Navigating Night School: Tips for Students
Get organized and maintain a realistic work-life balance while attending night school.
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
If you have ever found yourself face down on an open book, then you know just how tough it can be to keep your eyes open after a long day at work. But for students who are enrolled in night school, the only option is to power through the evening, pushing stress and a jam-packed schedule to the side.
Still, attending night school doesn't have to feel like a daunting task. In fact, with the implementation of proper time management tactics stress relief techniques, the achievement of a work-school-life balance is a feasible –– and sometimes fun –– venture.
Lean on these organizational tips the next time you feel overwhelmed and you will be coasting through night school in no time.
1. Pick a job with a bit of wiggle room.
Whether you are working a 9 to 5 or part time, it's important that your employer understand your school obligations. This will be especially important as you advance within your program and your schedule may become varied. For example, if you have a class that begins at 6 p.m. and you don't typically leave work until 5 p.m., then rush hour traffic might leave your schedule too tight. An employer who is willing to compromise may allow you to adjust your schedule so that you might come into work earlier or make up for lost hours on another day.
If part-time is the name of your employment game, then choose a job in retail or at a coffee shop that typically has flexible shifts.
2. Keep your head up.
There's no doubt about it: Night school can take a toll on your energy levels and sleep patterns. But believe it or not, a bowl full of coffee isn't necessarily the answer to making sure you stay alert in class. Certified Professional Organizer Amber Kostelny-Cussen of Amber's Organizing said it is best to "avoid sugar and caffeine if possible."
"Instead choose water or hot tea," she added. "Healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables will keep you healthy and alert in class. They will also give your immune system the nutrients it needs to stay healthy in the event that you are pulling an all-nighter."
Consider preparing cut vegetables or fruits, like carrot sticks or apple slices, the day before a class and stowing it in your backpack with a reusable bottle of water. Kostelny-Cussen added that keeping chewing gum on hand can also help on days when you are especially tired.
"Save the gum for class only, so that you get into a habit of looking forward to it and, again, it will hopefully keep you alert," she said.
3. Pencil it in.
You might think day planners are for the obsessive compulsive or a busy parent who is juggling several different schedules. But the truth of the matter is, solid organizational techniques can prove to be hugely beneficial to anyone who is seeking more fluidity in his or her life. The point? Get a calendar. Whether it's the old-fashioned paper version or a digital system, a planning system will help even the busiest days feel manageable, said Janet Bernstein, founder of Janet Bernstein Organizers.
"When the professor gives you a deadline for an assignment, set your own deadline several days prior and schedule it on your digital calendar," she said. "This reduces stress and eliminates last minute panic. The sense of satisfaction in completing an assignment several days early is incredibly rewarding."
Bernstein added that the color coding feature that is available on most digital calendars will also help to create a divide between your personal, academic and work schedules.
4. Don't overbook your day-to-day tasks.
Believe it or not, you aren't Superman or Wonder Woman. Once you have an understanding or your academic schedule and the way each professor operates his or her class, learn to schedule school work on days that do not conflict with a looming deadline at work or on the celebration of your wedding anniversary. Like Bernstein said: "Pace yourself."
"I can't stress this enough," she added. "If you have to read, say 250 pages in a week, then break it into smaller, manageable amounts. After all two hundred and fifty pages broken down over seven days is only 35 pages per day."
5. Get your flow on.
Breaking a sweat has proven to be extremely beneficial to your overall well-being and can help boost pain power. Slip into a yoga class before hitting the books and learn how to reduce stress that may come hand-in-hand with a hectic schedule. If you have time before class, then bring a pair of sneakers to slip into a head out for a walk around campus.
All in all, the most important factor in any busy lifestyle is balance. Planning and preparation are two key components that can make for a successful, even keeled night school experience. And as Dr. Marlene Caroselli, author of “500 Creative Classroom Concepts” and “The Critical Thinking Tool Kit,” put it: "Remember Mark Twain's advice: 'If you have to swallow a frog, don't stare at it too long.'"
In short? Schedule time for night school and complete school work throughout the week and it will feel like any other task on your calendar.
- Find a job that allows for flexibility and an employer who is on board with your schedule.
- Stash pre-cut vegetables or fruits in your backpack with a reusable bottle of water.
- Invest in a day planner or digital scheduling program to better manage everyday tasks.
- Do a little bit of work at a time; don't procrastinate.
- Take an exercise class or go for a walk before class to boost energy.