When working adults start thinking about returning to school to pursue a degree, one of the common questions they ask is “where will I find the time?” Adult learners are balancing many roles in their busy lives, especially today as we struggle to manage the impact of the global pandemic on everything from how and where we work to how our children are attending school. The prospect of layering college on top of a full schedule that may already include work, family time, and other activities (most of which is likely taking place in your home these days) sounds daunting. And yet, many busy adults have figured out how to make it work. They are pursuing online education while living full lives. How do they do it? To answer that question, we went directly to the experts and asked the University of Arizona Global Campus students for suggestions on how they fit college into their lives.
1. Take School with You
Online education and mobile technology have made it easier than ever for busy adults to return to school. Students can take their coursework with them just about anywhere they go. Now, lunches, coffee breaks, bus commutes, and all sorts of downtime can be transformed into study time.
The right study atmosphere is incomplete though without a schedule that includes time set aside for classwork. Whether you prefer a smartphone app or a little spiral planner, organizing your time is one of the biggest single challenges in an academic environment. Set reminders and stick with them!
Make sure your physical space is configured for learning. Comfortable seating and adequate lighting are essentials. A completely new setup might not be practical, but something as simple as a comfortable office chair can do wonders for your stamina and performance. Your back and wrists will thank you later.
In addition, make sure your hardware can handle the rigors of online learning. Run your computer through its paces and make sure it, and your online connection, is capable of streaming content, and have a backup plan should your equipment fail. Where will you work if your ISP conks out during finals week? Identify nearby coffee shops, libraries, and other places with free Wi-Fi so you don’t waste time recovering lost files if disaster strikes.
“Definitely take your laptop/iPad with you when you’re hanging at a friend’s house or unsure of your plans for the day,” said student Gabriella Beck. “The beauty of online classes is having the freedom to live your life, while still being on top of your studies wherever you are. Also, download the app. Stay on top of your grades and see what other students are contributing to class.”
2. Map Out Your Time
With the knowledge that you’ll be able to take your online classroom with you wherever you go, you might find it beneficial to map out a study schedule. Successfully completing your studies requires a significant commitment of your time and effort. Fortunately, online programs provide the flexibility of working around your job and family commitments and completing your coursework on your schedule. Whether you have time available in the mornings, evenings, or on weekends, you can complete your assignments and attend class when it is convenient for you. Think about the quiet moments in your day that could be devoted to coursework.
“Plan your days around your due dates,” advised Regina Nichols. “It’s possible to make time for family and friends while doing online school.”
“Set a schedule and stick to it,” added Hannah Nethken. “It is very easy to make excuses and put off doing the work, however, it is easy for life to get in the way and create unnecessary stress that could have been avoided if you just did what you originally set out to do.”
3. Get the Support You Need
Before you enroll in school, it’s a good idea to talk about your decision with the people closest to you. Let them know your education is important and you’d like their support. They might be able to help free up some of your time by picking up some of your responsibilities. Despite all the planning in the world, sometimes life gets in the way. A family crisis might disrupt studies or a financial emergency or tight deadline might require taking on more hours at work than you’d prefer.
4. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
The University of Arizona Global Campus realizes the sense of isolation that can surround some online students, which is why we take great care to make sure our students feel connected. Our online university community has many of the same student organizations you’ll find at brick and mortar campuses. We make it easy for you to reach out to your peers, even if you’re a continent apart.
“Be fair to yourself!” said Whitney McMillian. “Multitasking may be great in other areas, but make sure homework time is just for homework. You are investing in yourself and your future, so it pays to be a bit selfish with your time now. Have a support system that understands this.”
Pursuing a degree might entail some sacrifices, but those sacrifices are easier to make if you’re able to visualize your end goal. You might want to set aside your lunch hours at work for your school time during the week. Or you could dedicate specific weekend hours for online courses. The luxury of online courses is that you can take them anywhere, at any time. Is the family taking a vacation for spring break? Keep up with your homework at the airport or even on the plane once it’s in the air. Consider how accomplished you will feel when your graduation day arrives.
“Walking across the stage as my family cheered me on was well worth the sleepless nights, long hours of studying, and tons of papers that I had to write," said Lynn Williams, who earned three degrees from Ashford*. "I wouldn’t change a thing and am forever grateful to the Ashford University family!”
We live in a dynamic world, and it is important to see where we invest most of our time and energy. In the book Life Launch – A Passionate Guide to The Rest of Your Life, Hudson, and McLean (2006) point out that most of our time goes into personal couples, family, friends, career, work, and social roles and activities. They tell us that the more we understand which roles are essential (necessary right now), fulfilling (what you prefer right now) and unfulfilling (unrewarding right now) the more we will make better choices and ensure our future success. If you prioritize your education and try some of the tips that have worked for the University of Arizona Global Campus students, you can find the time to go back to school. Realize there are often obstacles to pursuing a degree, but the results can be so rewarding.
* Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus