Cliché dictates that we learn something new every day, but once out of formal education, the patterns and habits of structured learning are quickly eroded. There’s a capacity and energy for absorbing new facts that goes unexercised when we step away from education – regardless of whether we’re drawn away by family, travel or employment. Whether pursing a raise or retraining and forging a new path, many are eventually drawn back to education. However, this doesn’t change the prospect of going back to university is often a daunting one. We have therefore collected some common strategies and considerations essential for a successful return to study.
Involve the right people in your decisions
School-age students are given plenty of assistance with their decision to continue to higher education. Teachers assist with the application process, there will be regular presentations, meetings with career advisors and probably a college-wide trip to a careers fair at least once.
If you’re out of the system, these layers of support have evaporated, but you’re by no means alone. Discussions with friends, family, current employers and prospective universities can help steer you towards the right decision, while simultaneously ensuring that they’re fully on-board with your choice. Topics you may want to consider discussing include:
- How will returning to education affect family life?
- Does your selected course suit your job role and your current organisation?
- How will education enhance your career prospects?
By involving family and employers, you may be creating much-needed stakeholders in your future success, rather than potential points of friction.
Recommended read: What attributes are most valued by employers?
Have a schedule and share it with those close to you
For the returning student going back to university, a schedule is almost certainly essential: work, family, friends and rest will all need to be fairly accounted for alongside study. Begin by populating your schedule with your current activities, including meals and sleep times, as well as mundane activities. Pare back this initial schedule when adding in lesson times and study periods. Once finished, consider sharing your schedule with those close to you. This will ensure they know when you’re available, plus they’ll be able to motivate you to stick to the agreed schedule.
Understanding the support services available to you
Students who have spent several years out of education and students with other commitments are not rare on campus or in online study groups, and your institution will have services available to assist with issues unique to your position. Read up on the assistance they offer and introduce yourself if you think they can offer you relevant help (University of Birmingham postgraduate students can find information here).
Start studying before you start term
Every student should attempt to make progress on their reading list before their first term starts if they want to ensure things go smoothly (and create a good first impression), and an early start is especially important for students going back to university. A pre-term start can be treated as an effective test run. It allows you to see how your schedule works in practice, as well as enabling you to identify ineffective study patterns before the crunch hits and it becomes more difficult to make changes. Particularly, look for times in the day when you are simply too tired to study because of other commitments and adapt your schedule accordingly.
Connect with your tutors online
Undergraduates fresh out of school or college tend to continue the student/pupil relationship dynamics they’ve grown comfortable with, even though university study is naturally more collaborative. If you’re a returning student, especially one who has spent several years in employment, you have a natural advantage and competency with active participation that your tutor will appreciate and your experiences in the working world will be valuable to discussions throughout your course.
At postgraduate level, take time to contact your tutor ahead of starting. They will have dedicated hours for contact (regardless of whether you’re on campus or online). This will allow you to make obvious any special requirements in your study schedule and to ask for guidance ahead of starting work.
Connect with a broad range of students
It is important not to rely on tutors for all academic contact. Seek out students with a range of experiences. Your perspective will be invaluable for this group, and they may have knowledge that differs from the curriculum you studied when originally in education. If you’re starting a new course, don’t be afraid if you’re the only one asking questions in seminars or online sessions in your first term. Create the discussion, and everyone will join sooner or later.
Whilst you will want to maintain your existing social life in your spare time, university is often invaluable for the connections you make. Your classmates could be future employees, employers, partners or service providers, and so spend the time getting to know them and it may pay off in the longer term.
Are you returning to study after time out of education? Have you returned after a break in the past? Tell us below how you approached your return, or alternatively fill out our request for information form or contact our Admissions Team for more information.