Creating Balance: Tips for the Non-Traditional Student

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Original Post by Carla Stewart, Academic and Career Advisor

Returning to school and dedicating oneself to obtaining a degree can be an exciting time – but managing such a large shift in priorities can be daunting. The following strategies are intended to help in balancing work, family, rest – life in general – with school obligations; allowing you to emerge, degree in hand and emotional wellness in-check.

Family Support

Hold a family meeting to explain your academic goals and plans. Discuss the implications your decision to return to school will have on family life. Topics might include financial considerations, household duties, and time management. Family support is an invaluable resource: make sure that your family members are aware of the role they play in your success.

Employer Support

Inform your supervisor or manager of your academic plans, assuring him or her that your school work will not affect your occupational performance. If you plan to study during work hours, ensure that you do so only on appointed breaks, and away from your work space. A supportive employer can help to alleviate stress.

Peer Support

Introduce yourself to fellow non-traditional students, and offer to form a study group or meet for coffee. Eliminating feelings of isolation can be helpful in reducing stress, and you may make some new friends as a result.


Organization is key to a successful academic experience. Using a planner, date book or calendar app, plan time wisely, including blocks for studying, assignments, work commitments and family obligations. Strive to complete school tasks as far in advance as possible: life can be full of unexpected interruptions.

Health and Stress Management

Take care of yourself: focus on positive eating and sleeping habits, and make healthy choices. Do not allow yourself to get so mired in your commitments that you can no longer enjoy life. Treat yourself to small “rewards,” such as leisurely walks, fun outings, or time spent with friends.

Pace Yourself

The desire to complete your degree is understandable, but expecting to do so in one term is unreasonable. If you are working more than 20 hours per week, it is recommended that you limit your academic schedule to 12 credit hours (or fewer) per semester: added pressure and time limitations will compromise your coursework.

Set Realistic Goals

Prioritize your tasks and set reachable targets, taking your skill level and schedule into consideration. While you should always put forth your best effort, do not strive for perfection.

Eyes on the Prize

Whether you returned to school to pursue career advancement, intellectual growth, or to complete a degree started years ago, keep your end goal in mind. Believe in yourself! You can do it! In the end, the sacrifices will be worth the sense of satisfaction.