Balancing student life with being a parent

Top 10 tips from first class mature student Simon Downes

So how can a 42-year-old complete a BSc Computer Networks degree and manage a family?

Let me introduce you to my wife Zoe, who also is studying at UWTSD and currently moving into her final year, and my four children, Ryan, aged 18, Charlie, 14, Thomas, nine, and seven-year-old Bethany.

Like most families we have our issues managing finances and making ends meet, however as both Zoe and I are students it has taken great planning to ensure we can put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. An added complication is that my son Thomas has Autism and ADHD, this puts a strain on our family life.

So, I hear you ask, “Why, and how, can you cope?” Simply put, you plan and organise everything to ensure that the family is not neglected during study periods.

Here are my top 10 tips for creating a balanced student and family life. These might not suit all but they certainly worked for me.

  1. Planning – Utilise your time effectively. Once you know your timetable, adjust your study around it. Treat your study like a 9 to 5 job, timetable your family life and blend it with your study time.
  2. Weekends – You have a family and don’t forget them. Down time at weekends can prove to be a great way to re-focus and reminds you why you’re doing the degree.
  3. Finance – Look at the grants available to assist you. It doesn’t matter if you are a single parent or couple there is finance available to help. Childcare is possibly the biggest help we received as you can get up to 80% back towards costs.
  4. Study – If you have children at school use the time to study and complete assignments as it will not impact on your family time in the evenings. This will link with the proper planning and timetable.
  5. Feedback – Take any information given from lecturers and learn from it to better your performance. If you’re unsure, ask the question: “What could I have done better?”
  6. Study Skills – The university offers support sessions even if you don’t have access to additional support. Find out what you need and where it is offered.
  7. No Excuses – Don’t let yourself get into a pattern of “I couldn’t do it because. . .” Everyone suffers from problems. Approach your lecturer and take advice. A small issue can escalate quickly and making excuses to justify why something hasn’t been completed is a slippery slope to get on to.
  8. Support – Speak to family and friends. Get them to buy into what it is that you’re doing, especially around exam periods. You will be surprised how many people will come to your aid if you need extra study time to prepare for exams or assignments.
  9. Assignment breakdown – Look at what is required within the assignment. Where are the free marks? How can you optimise your skills? Every lecturer breaks down what is required from you, use this along with the marking schemes.
  10. “You can do it” – No one else can complete the degree for you – it is all about you. Believe in yourself and what it is that you are looking to achieve.

Although the points above don’t cover everything, this is what I utilised to achieve my first-class degree. I’m not saying that it is easy and I certainly have not had it all go my way, far from it. I have had challenges along the way – disagreements with lecturers, diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and extreme exam anxiety. However, I have managed to dig deep and work towards my goal which I set back in 2014 to achieve a First in Computer Networks.