Student Learning Commons: Navigating university as a mature student

If you are a mature student beginning or returning to university, several strategies can help you manage your time and contribute to good grades.  You may not have cracked open an academic textbook or taken notes for several years. Your essay-writing skills may be buried in your brain somewhere. Memorizing facts for examinations may be challenging. As well, you are probably balancing your family life, a full or part-time job, and all the other responsibilities mature adults manage.  Although you know it will be worth it in the long run, going to university puts short-term strain on your brain, your time, your finances, and your workload. 

What to do? Read on.

Ease into university slowly

Sometimes people are overly ambitious in what they take on. They think they can still work full time and take three or four courses, for example, which is too much. Then they beat themselves up about not managing time properly when in fact they are managing time as well as can be expected.  If possible, during the first semester take one course. Get to know the campus, university policies, and reorganize your life. See the university glossary to learn the language of academic life.

Assess your learning needs and course requirements

Take advantage of the learning and writing resources, workshops, and consultations offered by the Student Learning Commons. Know your learning style and how you operate best.  Are you visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or do you learn best by reading? Are you right or left brained? Will to-do lists work, or do you need visual cues such as post-it notes?

Get to know other students in your courses

Build a network so you can form study groups and exchange study techniques. Becoming actively involved in university will enrich your life and make your adjustment to university easier.

Learn about university resources

Support services at SFU include Academic Advising, the gym, Financial Services, Health and Counseling Services, computer labs, clubs and student unions, transportation options, and more.  Exercise and access other services on campus to save time.

Make good use of the library and computer labs

Working in the library allows a clear separation of home and university; many students do all their homework there before they go home. Distractions are minimized and the work is done within a time frame. Friendly librarians and staff are available to help you.

Make a plan

After you have decided your course of study, determine which course(s) you will take each semester and fit your university education into your life. Purchase a wall calendar and/or  day-timer, or use your cell phone to get organized.  Post your
mid-terms, assignment due dates, and other scheduled activities on a monthly basis. See the ebb and flow of your month and spread out the work; make contingency plans. Include your family and work activities. Break assignments into tasks and schedule weekly work.

Consider taking on-line or self-directed courses

Online and self-directed courses allow you to work them around your other commitments. However, be aware that you should plan to spend at least three hours per credit per week on your course.

Enlist support from everyone

First, your family needs to know of your additional commitments and your home responsibilities may need to be reworked.  You may need to arrange childcare. Other family members, even small children, need to see some benefit from having less time with you.  Plan special events or rewards to help them feel part of your new journey. You may spend more money on prepared meals and your home may not be as neat. Your family, friends, and employer should know your schedule – putting it on display will help others respect your time and deadlines.

Keep the lines of communication open with your employer

Your employer may help by arranging time off during exams or other busy times at school.  If your degree is relevant to your employer’s goals, your employer may even offer educational support by paying for your tuition.

Keep up with your reading

Learn reading techniques and squeeze bits of time from your day. Break down your learning and memorizing into small bites. Carving out adequate study time is important and this can be done early in the morning or in the evenings when things are generally quieter, or during your lunch break at work.

Get help early

Talk to your professor or Teaching Assistant.  Attend all the tutorials or hire a tutor if necessary.  Make use of technology to help your learning.  Listen to lectures on the topic while commuting, buy a laptop if necessary, use podcasts, DVD’s or WebCT.

Reward yourself

Reward yourself on a regular basis and take time out daily for some peaceful reflection.

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