Anyone who knows me, also knows that I am honest as they come. So, I will begin this blog by fully disclosing that studying for a degree while also caring for children is hard work. I am currently undertaking a law degree while caring for my two children, and I have gathered a little bit of advice and some practical tips to help you – be prepared to work extremely hard and juggle like never before.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the tips and advice (because if you are reading this as your child is playing, you haven’t got much time to spare).
First, you should consider which type of university and study will suit you:
- full time;
- part time; or
- distance learning (eg, the Open University).
You must think about the implications that your chose option will bring, because each route will come with its own challenges. For example, attending university full time means that you complete your degree quicker and should have networking opportunities, while studying with the Open University will require more personal dedication and self-motivation to succeed, as you will have to seek many of your opportunities independently.
Next, you will need to look at the practical aspects of studying at your chosen university:
- How long is a typical day – are lectures and tutorials between 9:00am and 5:00pm?
- Does the degree require study abroad?
- Are you required to do a compulsory placement?
- How far will you have to travel to reach the university? Can you live on-site, park on-site or easily use public transport?
University is expensive. Children are expensive. Exlpore as many ways to fund your studies, childcare and living expenses as you can.
- Do you qualify for the Student Finance England Childcare Grant? This may pay up to 85% of your childcare costs.
- Does your university offer any bursaries or scholarships that you can apply for?
- Are there any external sources of funding from charities or organisations?
- Do you qualify for state benefits (eg, housing benefit, child tax credits or income support)?
- It may be worth investing in an NUS card or using your student ID to gain discounts. Many high-street shops offer varying discounts, which can all add up and save you quite a bit of money over the years.
While studying your children may be at school or nursery; however, you may also require supplementary wraparound childcare.
Please remember, as a general rule to claim the Student Finance England Childcare Grant your childcare provider must be registered with OFSTED.
- Does your children’s school offer breakfast and after-school clubs?
- Does your children’s school offer a holiday club?
- Can you find a local childminder to help with childcare? (Remember the OFSTED requirement!)
- Is there a suitable nursery local to you or your university?
- Does the nursery offer provisions over the summer for all age groups (eg, if you have a toddler and a school age child but want them to be together during the school holidays)?
No matter which childcare services you use, you must check that opening times meet your travel and university timetable requirements.
General day-to-day advice
While studying and meeting your parenting responsibilities you will not be left with much time. The key is planning ahead.
- Online shopping – can you shop online and have your shopping delivered to your door or 'click ‘n' collect'? Most grocery websites will remember your order so that you can easily re-order the following week.
- Meal prep – batch cook meals that can be stored in the freezer and easily reheated during the week (Pinterest or a Google search can offer some great recipes to suit different budgets).
- Packed lunch versus buying food out – once you have checked out the university and discovered its catering facilities and local shops, you will have a better idea of prices. Sometimes I find that it’s cheaper to eat at my university than to buy the ingredients and make a packed lunch. Choosing which one works for you will very much be a balancing act of cost, ease and personal preference.
- Children's lunches – does your children’s school or nursery offer meals on-site? This will save you a lot of time and possibly some money too.
- Cleaning – make a note in your phone, diary or calendar of a specific day or time when you will do a big clean of your accommodation. This will ensure that aren't overrun with housework and can use your time effectively. Alternatively, see if your landlord offers a cleaning service (eg, university-managed accommodation) and see if you can afford this?
- Buy a calendar or diary – this will help you to organise your time (and life) more effectively and efficiently. You will be busy. You will likely forget things. A diry will help you with your juggling act.
Some people might look at this part and think 'why'? Well, when you are studying and you have children who need entertaining, you will need student-friendly budget ideas.
I try to balance days and afternoons out where my time is focused solely on my children – so that when I get home I don't feel so guilty about studying – or I take my children somewhere that I can study while they play safely.
Ideas for places to go to:
- your local library;
- parks (bring a picnic!);
- nature trails;
- free outside areas with animals (eg, the New Forest or Richmond Park);
- Tesco Clubcard points can be used to fund days out and travel expenses at various locations across the United Kingdom;
- museums (eg, the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum);
- soft play; and
- local children’s groups.
Don't forget to check whether you can you use your student ID to receive a discounted entry. This is typically available at many places across the United Kingdom.
Ultimately, it will be a balancing act to keep your children and studies working in sync, but it is achievable! University students are a diverse bunch and there will be many people in the same situation, as well as specific groups to support parent students. This will be an incredible opportunity to learn, have fun and make new friends, all while growing your family.
Good luck, I believe in you!