8 tips for busy parents studying at university

Making the decision to begin your study journey or return to study can be a tricky one, especially for parents.

While studying on top of being a parent can be demanding, the long-term payoff is definitely worth it. From better employment opportunities, to higher-paying roles and advanced professional skills, the endgame outweighs the short-term struggle.

To help you get through your course, we’ve put together some study hacks to help parents studying ace academic life with Charles Sturt University.

1.    Create a weekly study schedule

Parents are already proficient in scheduling and multitasking. Dropping off, picking up, taking kids to the doctor – it’s all in a day’s work, right? Now it’s time to apply those organisational skills to your study. Keep it all together in the one diary (paper or online – whatever works for you) so you can work your study around family commitments.

Make sure you put all your key deadlines in the diary at the start of each subject so they don’t creep up and get crowded out by other appointments.

Each week, look at your workload and put together a calendar schedule. Creating a weekly plan can make study part of your routine. Not only will it help you keep on track with your study, it can also help your family to understand your busy times. Print out your schedule and display it in a common area in your home.

2.    Support = success

Get acquainted with our personalised support services and make the most of them. Student Central (the centralised support service) can connect you with free help, facilities and advice in the following areas:

On top of that, you can reach out at any time if there’s anything you need assistance with. We’re always here to help parents studying.

3.    Time management is key

When it comes to parents studying, organisation is everything. There’s only 24 hours in a day and every minute is valuable. If possible, try outsourcing household tasks where you can. Things like ordering groceries online and having them delivered to your home, or connecting with another school parent and sharing carpool responsibilities are great examples of how you can maximise your time.

“When I began studying, my husband and I divided the household chores so that I had more time to focus on my studies. This meant that he took care of things like the weekly grocery shopping. I ended up gaining a few extra hours each week and it made a real difference to my study success,” said leadership and management graduate Amy Felke.

Another idea is to create small, bite-size milestones to tackle with self-imposed deadlines. Here’s an example of how this might work in relation to your course.

  • Finish readings by the end of week 1
  • Draft essay by the end of week 2
  • Collate group notes by the end of week 3
  • Submit essay by the end of week 4

Breaking your tasks down into achievable goals will help you complete the task at hand without getting overwhelmed at the big picture.

4.    Go to your happy place

If you’re studying at home, create your own special space dedicated to your studies. There are lots of simple tricks to experiment with that can boost your productivity. Try:

  • positioning your desk to face a window
  • setting up your space so you get maximum natural light
  • popping a plant on your desk to increase creativity
  • surrounding yourself with objects that inspire you
  • removing distractions from the vicinity so you can remain focused.

If studying at home isn’t an option, consider other places such as the local library (can be a great spot for you and the kids) or a quiet café.

5.    Productivity versus procrastination

Think about when you’re most effective. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you work best in short, sharp bursts, or do you prefer a slower pace? Make the most of the time when your brain is really firing.

When you start to lose focus, take a break. Don’t push yourself to continue studying if you’re losing focus. Studying intensively for 20 minutes is way better than three hours of feeling restless and fuzzy.

Amy Felke knows her peak time is when the kids are in bed.

“I take complete advantage of when the kids are in bed – it’s the best time for me. The house is finally silent, the day’s jobs have been taken care of and I can finally devote my mind to putting in some quality study time,” she said.

6.    Factor in family time

It’s normal for parents studying to feel a twang of guilt when study takes up time that was ordinarily devoted to the kids. It’s a juggling act, but it’s important to spend quality time together. Get out of the house and spend an afternoon playing in the park or at the beach. You’ll get a well-deserved study break and it will also (hopefully) tire the kids out, so you can get back into study mode when they crash.

Communication student Margot Schoonmaker schedules weekly hang-out sessions with her kids while studying.

“When you’re trying to balance study, work and family, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the little things and forget the big picture. It was important for me to show my kids that, even though my spare time can be limited, spending quality time together is essential.”

7.    Apply for scholarships

Each year, we award over $3 million in scholarships and grants to our students. Scholarships give financial stability, which means you may no longer need to work as many hours to support you and your family – and you can focus more energy on your studies.

Think of it this way – a few hours spent on a scholarship application could be worth thousands of dollars down the line. So don’t rule yourself out.

8.    Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Balancing work and life can be a tough gig for parents studying. One of the most important resources that you can tap into is your support system. Make sure that your employer, spouse/partner, friends and extended family are backing you 100 per cent. Don’t be scared to reach out and ask for help. Chances are, your support people are incredibly proud of you already and will jump at the chance to help you reach your goals.

If you’d like to discuss more ways to balance life and study, contact Student Central to be connected with our range of study resources and support services.