Being a working student is hard. On top of your working week you have to make time to sit at your desk and study, even when you want to relax or spend time with friends and family. In this blog post I’m going to share with you seven lessons I’ve learned as a working student, and tips for how you can embody these lessons and make your life A LOT easier.
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1. You have more time than you think. This IS possible
Before I started studying, when my life consisted of working full time and seeing friends and family, I thought I was busy. It wasn’t until I hit that enrol button and took a giant leap into working student life that I realised how much time spare time I DID have. Now I’m not advocating for anyone to work and study every waking hour. But I was surprised to learn that by tweaking my schedule and setting studying as a priority, I COULD fit university into my life.
I used to spend a lot more time watching TV. I would go to the cinema twice a week, go out with friends and family multiple times, and spend a lot of time faffing about at home rather than cook/clean/do laundry…etc.
Now I’ve pulled back on that stuff. I still see friends and family, but I don’t socialise every day. I still watch TV, but normally it’s one episode of a Netflix show I’m currently into. (And I have a lovely, untidy house and a dwindling knicker supply most weeks!)
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re about to become a working student, or maybe you haven’t made that leap yet.
Yes, being a working student is difficult. But it IS possible.
Every week I have moments where I feel overwhelmed. But every week (mostly) I still get my work done, and I still have a life.
2. Lean on your support network
As a working student, life can get pretty crazy. Especially around due dates and even more so when this coincides with a busy work and personal schedule. I spent a lot of time at the beginning of my degree feeling like I had to be Wonder Woman. That because I had chosen to do this I had to do it all by myself and not moan at all.
Well I’m glad I’ve learned this is a load of codswallop. Now I lean on everyone, I’m barely ever completely vertical anymore *laughs at own joke*.
How can you lean on your support network as a working student?
- Share your wins with them
- Tell them your goals for the day/week and ask them to check up on you *hello accountability*
- Ask if you can rant to them about your crazy schedule, difficult essay question…etc. It really helps to get it all out
- See if anyone you live with can pick up the slack and help you with cooking, cleaning, childcare…etc. when things get busy.
Remember, it's not a bad thing to ask for help. It's a sign of courage and healthy, strong relationships when we support each other.
3. There will be people who don’t get it
There will be people in your social circle who are proud of you and think you are incredible for being a working student, even if they’re not sure they could do it. These are great people.
But you may also come across those who don’t agree with what you’re doing, who think you’re mad to study while working. I’ve had a work colleague tell me that I should just learn to be content with where I am in life, like ambition is a dirty word. I have also experienced people dismissing studying while working by saying ‘Oh, I wish I had the money/time/luxury to do what you’re doing but I am too busy/have a family…etc.’ I’ve even had a family friend ask me how my boyfriend feels about being abandoned while I study!
Most working students I know have come across these types of people and comments. If you have or do, ignore them.
Working while studying is hard at times, and it is a massive investment in time, energy and money. But we’re doing it for a reason. To better ourselves. To educate ourselves at the same time as working so we can earn and learn simultaneously. Comments like this used to rattle me, but now I’ve learned to ignore them and stay in my own lane. I now understand that I’m happy with my decision and I'm in no need of external validation…and that’s enough for me.
4. You can everything you want in life, but just not all at once
I am a firm believer that we can all have everything we want in life, if we choose it and work for it. But it took me years of being a working student to realise that I couldn’t have it all at once. I beat myself up over and over that I couldn’t excel in my work and studies, get ripped in the gym, cook delicious meals every night, see my friends and family a lot, spend quality time with my boyfriend, have a beautiful home, cultivate a vegetable garden and learn how to embroider…ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
I wish someone had told me this before I started studying so I could stop the voice in my head telling me that I’m not enough. It’s hard to feel like you’re failing in any area of your life, but being a working student is tough, and it takes up a lot of your time and brain space.
I think our priorities cycle. So some months our studying is a little easier and we can make more time for other things. But when studying ramps up again it’s OK to pull time and energy from these areas.
I still have times where I feel crappy that I can’t achieve everything right now, but then I remember that life isn’t a race. I will get to things when I get to them. And I’m OK with that.
5. Appreciate how far you’ve come
As a working student, time often feels like it’s slipping away, like you’re chasing after deadlines like a boulder down a hill. This pace means you often hit submit on an essay and then jump straight into the reading for the next one. Often, this IS necessary. But I’ve learned that it is so important to take a minute and reflect on your progress and achievements.
At the end of a study session high-five yourself for what you got done. At the end of each week clap yourself on the back for everything you’ve ticked off. At the end of each module or year look back and congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come – how much you’ve learned, the skills you’ve developed, where your grades have increased.
Regularly looking back will help you move forward with more confidence and motivation.
6. You can’t bury your head in the sand
As a working student, life is busy, and there’s a lot less slack in your schedule. I’ve experienced the pain of burying my head in the sand and not studying for a week, only to then be faced with having to find a spare 15 hours the next week, on top of my normal studying, so I could catch up. You need to be clear what’s coming up so you can prepare for it and make sure you don’t fall behind.
At the beginning of each module I print out the syllabus. The Open University gives you a week-by-week view of everything you need to complete. If your university doesn’t do this then spend some time creating this list yourself, using your tutorial and assessment dates to guide you. This way you can very quickly see whether you’re on track and take action to remedy it if you’re not.
7. Sometimes you’ve gotta rain check the fun
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a working student is that you have to change your perspective on fun and instant gratification. Before studying, as long as I had the money, I could agree to any invitation for dinner, drinks, or a trip away. If I wanted to come home from work and go straight to bed OR binge-watch Friends I could with little negative effect for ‘future Chloe’. But once I became a working student, ‘future Chloe’ got pretty peeved when I sacked off studying for fun instead. Because that meant ‘future Chloe’ had to pull late nights to catch up.
*Ok I’ll stop referring to myself in the third person now*
About a year into my degree I came across the idea that ‘present frustration is worth it for future attainment’. This means that making myself study in the present, even if I would rather go to a BBQ, is worth it now for the degree and opportunities I’ll gain in the future.
I think every working student needs to understand and embody this concept if they want to succeed with the least pain possible. Once I accepted that I couldn’t have fun ALL the time it became easier to make studying a priority. I still make time for fun, yes. But I also respect the decision I made to study which means sometimes studying often has to come first. This idea changed everything for my studying and is the key reason behind my achievements.
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