36 Tips for Life Management

It's been said that the average person will change careers at least three times in their life. Sometimes it's necessity, sometimes happenstance, and sometimes intentional. Going back to school helps build up the skills necessary for some of those career changes.

But school costs money, and when you're an adult with a job, home/ mortgage, and family it's an incredible, potentially stressful commitment. If you have no life or project management skills, you're probably better off not committing. But if you're ready to give it a try, these tips might help you succeed in a college degree program.

Distractions, Barriers, Finances

The following are distractions and barriers that are sure to tank your successful return to school. Conquer these issues - all of them - and you're on your way to getting a degree.

  1. Jealousy. Those closest to you might feel you're abandoning them. Defuse the situation before you start classes. This takes the utmost tact, and might be one of your biggest barriers. Ask family members if they have any objections, then determine how to deal with them.
  2. Work. Bosses get jealous, too, and can overload you with work. Your normal workload may be difficult to balance against classes without an honest heart-to-heart with your workmates and supervisor. Adjust your work schedule, if possible.
  3. Technology. Study tools have changed considerably in the past decade and a computer is a necessity. If you don't know how to use one, learn. Become familiar with the research tools available to you.
  4. Finances. Some grad school programs such as MBA programs don't accept you without sponsorship from an employeer, to ensure that you won't pull out of the program when finances dwindle. Maybe you qualify for student loans or grants. Find out long before you intend to go to school. Here is a list of links to grant writing tips.
  5. Workload. If you are an adult student, you are probably going to be balancing a part or full-time job and possibly a family. If you've been out of school for a while but can transfer older credits, your study workload can be reduced.
  6. Transportation. If you have to take transit, make sure you know the routes and schedules so that you aren't stuck on campus after a late night of studying. If you have a physical disability, you may find that your campus isn't very accessible. Consider this when applying or ask what can be done to help you get around.
  7. Perfectionism. If you are shooting for straight As, that's admirable. But perfectionism isn't always beneficial or even necessary, and can introduce unncessary stress.
  8. Doubt. Thinking you're not smart enoughto go back to college is common, and there are professors who'll make you feel that way. The fact is, college is for learning, and students are of normal, average intelligence.
  9. Fatigue. With all the demands on your time, it's possible you'll get exhausted. Know when to take a break. Proper rest and diet plays a large role in stamina. What good is going to school if you you sleep through class?

Motivation, Time Management and Study Tips

Once you're in school, you'll need to apply the following skills to keep life balanced.

  1. Schedule your tasks. School and assignments are projects, regardless of size. Treat them that way and make a best estimate of how much time is needed for each. It's easier to be motivated to start early on a term paper, for example, when you know approximately how long it'll take.
  2. Stay organized. It isn't enough to plan your studying and course work. You have to stay organized and stick to the plan, as well as assess what you've finished and what remains. Google Calendar is a free web-based service that let's you schedule your life with ease and track mini-goals.
  3. Motivate yourself. Remind yourself why you're returning to school. Know your goals, and let positive results motivate you through the tough times.
  4. Postpone low priority tasks. Little tasks such as laundry will pile up, so to speak. Do only what's necessary and postpone when possible. If you can do a weekly task only once every two weeks, you'll likely save a bit of time.
  5. Learn to multi-task. If you absolutely have to do something that's normally low priority but has escalated (;aundry), can you do something else simultaneously? That doesn't mean, "at the same time." For example, while the laundry is running, you may not want to cook a meal, but you could read instead of watching TV while you wait for your laundry. Multi-tasking will help you manage your studies and juggle work and life.
  6. Constrain yourself. Don't give yourself too much time for something, because tasks have a bad habit of expanding to fill available time. Break term papers down into manageable tasks, then estimate how long each should take and try to stick to it. If you're taking longer than expected, switch to a different task, or project. Come back to unfinished tasks later, possibly to break them down further into more manageable sub-tasks.
  7. Block out distractions. A good study environment is crucial to success. That means not caving into distractions. Let family members know when you are doing a study session and that you're not to be disturbed.
  8. Review notes immediately. Long-term studies show that reviewing notes immediately after a class improves retention and aids in learning. The next best thing is to review notes that same day. Though if you do it at night, make sure you're not disturbed by family members.
  9. Know your resources. Know what's available to you in terms of student resources, professors' office hours, student advisors, library materials, etc.
  10. Know yourself. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, it's easier to focus your efforts or ask for help where it's necessary. This applies to both your knowledge and your discipline level.

