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Tips for Non-School Leavers Returning to Study

Accept the transition process

For most commencing students, starting out at university is an exciting prospect. However, it's easy to overlook the changes that starting university entails. Non-school leavers in particular can overlook the impact of the transition to uni, in the belief that transition issues are relevant only to school-leavers.

In reality, making the transition to university is challenging for all students, both culturally and intellectually. Non-school leavers face many of the same transition challenges as school leavers, plus a few additional issues that are exclusive to them. Therefore, it's important to accept and acknowledge that you will go through a transition. This will help you recognise and understand some of the challenges you might face during the earlier stages of your academic life.

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Explore the campus

The more time you spend on campus, the more you'll start to feel a part of the place.

Explore the Uni and know how things work

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Develop a network

University campuses are big places and can seem impersonal. It's easy to feel disconnected when you start uni, especially before you get to know anyone. Indeed, NSL students can feel this isolation more acutely than others.

Non-school leavers, especially if they are also part-time students, often don't spend much time on campus. Many fit their studies around work and family and may feel that they don't have the time to socialise. Understandably, they see meeting other students as a luxury.

However, developing a network of friends and acquaintances on campus is not a luxury, it's a necessity—an important aspect of successful study. It's a common misconception that making friends at university will be easy. In fact establishing social networks can be challenging at first and you will need to be proactive.

It's important to make a positive effort to meet new people:

Meeting other students & having a social life

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Plan your time, maintain your life and set priorities

Time Management is an important issue for every student, but particularly crucial for non-school leavers who are often juggling study with work and family commitments.

Although there will be times when study needs to be your top priority, achieving a balance between work and life is important. Studying for a degree is a long journey, and you can't work at maximum pace all the time. Not only might you burn out, but there will be times when you will need to make your family, friends or job top priority—especially if you hope they'll support you during your busy times. It's important to study hard and effectively, but balance this with time for family and friends.

Time Management for Adult Learners

Get IT-savvy

Computer literacy is essential to successful university study. Returning to study is, among other things, an opportunity for you to embrace technology and upgrade your skills.

Accept and expect changes

Going to uni will bring changes to your life and to the lives of those around you—accept changes and plan for them. Don't try to deal with everything alone.

Keep them informed, help them feel involved and make sure they know how important their support is to you.

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Have reasonable expectations

Non-school leavers typically have very high expectations, both of the university experience and of themselves. However, the downside of this enthusiasm is that non-school leavers often put too much pressure on themselves to succeed.

More about NSL Expectations

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Take an active approach to your studies

University study is all about independence and taking ownership of your learning. Taking responsibility, meeting deadlines and self-motivation is often something non-school leavers with experience of the workforce do very well.

Independent Learning

Set your own pace

During the first few weeks of uni, it can feel like you're the only one struggling with transition. It's especially tempting to think that school leavers find uni easy. But while they may seem to be cruising, school leavers have their own difficulties adjusting (some of which may be similar to your own).

When it comes to study, while many school-leavers are highly motivated, others don't like to appear as if they are trying too hard. You might hear a lot of talk about how little work they've done, or how it was 'easy' to produce a distinction-level assignment overnight. They might look incredulous when you indicate you've started working on an assignment not due for weeks. This can leave you wondering if you should be working this way too.

However, don't take school-leavers as ultimate authorities or models of how 'real' students should learn, or believe that you have to adjust your methods to match theirs. While you can gain some useful tips about studying effectively from your colleagues, not all their methods will be helpful or relevant to you.

Don't compare yourself to other students—it's not helpful. You're not competing with them, but working towards progress in your own studies, in your own time and in your own way. It's your education, so define yourself as a student and work at your own pace. Recognise the progress you make and remember to give yourself credit for your achievements.

Know when and where to get help

Many students run into difficulties at some stage of their course. While you are expected to be an independent learner, independent doesn't mean ‘alone'. One of the most important ways to demonstrate this independence is to know when you need to request the assistance of others. You don't have to handle all of your problems by yourself. There are lots of people on campus who can help you, but it's up to you to ask for assistance.

Support Services on Campus

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Stay focused on your final goal

Although high levels of motivation are typical for non-school leavers, doing a degree is a long haul. At some point external events might require you to prioritise 'life' above your studies (at least temporarily). At other times, you may feel inspiration or energy running low.

At such times it's useful to remind yourself of your goals and reasons for deciding to study, and of what you hope to achieve. Focus on your reasons for doing a particular course or subject. Writing a list of your goals and current problems can sometimes help you to regain perspective.

Embrace new knowledge

Returning to study is a wonderful opportunity to think, learn and expand your horizons. Make the most of this opportunity by embracing new information. The wealth of prior knowledge and experience you bring to your university course can be both a benefit and a drawback. It may be both a launching pad and a millstone.

Prior Knowledge: a help or a hindrance?

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Authorised by The Director, The Learning Centre, UNSW • Last updated 4 June, 2013
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