Tips for studying while raising a family

Being keen to start earning after college, I opted to directly in to employment rather than university. The decision was helped by a good job offer, which was the sort of opportunity I would have hoped to gain with a university degree – an IT generalist position with the Derby Telegraph. It was a good career choice but my ambitions for further study remained so after a putting it aside in my twenties, I enrolled on the Computer Science pathway of The Open University’s BSc Computing & IT degree.

When I started studying, I never dreamt it would see me through three house moves, having two children and getting married. Studying at the same time as being a full-time employed father and husband was (and continues to be) hard. Distance learning both helps and adds to this challenge. The ability to study any time any where is one of the most helpful things but the study schedule and assignment deadlines remain.

There have been moments of anxiety along the way, and times I’ve sat gazing at a textbook too tired to absorb any information and thinking how silly I was to be attempting to do this. Sleepless nights with young sons and busy days juggling a full time demanding job with bedtime routines adds to the fun! Returning to late-night study sessions after this is a challenge, but these have been the harder moments and are survivable, they have taught me better ways of planning and new study techniques. The course is really enjoyable and interesting and has some pressures alleviated by working in an industry closely aligned to the subject. Working towards a qualification is doable, enjoyable (most of the time!) and very rewarding!

Here are my tips on juggling studying with a full-time career whilst raising a family…

Include your significant other. Taking on a degree won’t always feel like a part-time and will be equally challenging for your significant other. Late nights, early mornings and time out of weekends (or whatever combination works for you) will be challenging. For me, this has meant missing time with my family on Sunday and sacrificing waking up together in the week as I wake up early to study. Communication here is key – and it is important to have the support of your significant other when making study plans.

Plan your studies. Look at the course schedule, add assignment and exam dates to your calendar, and make sure you set aside ample time to prepare for each milestone. [Important] Read the module guides as they include a plethora of useful information – including what is required to get the best marks! This helped me to plan where to spend the most time studying and writing assignments.

Take thorough notes. The stop/start nature of studying whilst raising a family makes it much harder for me to absorb the content. So, I find, taking thorough notes vastly helped me refresh and pick up where I left off. You will find it particularly helpful, and speedier, when it comes to exams and end-of-module assignments – the early modules will seem like a very long time ago!

Find the study time that works best for you. I’m a morning person so getting up before 5am to get a couple of hours of study before the kids wake up works best for me. There are always those times when an assignment is taking longer than anticipated, or you’ve fallen behind due to sickness or other issues and you must suck-it-up and work any spare hour to get things completed but these times. These occurrences should be kept to a minimum to reduce stress and gain the best from your studies and, for that, I recommend finding the time that works best for you. The Open University’s Brainwave application can help you here, it builds a profile of your performance across the day through five quick and fun games.

Study (and take notes!) on the go. While I’m home based, I often find myself out and about travelling for work and pleasure. All those times sat in an airport lounge, on a train or the back seat of a cab should be put to good use. The Open University offer most of their materials in one electronic format or another (namely PDF) so can be downloaded to your smartphone, tablet or e-reader. Don’t forget your favorite note taking applications (mine is OneNote) or notepad and pen so you don’t miss out on vital notes.

Connect with others. The Open University have student groups associated with each module and I highly recommend using them fully. This not only makes studying for that module much easier through shared understanding and support, but it is a great opportunity to expand your professional network. Personally, I have been lucky enough to benefit from having mostly local study groups and classes which has allowed me to meet up classmates outside of the schedules study classes. Fellow students on more dispersed modules have told me of Facebook groups and Google hangouts in addition to The Open University’s comprehensive forum and Adobe Classroom facilities.

Take a break. The Open University, and many other distant learning providers, pride themselves on being flexible. I can tell you from personal experience that is definitely the case. I’m currently half way through my degree and I’ve taken other shorter courses with the OU – first starting in 2013. I’m currently taking a year off to enjoy the birth of our second child and will resume studies in the autumn. Breaks can also mean needing more time within a module – an assignment extension for instance – and the key here is to remain in contact with your tutor and student support team. The important thing to note here is that end of module assignments and exam dates are generally fixed.

I chose to study with The Open University and have found it to be a great studying experience backed by knowledgeable tutors and flexible delivery to suit my changing requirements; it is hard work and a decision that should be taken carefully, but if you want to progress or change careers, it enables those who are unable to commit to full or part-time brick university the opportunity to study flexibly.

Thank you for reading. I hope these tips help, and please feel free to reach out to me directly or add any of your own tips and experiences in the comments below.

Luke