4 big questions to ask yourself before studying on parental leave

Pregnancy and parental leave can be a great opportunity to reassess priorities. It can give you the space to think about where you’re at now and where you want to go in the future. It can be a time for thinking about your work life. When you go back to work, do you want to return to the same job or do you want to change direction? Are there perhaps other opportunities in your career path that you would like to explore further? Would you even consider starting your own business? To do any of these things, do you need more knowledge or more skills? If so, is further study a viable option for you to achieve these goals?

Going back to study while you’re pregnant or on parent leave clearly has its own challenges. It’s not an easy choice and of course you’ll want to think about it pretty carefully.

For starters, here are 4 big questions to ask yourself:

1. Why would study be a good idea for me?

Our work lives last into our 60s and even 70s and may involve several changes of career. With parenthood, our priorities may change: perhaps previous careers may no longer seem rewarding. This may be a good time to consider changes that could prove very worthwhile in the longer term. The rewards can be financial but perhaps more importantly may involve your career satisfaction,  health, happiness and wellbeing. It is important to consider that a few years of study may bring huge benefits for future years.

2. When should I go back to study?

As always, timing can be everything! Is studying possible when you have a new baby or when you are pregnant, tired and uncomfortable? Is it possible when the kids are small or worth waiting until they are in school? These are all questions to think about and only you can decide what is best for you and your family.

3. How should I study?

What programs would suit my needs? Choose a course that suits you. Consider the many online options available – these are now many and varied, from undergraduate programs, nurse practitioner programs to doctorate degrees. Studying online gives you the chance to be more flexible and manage the time you have available. Nobody cares if you put your feet up and study in your pyjamas if you want to!  Some courses involve a mix of online learning and actual physical attendance or seminars. Consider also your preferred learning and assessment style: do you perform best in exams or in course work and assignments? Do you flourish in tutorial discussions or do you learn best independently?

Full time or part time?  With a full time course you can push through and finish sooner, but you need to think about your stress levels. Part time courses give you a better balance with family life but may take twice as long to finish. Perhaps the solution is to choose a course which gives you the flexibility to switch between part- and full-time study as your needs (and available time) change.

It takes planning. You will need to be flexible as you don’t always have control over your class timetable. There are times (exams, assignments due etc) when you will need to devote more hours to study. This might mean relying on support from your partner, family, friends and babysitters. However, these demands are not 52 weeks in the year and there are many weeks when you won’t have classes, reading or assignments to do.

Don’t let having a baby prevent you from starting a course. You can always take leave from study and return when you are ready. Sometimes lecturers will be able to give extensions or allow you to finish assignments early. Be upfront in asking. Don’t neglect the importance of regular rest breaks, plenty of exercise and good eating.

4. Can I do this?

You’re no longer a bright young thing of just twenty and it’s easy to think that it’s too long since you did any study. You probably worry that everything will have changed so much, you have too many demands on your time and it will all be just too hard! However, it’s good to remember that mature aged students have many advantages: life experience counts for a lot and you have a better sense of purpose and direction than you had at twenty!

You will though, need to consider whether you have the mental resources and support, both emotional and practical, to go back to study. Many students are just barely scraping by: if a child gets sick, there’s a car breakdown or a family member needs help, it’s enough to begin a downward spiral. Your resilience and support from your family and friends can help prevent this. It’s important to be able to function a bit above capacity so you have something in reserve when things go wrong.

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