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So you’ve decided that gaining a new qualification is a vital part of climbing the next rung of the career ladder. Congratulations – but you’re probably wondering how you’re going to fit it all in.

Juggling work and study

Studying is demanding enough when you’re focusing on it full-time. But many mature students returning to education after a spell in the workforce are combining work, study and often family life all at once.

In fact, a survey by the National Union of Students found that the hardest challenge for mature students wasn’t the content of any of their courses, but balancing life and study.

Still, millions take on this challenge every year: here are some tips on how to succeed drawn from their experiences.

Research the course workload

Forewarned is forearmed – but it’s striking how few mature students research how much work their course will involve each week. According to the NUS, only 6.9% of them seek out information from current students.

That matters because students who are at risk of dropping out of their course are less likely to say they got enough information up front.

Colleges and universities can do more to help, too: many students say they often grappled with last-minute provision reading lists, timetables and placement information. If yours doesn’t offer these from the start, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Brush up your study skills

If you’ve got a packed schedule, you have to make study time really count. That can be hard when it might be a few years (or decades!) since you were last in a classroom.

So it’s no wonder that 53.7% of mature students told the NUS survey that relearning old study skills and picking up new ones was the most challenging part of returning to college.

Study skills provision can help. Ask your institution if they have a programme, or if they could put one on: even the younger students might thank you when they find out how useful it is.

Keep your employer informed

Businesses can expect a lot of part-time workers in terms of flexibility, imagining that they’re always on standby to help out. Giving your employer details of your study commitments can help to give them a realistic idea of when you need some breathing room.

“Be open with your employer about the amount of work you can take on – make your availability and other commitments clear,” says Charlotte Jones, who combined PhD studies with journalism.

Don’t suffer in silence

Remember that if you’re struggling, there are plenty of sources of help. Your college wants you to succeed, so they won’t mind you asking for support.

You can find it from the students’ union or the college student services department. And if finances or childcare are a challenge, you may be able to access some government financial support.

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