Completing a college degree will inspire and motivate you, but the reality is, it can be as stressful as it is rewarding. It can be particularly overwhelming for nontraditional students.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a student may be classified as “nontraditional” for a number of reasons: if the student didn’t go on to college or vocational school right after high school. A student may also be classified as nontraditional if he or she works full-time (35 or more hours a week), is financially independent, has children or dependents (other than a spouse), or is a single parent.
While most of us assume the typical college student is a traditional student, the nontraditional student body is rapidly increasing. Of the undergraduates enrolled in American higher education, the Center reports that 37 percent of them are enrolled part-time, 32 percent work full-time, and 38 percent are over the age of 25.
Because CollegeAmerica is strictly career-focused in its programs, our typical student is considered nontraditional. This is because many of our students already have jobs or they’ve spent time away from school. In addition to the stress caused by pursuing higher education, many of my students are working and raising a family. Quite frankly, they have a lot on their plate.
While I can’t offer advice specific to each of my students’ diverse needs, there are a couple of ways to reduce your stress, maintain your sanity, and get your life under control while you’re going to college. The two key components are organization and healthy stress management.
Tools for organization and time management
1. To-do lists
A stressed brain is more forgetful than a calm one. When you have a lot to do, it’s hard to keep up with every task. The age-old to-do list is an easy remedy for forgetfulness. Plus, you get the satisfaction of checking a box when a task is complete. If you aren’t interested in the classic notepad and pen, here are a few free online options to consider:
Already using a to-do list app? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
2. Calendar or day planner
Have you ever had a week so busy that the days start to blend together and you have a hard time keeping track of the date? Avoid confusion by using a calendar or day planner to keep up with assignments, tests, appointments, and other important dates. By marking important dates ahead of time, you can look ahead at each upcoming week and prioritize your time.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of calendar and day planner options, but it’s about what works best for you. If you prefer using a monthly calendar that hangs on your refrigerator at home or by your desk at work, go for it. Any office supply store will have a selection to choose from. But, if you’d like to use an electronic platform, here are a few of the many options:
Most of the to-do list applications listed above include a calendar function as well.
If you are overwhelmed, usually it’s because you have more work than you have time in which to complete it. It’s important to prioritize. What has to be done now, and what can be done later? For instance, if you need to pick up your kids from school, cleaning your office space can obviously wait.
Another strategy is to start your day by doing the things you are dreading first. We have a tendency to complete the easiest tasks first in order to shorten our to-do lists, but this often causes us to drag our feet all day, thinking about the difficult or unpleasant things we have to do. Do the worst part first and you will find the rest of your day goes by much quicker.
Tools for stress management
Stress is a natural aspect of life and can’t always be avoided, but there are ways to reduce it and become more productive.
Studies show that rigorous exercise helps reduce stress. If you don’t have an hour to spend at the gym, take a brisk 10-minute walk outside for fresh air. Exercising regularly leads to more energy and enhanced productivity. It can also help you sleep better too.
2. Vitamin D
Because nearly every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, it is needed at every level for the body to function as it plays a big role in calcium absorption. It also activates genes that regulate the body’s immune system and brain function. The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that one billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Consult your primary care physician to see if you are getting the recommended amount of vitamin D, or whether you could use a low-dose supplement.
3. Regular study breaks
Sometimes we get in the mindset that we don’t have time for breaks, but it’s quite the opposite. Giving your brain a 10-minute break every hour will help you work more efficiently. Your mind is working hard—give it a break!
4. Nutritious meals and snacks
Let’s say you have to run a mile. Is it a good idea to eat a high-fat cheeseburger with an extra-large order of fries? Nope! When you are pushing your mind and body to its limits, you need premium fuel to perform your best, much like race cars need special high-octane gasoline to run properly. Prepare for study sessions by stocking your desk or backpack with granola bars, apple slices, grapes, baby carrots, or any nutritious snack you enjoy. Also, consider your drink choices. Though coffee and energy drinks are appealing when you’re running out of steam, avoid the temptation. Sugary and caffeinated drinks may give you an energy boost but it’s typically short-lived and will leave you feeling worse later. Instead, carry a refillable water bottle, or opt for low-sugar sports drinks when possible.
Despite their hectic schedules, nontraditional students are more than capable of excelling in the classroom; I’ve seen it with my own students. In some ways, they are better-equipped to handle the many responsibilities thrown at them as students, parents, and/or full-time workers. While life isn’t without its stresses, I hope these tips can help make your life much easier and hold onto your sanity.
About the Author
Alex Reynolds is an instructor at the Fort Collins campus of CollegeAmerica. He teaches graphic design and business courses. Alex also runs his own freelance design business, reynoldsDESIGNandINNOVATION. He enjoys working with students and helping people be the best version of themselves that they can be.