I was a parent to two primary school age children when I returned to education as a mature student to complete my undergraduate degree. I remember how challenging it was, but I also remember how rewarding I found it, not only because of the new directions higher education opened up for me, but also because of the fantastic experiences I had while I was studying.
Here are some of my top tips for being a student with children.
Look after your finances
A big concern for students with children can be managing the financial aspects of family life, especially if you have to give up work to fit in studying. There is a range of additional support for parents that you might be entitled to as a student with children. The Gov.uk webpages have more information: https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/extra-help. It’s worth setting up a student bank account as they often come with preferential rates and added freebies, and there is a huge choice out there.
Get organised and plan your time
It sounds pretty obvious but being well organised will really help with keeping on top of your various responsibilities. Juggling family commitments, university demands and potentially employment as well is no easy feat, but it can be managed with good planning. Use an electronic calendar (or academic diary if you’re old school!) to keep on top of where you need to be and when, when assignments need to be submitted, your kid’s clubs – even when the shopping will get done. It can feel a lot less overwhelming once it’s all written down and you know when it can get done.
Join a club or society
This might sound a bit counterintuitive when you’re already taking on a lot, but joining in with some university activities beyond your studies can really help you feel a part of the community there. Most university student unions will have a student parents group and mature learners group, and meeting up with likeminded people in a similar situation to you can be really helpful. It’s always important to have a support network. If your university doesn’t have these groups, why not see if you can create one?
Protect space for yourself
As the old saying goes ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Take care of yourself and your wellbeing by making sure you continue to make time for doing the things you enjoy. When time feels stretched sometimes our first instinct is to stop doing the things that other people don’t rely on us for; we naturally don’t want to let people down. In the longer term though, taking an hour for yourself, be that for a hobby, exercise or simply relaxing can clear your mind and let you re-charge.
Whilst it will vary depending on the university, most recognise the additional challenges, and different support needs, of students with children. This will range from on-site childcare, through to flexible study hours and parent and child study rooms, complete with toys and chalkboards. A great starting point to find out what’s available to you would be to get in touch with student services and the union of students at your university.
Being a student with children can feel overwhelming initially, but if you’ve decided to go for it you’ve made the first step! Using some of these tips you can make your study not just a success, but also enjoy it.