Parents

If you're a parent, whether you're single or have a partner, you have normal demands on your time, plus studies. How do you cope?
 

  1. Explain to your needs. A return to school is not easy for anyone, let alone a parent, or single parent. Explain to kids, especially, that your return to school will also benefit them in the long run, and that you need their cooperation. You might even share your homework time with the kids, or wait until they're asleep.
  2. Delegate/ask for help. Unless you have the strongest of wills and/or assertiveness skills, you cannot succeed in balancing work, school and life without supportive friends and family. Ask for their help in things like chores, babysitting, picking up kids, etc., and prioritize your own tasks.
  3. Know your limit. Let's face it, even in the 21st century, women still do all the housework in some families. That's a full-time job in itself. Single parents face similar issues. Sometimes, it's not the right time to return to school, though that doesn't mean you should give up. Some students earn degrees into their 60s. There's also the online education option (discussed in the Financial Aid section).

Financial Aid

You have a variety of options for financing your studies. Don't forget, you can write off school costs against taxes on earnings, so keep all of your receipts and check with an accountant.

  1. Scholarships and grants. The United States has a surprising number of unusual scholarships that are awarded to people with an unusual combination of personal characteristics (surnames, race, religion, sex, age, profession, etc.), not to mention regular scholarships. Do some research to see if you qualify. Don't be afraid to ask the college you are applying to, as they may have their own scholarships and financial aid
  2. Student loans. There are a vast number of financial assistance options at the college, city, state, and federal level, as well as private organizations. A college advisor or financial aid counselor can help you locate something suitable. Because student loans do have to be repaid, it's important to your future financial health to factor this into your debt beforehand.
  3. Teaching and marking assistantships. Some professors require assistants to teach labs and grade assignments and papers. Depending on your own skills and grades, you may qualify. Time allotments vary by university, but some only allow a maximum of 20 hours work for full-time students. Of course, if you already have a job, it'll be hard to take on more work.
  4. Tutoring. Maybe some of your fellow students could benefit from your wisdom, earning you a bit extra. There are also services like Tutors Without Limits which let you tutor people around the world over the Internet. You set the rates.
  5. Employer sponsorship. Some companies pay for the cost of certain skills upgrading. Make sure you explore your options. You may be able to substitute one of your employer's approved programs with something you'd like to take.
  6. Online/ distance education. Online education is an excellent alternative for the busy student. Not only can an online degree save you money and be highly regarded, but it can often be taken at your own pace. This is obviously ideal for those with busy work/life schedules. It also saves time and money in terms of transportation.
  7. Free online courses. If you're just looking to upgrade your skills and don't need an actual degree a number of top universities are offering free online versions of their courses. Even Yale and other top universities are offering free materials online.

Career Strategy: Graduate School

Graduate school is an even bigger commitment than an undergrad degree but can be incredibly rewarding.

  1. The right program. Don't pick a program just because you could earn more. Consider the cost of the program and the wages you might lose by attending school. Many people find that depending on their current earning potential, it's not always worth the investment. Cross discipline education can often be more valuable. For example, computer programmers who have a degree in science are more valuable to some organizations than a computer programmer with both a BSc and an MSc. Similarly, some physicians programs only accept non-medical students with a degree in a supplementary discipline.
  2. An MBA isn't always the answer. MBAs can be overrated and it may not be what you want. Why do you want one? If it's for the knowledge, there are other ways to gain that. If it's to move up in management, that's fine, though consider the cost of the degree and whether you'll lose earnings while you study.
  3. Consider a doctorate. A PhD is ideal if you have the knack for either research and/or teaching, and you typically would get a lifetime pension.

General

Here are a few final tips:

  1. Eyestrain. Our eyes often deteriorate as we age. Make sure to read in well-lit areas, and to take breaks. If you find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over, it's time for a break.
  2. Adapting. Adult students have a variety of hurdles facing them including time constraints and personal and work obligations. Because they're focused, they may have trouble fitting in. Learn to balance studies with some social activity.
  3. Breathe deeply/meditate. Meditation is often overlooked because it's viewed as either Eastern mysticism or New Age nonsense. Try it for yourself and see how much of a stress reliever it can be.
  4. Trial run. It's possible that despite the best intentions, you're just not ready to return to school full-time. Keep in mind those inspiring senior citizens that have earned their degrees in their late 70s. There's no shame in taking your time. Consider a trial run first, by taking a couple of audit courses before the regular school year. Or try long-distance or online courses, which typically let you pace your study and balance your family and/or work. Sometimes, you can transfer credits to a regular university, when you're ready to return.

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