When I decided to enroll in law school, I knew I couldn’t drop everything and return to life as a full-time student unless I also lived out of my car in the school parking lot. I had no choice but to work. Fortunately, there was a respected law night school in my city that would allow me to keep my full-time job and attend classes at night, graduating in four years instead of the usual three. I was sold.
During orientation, I sat with well over 100 fellow students in a large auditorium. The dean began his remarks by instructing us to look at the person on our right, and then at the one on our left, before telling us that at least one of those two people would not make it to graduation.
He was right. After the first semester, they started dropping like flies. We all worked full time. Many of us had families. Law school on top of all that is exhausting beyond imagination. Some people just didn’t have that much to give. As the dean had predicted, only about 2/3 of our original class graduated.
With the addition of flexible evening programs and online learning, today’s working parents have more options than ever to continue their education. Still, it’s never easy to fit 30 hours of toil into a 24-hour day. Since I started teaching, I’ve learned that my most successful (and least burned-out) students share some common practices.
How to Manage the Stress of Night School
1) Don’t Make Excuses.
I’ve had students who constantly show up late, fail to submit their assignments on time (if at all), and don’t bother to participate in classroom discussion. Without fail, these students complain that they have jobs and families and therefore cannot possibly be expected to be fully present for their own education. Your instructor knows this juggling act is hard. You are not the first working, parenting student she has encountered. However, the fact is that you signed up for this. If you truly cannot handle your workload, it may be necessary to drop a course. It will take you longer to graduate, but you’ll save your sanity (and your GPA) in the process.
2) Manage your time.
I’ve had students who would regularly knock out an essay an hour before it was due. Invariably, they turned in work so poor that it appeared to have been composed at the height of a fever dream. Sit down and make a plan. Decide where you can make time for your schoolwork. Stick to that schedule. Otherwise, you too will find yourself at the last minute trying to pull an assignment out of the air, and that rarely ends well.
3) Talk to your instructor.
My favorite students are the ones who aren’t afraid to ask for help. Some ask if I’ll review their papers before they submit them to ensure they’re on the right track. Others email me with questions when they have difficulty understanding a unit. A few have contacted me when they were disappointed with their performance to ask what they could do to improve. The common thread was that all of them took responsibility for their own education. Your instructor wants to help you succeed. Just ask.
Would you like to return to school, but don’t know where to start? Programs such as the Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women help women serving as head of household continue their education to improve their employment prospects.
Robyn Frank Smith is a retired attorney and mediator who now teaches Conflict Resolution at the university level. Though originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Robyn has lived in a variety of places (some more interesting than others), including Memphis, Washington, D.C., and the Republic of Singapore. Her hobbies include weightlifting, creating upcycled furniture and décor from found objects (she is currently working on a project with an Amish buggy door), and fighting about politics with strangers on Facebook. She also enjoys pretending she’s happy being a vegan, and traveling the world with her husband and teenaged daughter. She lives in Pennsylvania.