The Key to Success for Non-Traditional Students
The good news is that with one main rule you’ll be able to handle the time management aspect of going back to school like a pro. Do it well and the experience of going back for your degree can be much better than the first time around (even without the keg stands).
The Key is Prioritization
I’ve had the privilege of overseeing a couple of online degree programs earlier in my career. It was important to be sure that students were truly prepared to go back to school, so we required every new student to attend and pass a week-long orientation course before they could begin the program.
The first exercise on the first day of orientation was a calendar exercise. We presented the student with a blank weekly calendar and asked them to fill it in with their current daily routine. Working, kids’ activities, meal prep, watching TV, cleaning, commuting, just hanging out, etc. Every hour filled for all 7 days, even sleeping.
During the rest of the week we covered the remaining orientation topics, including how to access classes, syllabi, study tips, faculty intros, career planning etc. During the final exercise we presented the same calendar they filled in on Day 1.
Based on everything they had learned during orientation, we asked each student to edit or remove items from their calendar and replace it with some amount of school work, ideally during each day. The point of the exercise was to understand how hard it is to ADD school work to an already full schedule. It’s crucial to prioritize school work – reading, studying, writing, etc., within the daily routine even if it means avoiding spoilers and watching Game of Thrones later in the week.
It’s a Lot of Little Things
Prioritization sounds easy, but in real life isn’t an exercise. A calendar item to read 30 pages in a textbook means nothing if you have a 6-year-old with a fever, or if your pre-teen needs a last minute ride to their friend’s house, or if your shift at work suddenly changes. But prioritization doesn’t just mean the big things, it means giving yourself the ability to be flexible, let school blend into your schedule and have it jump in front of other things when possible.
It could mean reading a few textbook pages instead of the newpaper with your morning coffee. It could mean listening to a recorded lecture instead of NPR or the “Bubba in the Morning” show on the way to work. It could mean writing a few paragraphs at lunch or in the stands at the kid’s basketball game (at halftime of course).
Plug those things into your daily routine as part of your prioritization plan and you’re more likely to get it done. Do it a few times and it becomes a habit. Find success with a habit and it becomes an advantage. Pile up the advantages and before you know it you’ll have a degree.
Making sure that our clients are truly prepared to go back to school is a big part of Step 1 of our process. See how this and the other steps can make going back to school a better experience with higher ROI.