Let's be realistic. Work--sometimes two jobs--plus studying and going to class? That's tough by itself, let alone if you're a working parent, too. But according to Britt Stich, earning a degree while working can happen without the stress getting out of hand. She's the co-founder and head of student experience for Guild Education, which specializes in providing classes, programs, and degrees for working adults. She offers four major tips to keep your cool as you learn, based on advice straight from Guild students.
1. You need to know your why--or why(s). "Everyone's reason to head back to school is different, and that's OK. But dig deep to find it, with the support of your coach or someone who knows you well. When the going gets tough, a revisiting of that 'why' is critical. You see where you're headed--that promotion you've been eyeing, the model you want to be for your kids, the skills you're developing for a new role--and obstacles are easier to face."
2. Embrace change and iterations. "There are only a certain number of hours in the day. You need a time-management system. Overplan, mapping out all of your commitments on a calendar. Plan for a Plan B. And Plan C. Make changes to your routine based on what you're learning. If you're too tired to do work at night, wake up early. Change up your routine until you find something that works. And when that stops working, iterate again."
3. Share with your community. "People are honored when you let them in. Share your excitement, motivations, concerns and hopes. The choice to go back to school often impacts those around you as well, affecting how or when you spend time together. Be realistic and honest. In doing so, they become a part of your journey as well, serving as a cheerleader and accountability partner."
4. Ask for help. "It's not easy to do. But not asking is even harder in the long run. Asking questions to better understand something, whether it is an assignment, a grade, or feedback you've received from a professor or employer, shows that you are invested. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It's a form of self-advocacy."
Stich notes, too, that the learning model in the United States is shifting. Online opportunities, as well as the new stress on lifelong learning, is crumbling the traditional education model. Learning is happening more and more with institutions connecting directly with adults in the workplace where they are, with the elimination of campus commutes making it easier for busy, employed people to participate. Subsequently, there's zero reason to feel like the odd (wo)man out anymore if you carve out your own education path. Stich says:
"Employers and academic institutions are working together to provide enriched learning experiences for students.... [And] more and more companies are competing for talent and using education benefits as a key attractor to join to their organization. Institutions that implement educational services and tuition assistance are seeing strong results for enrollment, retention, and internal promotions among participating employees. Frontline employees enrolled with Guild are 2.5-times likely to be promoted. Additionally, Guild partners experience a 97 percent six-month retention rate, compared to a 56 percent [rate for] non-engaged employees.
"And institutions committed to serving working adults aren't stopping there. Institutions like Brandman University and Wilmington University provide more flexible options for students that build on both their professional and academic experience. Online coursework, competency-based learning, stackable credentials like certificates, and college credit for workforce training create both onramps and acceleration pathways for students, making going back to school plausible, not just possible for working adults."
While there are more options than ever out there, Jessica Snyder, student success manager at Guild, points out that online learning does have a caveat. Internet-based programs often require more self-discipline as you balance your time. So think honestly about the drive and self-control you have and choose the solution that ups your odds of following through, even if that means getting a coach or calling in friends and family to make some of the logistics work.
But perhaps the biggest piece of advice? Be patient and forgiving with yourself. Nothing adds stress like feeling like you have to do it all perfectly. It's OK if it takes a little longer than you planned, if you need to retake a class to really internalize it, or if you use techniques to remember that are different than what other students do. Just focus on what the education is going to grant you and don't give up.