Go Higher: How to juggle family life and a degree

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The Independent Online
"The key to coping is to make sure you've thought it all through and done your homework," advises mother-of-four Irene de la Mer, 45, who obtained a History of Art degree at the University of Brighton in 1993.

"Bringing up a family at the same time as doing a full-time course can be nightmare if you are not disciplined. My children were aged between four and 20 when I was at university.

"I found I was on the go all the time, and I had to be very careful about distractions from the children. It usually meant putting them to bed early, or letting them play at their friends' houses while I studied."

"Doing some research before you start your course will save you a lot of worry later on," advises June Thomas, 32, a third year English student at the University of Leeds.

"If you have a family, financial limitations, or any commitments outside your course, it is important to consider the demands of your course.

"Arts and humanities degrees require less "contact" time at lectures or tutorials than science courses, so are more flexible for fitting into family life."

Irene said as far as working is concerned, she found trying a number of home- based jobs was the answer.

During her time at Brighton, she worked as a cleaner for friends and for companies, did knitting for a Brighton-based company and filled envelopes for a local art historian.

She also suggested that if you have a hectic family life, taking a part- time course might be the answer as it gives you more time to juggle your responsibilities.

And it is worth going to an institution which is near your home as it will cut down on the amount of time you spend traveling from one place to the next.

"Most women now have children and hold down jobs, so they are used to having to juggle their lives between the two," June says. "Going to university is no different.

"It may even be easier as the courses are far more flexible and you can afford to miss the odd lecture to pick up the children so long as you read up about it later.

"Even so, if you have young children, be prepared to spend a lot of time dashing back and forth between nurseries and lectures, and forking out for childminders - they are usually essential particularly during exam time."

"A lot of woman become racked with guilt while studying as they feel they are neglecting their families for their own selfish gain", says Irene.

"It is difficult, but don't let it put you off. If your family is going to be happy, it is very important that you are happy, and if you really want to study for a degree I think it is important that you do.

"If you tell your children what you are doing and why and involve them with what you are learning, they will be happy to be flexible.

It may mean scrimping on the housekeeping, forgetting holidays, or fewer trips to the hairdresser, but it is worth it."

"A lot of mature students find university a great upheaval," says Jenny Watts, 55, a Fine Art graduate from the St Alban's College of Art and Design.

"As you progress through your degree, you learn so many new things and meet so many different people, it can completely change your outlook on life and you find your aims change while you are there.