1. Dress your age.

Just because you’re a student at university doesn’t mean you need to dress like one. You’re not 18 anymore, so don’t think you need to dress like your schoolmates to blend in. Trust us, this may backfire and have you standing out even more.

Instead, dress like the mature, professional adult you are—wear your age proudly. This tells your classmates and, more importantly, your professors that not only are you comfortable with who you are and with being where you are, but also that you mean business and are taking your lessons very seriously.

2. Use your experience to your advantage.

Some people never quite leave the academe—they collect diplomas, and then perhaps settle down to become teachers. Don’t feel bad because you aren’t one of these; use it to your advantage! So you may be a little rusty when it comes to your book knowledge. Make up for it with your knowledge about how things work outside the school campus! You’ve had the opportunity for real-life application of the things you’ve learned in school; now you can bring these street smarts you learned into the classroom.

Also, you may have developed a network in your professional life; if you’re a mother, you must have acquired some mean skills at organization and multitasking. Use these to your advantage whenever you can. They’ll give you a leg up, and the truth is that you’ll come off as someone who knows what she’s talking about when you’ve been there and done that.

3. Be strategic in your scheduling.

At this point in your life, you’re probably a part-time student. After all, Ai-Ai delas Alas is in M3, a new sitcom with Aga Mulach, which proves that she’ll be juggling academic challenges with professional ones. You may be working yourself or caring for your family—either way, you probably don’t have as much time to do “creative browsing” at the lib or read through as many secondary sources as your full-time counterparts. This means you’ll have to be smarter about how you use up your time.

Use every advantage to your advantage. Your professional status may mean that you can afford things like laptops and somewhat more sophisticated technology than many other students can. Use that laptop to take your notes so they’re easy to search through (such as when you need to refer to something mentioned a few classes back) and print copies of. Got a fancy-schmancy phone or other gadget with a lot of features? Take advantage of the scheduling and recording functions.

Outline and schedule relentlessly. You don’t have the luxury of being a crammer. Schedule your classes on days you’re less likely to be busy. That can mean weekends for some, and particular weeknights for others. Know your schedule is jam-packed during the workweek? Schedule classes on Mondays or Tuesdays—this will let you study over the weekend in case you have tests or papers due. A class at the end of the week might not be too great because you have to spend it working your day job.

4. Remember the Internet is your best friend—and worst enemy.

As we’ve already mentioned, you might not have as much time to do the academic legwork your full-time classmates may have. The Internet is a great tool, and you need to learn to use it to your advantage.

You’ll find that many professors in many universities upload their class notes, so you can check these out for classes similar to your own. You can also find papers and analyses about your assigned texts that help you understand and absorb what you need to learn. All you have to do is work on those online searching skills.

[Click here to read about improving your online searching skills]

You’ll also need to remember to stay away from the sites and applications that encourage you to procrastinate. When you’re a student on top of everything else (professional, wife, mother, girlfriend, etc.), you simply won’t have the time to waste.

[Click here to read about online time wasters]

5. Don’t be afraid to consult your professors.

You don’t have to go it alone, so don’t be afraid to ask for a little guidance if you feel lost. Your professors understand that you may not have been in school for some time; they probably even admire you for it. So don’t be afraid to ask for a little direction. That’s not spoon-feeding—it’s what they’re there for.

And don’t think that guidance only comes from above. Consider starting a study group with your peers (maybe even finding a few been-a-while-but-I’m-back-in-school individuals like yourself). Even if it’s just reading each other’s papers and giving each other feedback, this can be a very valuable resource for you.

And don’t forget to make friends with your departmental secretaries! They’re the mavens of every department, and may know the ins and outs of some of the classes even better than your professors. They’ll also know which professors are most approachable, flexible, etc., so they're very useful friends to have.

In the end, realize that all this is a juggling act, and you’re keeping a lot of balls in the air, between your studies, your work, your relationships, and your home (and possibly your kids). This means that you can’t afford to keep your eyes on just one of these or try to move from one to the other while they’re all in motion. Focus on the important point: why are you doing this? Focus on your dreams and ambitions, and you’ll realize that all those balls are just parts of the whole you’re working for.

(All photos courtesy of PEP.ph)

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