1. Be Realistic.
This was probably the hardest lesson for me. It was tough seeing so many of my classmates graduate and move on while I was left behind. I had to constantly remind myself of our differences. My classmates didn’t have the responsibilities I had. I couldn’t take 3 or 4 classes at a time. I had to take one class a semester. That’s what I knew worked for me.
2. Know Your Priorities and Know They Will Change.
Being a working mom, wife and student wasn’t easy. It was impossible to give 100% to each of my responsibilities all of the time, so I really had to prioritize on a daily basis. I did what I could, when I could. Some nights, I had to skip class to stay late at work or to be with my family. Some weekends, I had to spend a day away from my husband and son to get schoolwork done.
3. Be Honest and Build a Relationship with Professors.
All of my professors knew I had a young son with autism and that I worked full time during the day. If I had to miss a class for any reason, I emailed them. If I fell behind on readings or assignments, I reached out and asked for an extension. And when I found a relationship that was especially understanding, I registered for their classes again.
4. Plan Ahead.
I always had a plan. I was always thinking about the next semester. As soon as one semester was over, I was emailing the professors for next semester, inquiring about the syllabus and reading list. If I could purchase books over the break and get a head start, I felt more in control.
5. Know When You Need to Take a Break.
It took me 15 years to get my Bachelor’s Degree and another 5 for my Masters. But I took many, many breaks in between semesters. The constant juggling would become physically and emotionally exhausting. I knew when I was feeling burned out and I knew when I needed time to regroup. After taking a semester off, I’d return feeling refreshed and more motivated then before.
6. Have a Support System.
I couldn’t have made it through my college years without my support system: my parents, husband, son, and friends. There were so many times when I wanted to quit and give up – they encouraged me to keep going. And toward the end of the semester, when things got really hectic, I knew there were people (my mom and husband) who could help with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of Norrin. Yes, there were moments when I felt guilty and selfish. And during those moments, my support system reminded me that the time I spent away from Norrin was really all for him.