You don't say what MA you want to take, or why, but I'm wondering if you absolutely need to do it now? After all, if you are longing for the pleasure of plunging back into a learning environment, it would seem to make sense to wait until your children are old enough for you to feel comfortable about leaving them in the evening, and for them, in turn, not to resent a mother who's so busy working and studying that she doesn't have any time for them. You could end up with the worst of all worlds – tied in to a programme of classroom-based study, without the time to be able to relax and enjoy it as much as you would like.
If, on the other hand, you badly need to get on with an MA now, maybe to enhance your job prospects, then distance learning would be the better option. It would be flexible enough to fit around your family life, and with the extensive online resources now available, you would almost certainly feel well taught and supported. You might even find it surprisingly congenial, as many distance-learning courses now build in regular opportunities for students to get together.
Either way, you will need to be highly focused and very well organised to take on the considerable amount of work involved in an MA on top of your other commitments. Check out the recently published Managing Part-time Study: a guide for undergraduates and postgraduates by Caroline Gatrell (Open University Press, £16.99) to see how to do this.
This was my own dilemma a few years ago, although I am sure that other people will also write to say that you sound like the "typical" Open University Masters degree student, if such a diverse group can have a type. I started my OU Masters degree when my children were five and seven, and I work, and it was 20 years since my first degree. I found many of my fellow students were in a similar position. There are some "classes" but a lot of student support and contact takes place over the course message-boards and through telephone conferencing. The quality of courses is excellent.
What do your family think? It is important to have support at home, too. I could go on, but check it out. Don't leave it. Life is too short. Good luck!
Christine Haswell, Berkshire
I am a teacher undertaking an after-hours postgraduate course, and I find the discussion/debate/networking element both stimulating and challenging. It keeps my teaching sharp and adds to my CV, and will keep me "thinking ", not just "doing". As the work is hard but definitely worthwhile, I would choose a distance course that is best shaped to your needs and have a fully supportive family. Go for it!
Henricus Peters, Stanmore
You say you already have work and a family. Maybe you are one of those exceptional people who will be able to study all night and still be fresh in the morning, but if not, think hard before you go ahead.
Margaret Comez, Twickenham
Next Week's Quandary
Dear Hilary, I read in the papers that silent reading at the start of the school day has been categorically proved to help secondary school children to read better. Why, when things like this are known to work, don't all schools do them? My children's school doesn't do this kind of reading, yet its students could clearly benefit from it.
Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 15 October, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email email@example.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition