How to Balance Work, Life, and School as an Adult Student
Attending school while raising a family and working is one of the most challenging balancing acts anyone could perform. Still, we hear stories all the time about people just like us who earn anything from an associate’s to a Ph.D. while raising kids and earning an income.
The results are rewarding on many levels: Increased pay, self-improvement, and social mobility. But how do these people we know and hear about balance it all?
Being a fulltime student straight out of high school has its own challenges, but for students who are responsible for their own finances and have dependents, a whole other realm of issues presents itself. According to the Lumina Foundation, these are considered nontraditional students or can be adult students in general. Some qualities used to identify nontraditional students included having dependents other than a spouse, being a single parent, working while enrolled, or not being financially dependent on parents. Moreover, 58% of students work while enrolled in college and 26% are raising children.
For folks working 9-to-5 jobs, look for evening classes. Many colleges offer classes starting as late as 6 pm. Complete online programs or just individual courses provide the most flexibility and allow students to have more control over their personal time. The Lumina Foundation also says that 57% of adult students attend two-year colleges like York Technical College here in Rock Hill, a popular option for adult students who want to save money. Speaking of finances, many adult or nontraditional students can ease their financial burdens with scholarships and grants tailored to their student population. Many of these offerings can be found online or with the help of an advisor, and they are not hard to apply for.
Ignoring physical or mental health is bound to happen to the adult college student that has a family. Finding time for things you once previously enjoyed may be hard. Or you perhaps food choices become lax. For those with spouses, seeking their help is imperative in staying sane. Having others in your support network help lighten the load with time-consuming chores. Even small acts like driving the kids to practice can free up valuable time to reconnect with one’s self. Another option is to involve children in your journey. Allow them to help cook meals so time spent doing something menial can become a bonding experience. For school-aged children, working alongside them on homework and school projects or finding a way to compete by improving grades could lead to a closer relationship and academic success.
While it is fun to include children in your journey, they can sometimes be the cause of unplanned incidents like illnesses. The fact that students with young children have to miss a class is a reality and something they should prepare for. If possible, having several backup plans will keep chaos at bay. Don’t be afraid to ask close friends or family members ahead of time if they would be willing to help out should the need arise. As a part of your support network, they will hopefully be there to help out in a pinch. Similarly, some college professors are more forgiving in these circumstances because they have seen it and gone through it too. Letting them know as soon as possible if you need to miss a class will keep everyone informed and keep you up-to-date on assignments. It is also worth seeing if your college has an early childhood education program where teachers and students can bring their kids while they’re in the classroom.
Staying organized is also a challenge when it comes to balancing work, student life, and a family. Prioritizing and scheduling as much of life as possible will help keep things flowing. Take advantage of time in waiting rooms or commutes to catch up on reading or familiarizing yourself with the next assignment. Carving out blocks of time for various activities is one thing, but carving out separate places to work is another. Since some people need to have a specific place to write or study, consider a local co-working space like Collision Cowork in Rock Hill or Loom Cowork in Fort Mill. These spaces offer internet access and workspaces of varying types that allow folks to work solo or collaborate with others. Of course, it may become hard to keep school on one side of the spectrum and work on the other. Learning how to compartmentalize is helpful in staying productive and efficient, No matter how tempting, don’t bring school to work and don’t take work home. Keep those spaces for each designated and do not try to multitask.
The main problem adult students face is the competing tension between life and educational obligations. Since adult students tend to struggle with the traditional model of college that’s geared for the younger generation and know that everyday life that can be unpredictable, it’s a good idea to make concerns known. Let professors, as well as your superiors, know what your other commitments are. Not everyone will be flexible, but it may help ease the burden of the balancing act.
With a support network, strategic planning, and the ability to think outside the box, being a student, parent, and part of the workforce can be rewarding. The end result can help a person get a better job or a bigger paycheck, but also push them to their full potential by gaining new skills and learning even more about themselves.