When I applied to do MSc Publishing in June 2016, I had worked in various forms of publishing as a journalist, copywriter and editor, so deciding to study it seemed like the logical next step in my career. However, unlike the average student, I had been out of higher education for seven years and I also had a daughter (the spirited creature here) who had just turned two.
Now that I’m at the end of the second trimester of the course, I have some advice for any parents thinking of making a return to higher education, because I know from when I was researching courses that a lot of the information I read was tailored towards students who didn’t have any dependents.
I was not the first parent to go to university, and I will not be the last. I hope this blog post helps someone thinking of returning to university after a long break, or someone who is thinking of applying for a course for the very first time.
The biggest mistake I made when I started the course was thinking that I was the same as all my peers. The reality was, that at 31, I wasn’t the same person that I was at 23, and I had very, very different priorities to the ones I had before.
I had to manage my time effectively and decide what to prioritise. It was no use comparing myself to anyone, because we are all in this together, and I just had different things to deal with.
I had to sacrifice going to a few parties, and I’ll admit it, I did a few all-nighters before big deadlines. (Don’t do this.) And yet, after submitting my assignment, I still got my daughter to nursery, and got myself to university, which was on the other side of town. All by 9am(ish). (I’m not entirely sure how I managed to do this on more than one occasion.)
Ask for Help
I can’t stress this enough: ask for help, and ask for help EARLY. When I started the course, I mentioned that I had a child, but I didn’t ask for extra help because I didn’t think I needed it.
It turned out that I really did need a bit of support, especially as after having my daughter, my short-term memory was totally unreliable – if you have trouble recalling really vital things, like “What is a paragraph style?” and get the cold sweats every time someone starts a conversation with “You will recall…” then, take my advice, and write EVERYTHING down – and I was very tired a lot of the time.
There is no shame in asking for a little bit more support. Don’t be proud, be selfish! The lecturers and my colleagues were very helpful throughout the course, and other students would often pick me up when I was feeling down with a few much-needed words of encouragement.
Trying to build a routing around a toddler can feel a bit like stapling jelly to the ceiling; it’s messy, it’s endless and throughout, you’ll also be questioning just Why On Earth you’re putting yourself through it.
I had to be strict with myself and ensure I went to bed at a decent hour, and that I got up when my alarm went off around 6am. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t always manage it, but having a good routine throughout the course meant that I could (usually) manage to get to class on time.
I couldn’t have returned to university without the help of my friends and family, who offered to take my daughter at least once a week, and when I had impending deadlines. And I couldn’t have got through the course if my colleagues and lecturers hadn’t been so supportive.
So, yes! It is possible to be a student and a parent. You need to be realistic with your time and priorities, find the strength to ask for help if you need it, create a routine that you can stick to and use the support of anyone and everyone who can give you it.
Returning to high education has not been easy, it’s meant that I’ve had to be very strict with myself and re-learn how I work best. However, I’m at the end of the second trimester, my daughter will be three next month, and I’m really glad that I applied to the course. Remember, if I can do it, then so can you!