Ask LH: How Can I Go Back To Studying?

Ask LH: How Can I Go Back To Studying?

Dear Lifehacker, I have recently decided to go back to school. I have a full time job and I have not studied for almost 10 years and even then I was not the best at it. What is the best way to approach this? Thanks for any advice, Daunted

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Dear Daunted,

Studying and learning is an excellent task to put yourself to, but it’s important to work out why you actually want to return to it, so that your expectations are both realistic and pleasing to you. Do you want to gain a particular qualification, or are you simply interested in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge? Are you yearning for younger years and the ability to lie around all day in a drunken state trying to avoid writing essays? The latter isn’t all that commendable, but knowing what it is that you want to do and why should help you set realistic goals.

As a personal example, five years ago my wife decided she wanted a career change, from database developer to early childhood educator, so she had a goal in mind: get the necessary study-based qualifications to meet that career goal. She quit working to pursue that goal, because it made the most sense to take that challenge on full-time.

If you’re working full-time, are you able to stop working (or go part-time) in order to more fully put yourself into study? If, as your query suggests this an endeavour that you’d be looking at doing externally in your spare time, it’s worth bearing in mind that this can be a tiring prospect, albeit not an impossible one.

A decade is a long time in anyone’s life; you don’t say if you last studied at a school or university level a decade ago, but ten year’s worth of full-time work should have given you some reasonably solid work habits; if you bring those to your new study you’re more likely to do better, no matter what kind of student you were in the past. Depending on the relationship between your work and chosen study path, it may also be wise to check if you can get any kind of recognition of work already performed in your field, if that’s appropriate.

I’m a firm believer that none of us ever stop education, even if it’s not via formal processes, but often having a structure can aid you to keep going where idle study may falter. As such, don’t obsess over the student that you were. Concentrate on the student you want to be, and set aside solid uninterruptible blocks of time to your studies to ensure the best possible results.

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  • If you’re studying because the job you want requires the degree, then good luck.

    If you’re studying because you think the knowledge will come in handy… it won’t. Uni teaches you time management, working to deadlines, commitment, working in groups, and how to put up with incompetence.

    If you’ve been working full time for 10 years, you would have already learned the useful things Uni teaches you. From someone studying a Commerce degree, 95% of the academic information taught is boring and worthless.

    • @Reign….agree and disagree.

      When I went for my Bachelors degree I was after a piece of paper and, besides the piece of paper, got nothing out of it. It was all about “time management, working to deadlines, commitment, working in groups” as you say.

      When I went for my Masters degree I was after the knowledge and actually applied myself, and actively *sought and applied* the information/learnings.

      It’s all about the student’s perspective.

      • This! So much of uni is how you seek out the knowledge and apply it; your experience is determined largely by what you do with the opportunity. As a mature age student myself I often see kids who are just “doing uni” and pass up countless opportunities to network, extend their knowledge base, seek out new concepts etc.

  • Sorry Reign, but I totally don’t agree. First time around, I wasn’t the greatest student and I probably would have been more sympathetic to your take if I had left my Uni experience at that… But I went back.

    Ostensibly, I went back to study in order to gain relevant skills and experiences that I’d be able to apply in my job (and to obtaining promotion).

    From that point of view, it was worth it. It did help me grow in my job and I did score a promotion or two. As Reign suggests, you do learn time management, working to deadlines etc. (all valuable) – and as an older (and perhaps part-time) student I suspect that you’ll do this better than most others fresh out of school.

    But the REAL value that I got out of it was an approach to solving problems more objectively – being able to stand ‘outside’ of an issue and attempting to see the ‘wood for the trees’. I also got a far greater appreciation of the importance of ‘evidence’ and statistical reasoning.

    I agree with Alex that we never really finish our education and I’d suggest that some of the tools that we pick up along the way – particularly if you’re going to attempt something a little testing – are important not just to apply to formal learning, but to many of the challenges that life throws up.

    My advice? Go for it (and not just for the piece of paper.

    [Oh dear! That all sounds a bit philosophical. I think that I’m going to be sick 🙁 ]

  • When I went back I knew there would be lots of reading, so I did a speed reading course (tripled my speed in 2 weeks), I did a note taking course, and I did a Memorisation course. Wish I had learnt to type as well. I highly recommend learning to read efficiently and learning to type. With 1 hour a day for 2 weeks you will be able to type at the speed of a two finger typist with less errors. Do some research on note taking and find one that will suit your study and yourself. Last bit of advice, treat it like a job – put in the work. put in the hours and you will get the grades.

  • Some very practical advice from one who completed a degree and a postgrad diploma full-time and then went back to complete a second postgrad qualification while working full-time:

    Unless there is only one option in your subject area, consider choosing a university or college that is close or very, very convenient to your place of employment. During my second postgrad diploma there were definitely evenings when I felt tired, or not terribly motivated to go to class for one reason or another. But the fact that I could walk from my work desk to class in 10 minutes meant that I never missed a class for those reasons. Provided I could leave my desk and take that walk, I knew my motivation would pick up the minute I got into the classroom. But I know for sure that if I’d had to make a long or inconvenient commute to the university I would have missed quite a few classes over the two years. And if I were to undertake any part-time study now, location would be a definite factor – among many others! – in my planning.

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