasn’t as disciplined as I would like to admit. But it’s okay because it does take time to get back into the swing of things.
I knew it would be hard, but there were certain times in the past year that I seriously doubted myself and thought I'd made a mistake to go back into education. I keep reminding myself of the opportunities that furthering my education can present; and about making myself and my family proud by the end of this chapter.
5. Take some time out
There needs to be a balance. I know I mentioned earlier that I simply don’t have the time to make new friends. However, if you already have friends or family near by, make the most of any time you have spare and try to have a fun time with them. Spending a long weekend break in the summer can help shift your mood a surprising amount.
Catching up on sleep is another great revitaliser. None of us are machines, so taking some time out to reflect and to unwind will do you a world of good. At Chelmsford there are some tranquil spots next to the river which you can use, weather permitting, to chill out.