On Monday Baroness Bakewell, president of Birkbeck, University of London, pushed the government to take action following a 40% drop in part-time student enrolment since 2010. Studying part-time alongside work can be a fantastic way to fund education and open up opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. However, there are certain constraints to consider before starting a course. Reflecting on two years studying alongside a demanding job, here are my top tips for anyone considering part-time study.
One of the advantages of part-time study is that you can maintain an income while completing a course. It should go without saying that it's important to budget for tuition fees, books and living costs. However, it's also a good idea to think about how much room for manoeuvre your budget will leave you if things were to change. If your course is more demanding than expected, would you be able to get by with fewer hours at work? Would you have enough saved to give up work towards the end of the course to concentrate on final exams or a dissertation?
Studying part-time can mean that your schedule is always a little strained. Planning your time in advance is probably the most important thing you can do to minimise stress for yourself. You will find that it is really difficult to catch up on missed reading or lectures when you also have responsibilities at work. Make sure you factor in the time you need to attend and the time you will need for reading each week, as well as exams and deadlines around which you will need to be studying quite intensively. If you are strict with yourself from the start then you'll still be able to fit in a social life throughout the course.
Starting a course means that you get to meet a whole new group of people and can add an exciting new dimension to your social life. However, taking on study alongside work will also mean there are times when you have to stay in the library while all your friends are out. This will be a lot easier if you're honest with yourself about it in advance. Trying to convince yourself that study won't impact your social life will only lead to disappointment down the line. Also, don't make the mistake of trying to keep up with all the full time students - while they spend the next morning in bed, you'll be at work feeling worse for wear.
Create realistic expectations.
Being a part-time student will mean that there are multiple people demanding your time. Your university/college and your employer will both expect to be your top priority. It's important to be realistic about the responsibility you have to both of them. It can be helpful to set expectations with your employer from early on, especially if you have been with them for a while. Find out exactly how often you will be expected to attend lectures and give your employer a clear idea of when you will be unavailable. Starting a course might mean that you can no longer do overtime or that you can't be very flexible with your hours. It's also useful to know how you can meet your employers' expectations. Maybe they need a certain amount of notice for annual leave or they want to understand how your academic timetable will work. Having a conversation about these things will help to improve your communication throughout the rest of your course.
Suffice to say that holidays might go out the window while you are studying part-time. Annual leave from work can be a really good way to take some of the pressure off around deadlines and exams. If you can, get a list of significant dates and deadlines at the start of your course so that you can plan your leave in advance. If you plan time off carefully then you can make sure that you're still free around birthdays and Bank Holidays.
Consider your interests.
Many of us choose to study part-time to improve our career prospects, change direction or command higher salaries. However, make sure that your course is something that you have a genuine interest in as well. There will be times when you finish a long day at work only to go home and spend another few hours with your head in the books. This is a lot easier if you are reading about a subject that excites you on some level. You won't always rush home after work, eager to get stuck in. However, it will take the sting out of it when you remember that everyone else can just spend their evening on the sofa!
Get ready to be pushy!
Many part-time time students find that they are completing a full-time course over an extended timeframe. Universities and colleges used to dealing with full time students might need reminding that you have other responsibilities alongside your course. You might have to push to get dates and timetables in advance and rearrange tutorials that are allocated automatically. Be ready to contact them so that you have information by the time you need it. If you are clear about this with admin staff then they can often be really helpful and offer you priority when making bookings.
If you have any other ideas to share with prospective part-time students, just leave a comment!