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Studying part-time

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By Margaret Adolphus

The challenge of part-time study

What distinguishes part-time study from distance learning is that the former is class-based and involves attendance at a particular time and place, whereas the latter is mostly self-paced and can be done at home. As distinct from the many students who work part-time to help finance their full-time studies, part-time students study fewer courses which they fit around family and (often full-time) work.

Who are part-time students?

In general, part-time students are much more likely to have careers and families, and may therefore face difficulties juggling many different priorities. People with disabilities or who are recent migrants and want to integrate study with life in a new country, may also be attracted to this mode of study.

Whereas some people who embark on a university course immediately after school may do so because it's a good way of postponing major decisions about what to do with one's life, those who study part-time may have a clear reason for so doing. They may want to further their career or they may have a particular subject in which they are really interested. Gaining a higher level qualification may be a way of closing on the "unfinished business" of an interrupted earlier education, and thereby increasing self-esteem. Such factors can increase motivation and give a strong sense of purpose.

Motivation and a sense of purpose are particularly important because there are big challenges in part-time study. On a practical level, there will be a need to leave aside other commitments and get to a class at a particular time, often negotiating rush-hour traffic. Some students may not have access to a car, in which case they will have to rely on public transport, which may be unreliable or dangerous later at night.

There are bigger challenges, however: the juggling of competing priorities, finance, and studying itself. While many part-time students have their fees paid by their employer, many do not and it can be tough sometimes funding these (although help may be available). The work itself cannot be avoided, and the requirement for essay writing, critical thinking, and absorbing a lot of information, may prove daunting even for those who are highly educated, but who have not studied for a while. However some students may have previous bad experience to contend with and, for them, dealing with their educational gremlins and fear of failure may be especially difficult. It is therefore particularly important that part-time students are offered help with study skills.

How to succeed as a part-time student

  • Build on your motivation – having a goal is important. Ambitious students are more likely to succeed than those with little sense of direction.
  • Develop your time management skills – organization is important in juggling differing priorities.
  • Recognize that, while studying may present problems, you have a wealth of life experience on which to build. This may be especially useful in management and vocational courses, where you can relate your own work experience (and that of your peers) to what you are studying.
  • Make sure that those around you support you. This means both your employer, who (even if they don't offer financial support) should understand your need to leave promptly on certain evenings, and your family who will need to understand your disappearing for hours on end with a book or computer.