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Going back to college? 6 stress-saving tips for fitting study in around the rest of your life

Current and former postgrad students share their advice on balancing study, work and… everything else.

FOR ANYONE LOOKING to take the next step in their career, returning to college for further study can be an appealing option. 

But many people considering a postgraduate degree start out with one big question: How do I fit it all in? Managing study alongside work and other commitments can seem a challenge.

So what’s the best way to combine gaining a new qualification with… well, the rest of your life? And how do you find the right balance between study, work and everything else? We spoke to a group of current and former students from National College of Ireland to find out what they’ve learned from their experiences. 

Read on for some of their best tips. And if you’re looking for more first-hand advice and experiences, NCI’s next Online Open Evening takes place on Wednesday August 12 (you can register right here).

Create a dedicated space that is only for work or study

At work, my team is split around the world in different time zones, so I already had my own designated workspace at home with a proper office set up. I used that for study too. For anyone doing the same, try to create a space that is dedicated to studying with no distractions – no TV, no other people. If you’ll be working and studying in the same space like me, take a proper break between work and studying so you can reset your mind and get into the study mode when you need to.

Djimillah Djemai, current MBA student

Stick to your schedule – even when temptation strikes

I was apprehensive initially about the workload, my course was two evenings a week and some Saturdays. But once you get into the flow of things, it was actually very manageable.

The biggest challenge for me was setting a schedule and sticking to it. I knew that I had to keep a schedule to get everything done. There can be days when you think ‘I will miss this class and catch up later’, but it’s so important to attend.

Darren O’Neill, MSc in Cloud Computing graduate

Shutterstock / DiMedia Shutterstock / DiMedia / DiMedia

Break your targets into bite-size chunks

I would advise any new students to set a reading schedule with achievable targets. Often once you actually start a task it’s easier to keep going, but on those days when you’re tired or stressed and just aren’t feeling it, you will have at least done something. Focusing on reading one chapter is a lot less overwhelming than thinking about an entire reading list to get through.

Emma Leonard, current MSc in Management student 

Warn other people that you’re entering study or lecture mode

I am lucky to have a home office space and a very understanding family. Whatever your setup is, plan your college schedule and let everyone know. This should avoid gate crashers in the middle of a class or study session. If you’ll be doing virtual classes, get a good set of noise cancelling headphones, use a large screen and get involved in the class with no distractions. It is too easy to sit back and just listen – or worse, half-listen while browsing online.

Tom Kerrigan, current MBA student

Dodge deadline clashes by getting ahead

Assignment deadlines were tough to manage at times when I was busy at work. Some deadlines clashed, but assignments can be submitted via the College Moodle site at anytime before the due date.

What I found great was I could take down and amend uploaded assignments before the due date. So to avoid pressure, I would send off assignments early to let myself focus on work, then if I had time before the due date or wanted to add something I could take it down and update it.

Samantha Toner, MSc in International Business graduate

Find your own way – and remember that it’s fine to let life happen!

I’m normally an organised ‘list’ person, when it came to the tasks I had to complete by my next class, but even I ended up throwing that out the window sometimes. Life happens! Everyone learns in their own way, and at their own speed. Don’t feel like you need to keep up with everyone else, just find a process that works for you.

Fitting in your family, your study, and your assignments can be tricky but you need to remember your classmates are all in the same boat as yourself. My class decided to create a WhatsApp group and if we had any questions we could talk through them together, it meant you never felt like you were alone. 

Christina Mycroft, MA in HRM graduate

Thinking of returning to study? National College of Ireland’s next Online Open Evening takes place on Wednesday August 12, and you can register on their website. With an expert faculty, small class sizes and a vast range of postgrad courses, NCI is the perfect place to continue your journey to success.

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