Time-Saving Secrets from Union Students

Union Institute & University students are extremely busy adults who must manage time carefully and balance their many responsibilities. Juggling work, school, family, volunteer, and social life activities can be a challenge. They seem to operate on a day with more than 24 hours! To find out how they manage it all, we asked four outstanding Union Institute & University students to share their top-ten secrets for succeeding as adult students.

  1. Use your lunch hour for studying. Find a quiet place at work or go sit in your car and get some reading done. If you do this all week, you gain five extra hours of studying or five hours of free time in the evening or weekends to do something fun/relaxing with friends and family.
  2. Take one day off per week. Set aside one day, whether a week day or a weekend and don’t do any school work. It’s important to take time away from the stress of school work so you don’t burn out.
  3. Start out ahead and stay ahead. Use Sunday to prepare for the upcoming week, not as catch up for the previous week. Start your reading on Sunday so you can post early in the week. That way, if life gets hectic you have some wiggle room to get things done. This also helps your fellow students who need to respond to your online posts.
  4. If you have school-aged children, create family homework time. Complete your homework while your children complete theirs. If your children are not in school yet, have them color or complete an activity book.
  5. Communicate openly and frequently with your professors. If you are struggling with the content or the deadlines, talk to your instructors. Union has great professors, they will have ideas to help and will review content with you.
  6. Be honest with family and friends. Let them know you are starting school and how excited you are. Prepare them for the fact that you will have less time and may need to cut back on commitments and/or social outings. If they care about you, they will understand and support you on your new adventure.
  7. Stay organized. Keep a calendar, either electronic or an old-fashioned paper planner. Write in all of your school assignments, family commitments, and work assignments. Take a look at your planner every morning and evening to prioritize and keep on track with all of your tasks.
  8. Reward yourself. Just finished a big paper or hard reading assignment? Go out for ice cream or have your favorite candy bar. Going back to school is a challenge so recognize your accomplishments, even if they are small. It will keep you in a positive state of mind.
  9. Write down the top five reasons you are going back to school. Post that list somewhere that you will see it on a regular basis. When you are feeling overwhelmed and/or frustrated, look at those reasons to remind yourself why getting a degree is important to you.
  10. Make friends with your fellow students, even if you only ever speak online. These are the people who are going through the same things that you are. They understand your struggles and your triumphs. Your fellow students are a good support system and sounding board.

Nikki Dominique earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio University in 2002. She served in both the insurance and construction industries before joining Union Institute & University’s admissions department in October 2012. In addition to working, she is pursuing her M.A. with a concentration in Leadership, Public Policy, and Social Issues. She was drawn to the university’s online master’s degree program for its freedom in program design and flexibility to fit into her busy schedule.

Make sure your significant partner/friends/family understands the commitment you are making to doctoral study.

  1. Track the number of hours you spend each week on any Psy.D. doctoral work. This includes reading, ProSem, etc. I was surprised to learn I spent 29 hours a week in my first semester.
  2. After recording your average number of hours, then become more efficient. For example, I used voice dictation software to write papers and reduced the hours per week to 23-25.
  3. I worked full time my first year, against the advice of faculty, and this was a mistake. I reduced my work from 40 hours to 32 hours for my second, third, and fourth years and this helped.
  4. Read articles and books whenever possible. I often read at work when a client would not show or cancel an appointment. I gained some study time in this manner.
  5. Self-care is critical. Exercise, eating, and sleeping well are very important. I had to be careful about staying up too late doing school work, missing sleep and then feeling run down.
  6. I had to cut back some friendships and I focused on my partner, children, close friends, and family. There is a loss here but I would catch up on breaks, during the summer, and after four years.
  7. Organization is critical. I used my calendar to write down every assignment due date. If you follow the faculty program of expected classes and do not stray from it you will finish.
  8. I had the luxury of living in close proximity to the ProSem site. If you live farther away and must travel, get advice from student travelers on how to manage this time issue.
  9. I have fond memories of the extended weeks in Brattleboro and Cincinnati. After class we had fun together. Bond with your classmates and get to know the wonderful faculty.

Joe Behler selected the distance learning doctoral psychology program (Psy.D.) at Union Institute & University because the program allowed him to maintain a job in psychology while completing his doctoral coursework. Face-to-face training was on weekends mostly, once a month and two extended weeks each year, which gave Joe time for family commitments and studying.

  1. Do your homework!! Not just the readings/papers/tests, but also research specific state and national requirements for your chosen major. Develop a plan for after graduation and determine exactly what it’s going to take to get there.
  2. Be your own advocate. Part of graduate school involves increased personal responsibility to determine what you want in school, work, and life overall. Go for it! Find out who is going to be able to help you reach your goals and utilize them.
  3. Don’t procrastinate. This is big. I am notorious for saving everything until the last minute, and I can always count on a few miserable weekends towards the end of each term. Believe me, things are MUCH easier if you start early.
  4. Use the writing center and your peers. This is easier said than done, but as this program is so independent, it can be easy to get off track and discouraged when you have no one to bounce your ideas off of. The writing center is always available to help!
  5. Research Capstone early. A very useful part of the Capstone project is being able to incorporate earlier pieces of your own papers throughout the course of your educational career. After all, you can’t plagiarize yourself! This is super helpful, but in order to really take advantage of this, you need to start thinking about your Capstone early and writing papers that can be tied to it later on.
  6. Get to know your peers. I was not great with this over the course of my time at Union. The residencies are extremely useful to build relationships with other students, but only if you choose to engage. The residencies give us an opportunity to share our experiences with others who are balancing the same things and can be a very useful tool to enhance self-care.
  7. On that note, pay attention to self-care. It’s easy to lose ourselves in balancing the job, internship, school work, kids etc. It’s very important to take time for ourselves in order to be fully present for our other responsibilities. I have found that self-care is the easiest thing to neglect in grad school and perhaps the most important thing to nurture.
  8. Start looking for internship sites early. It’s important to start this process very early. Think about what you are interested in. Submit several applications. Place follow-up calls. Identify a contact person to reconnect with to express your interest. It took me months to nail down a site and straighten out all of the details. Do yourself a favor and don’t save this until last minute!
  9. Research financial resources. Contact the financial aid office to ask about scholarships. As my time here at Union is drawing to a close, I am not faced with repaying my loans. Make sure to consider how these will impact you in the future. There are plenty of resources out there; you just need to take the time to seek them out.
  10. Overall, my best piece of advice is to start early with everything and to speak up when you have questions. Union has plenty of very supportive and knowledgeable staff, and because of the online format, there is an increased personal responsibility to reach out for assistance when you need it. I have never had anyone ignore my questions or point me in the wrong direction.

Emily Dunham lives with her fiance and three dogs in Addison County, Vermont, where the couple recently purchased their first home. She works full-time at an animal hospital and also works 20 hours per week at an intensive outpatient treatment facility as part of her internship requirements for graduation. She really enjoys working with individuals trying to obtain recovery and she hopes to secure employment in this field upon graduation from Union Institute & University.

  1. Online learners must take control in planning their learning pace (Chizmar & Walbert, 1999), and also be realistic about their capabilities as they learn better about themselves, they must be willing to do better.
  2. They must monitor their own learning comprehension. (Shapley, 2000).
  3. They must make judgments on various aspects in their learning process (Petrides, 2002) and their personal learning style.
  4. Learners need to become aware of and actively explore various learning resources in an online learning context (Sener & Stover, 2000) with an understanding that their every subject and everything they learn on the front end of their academic journey is to prepare them for the rigid requirements that will be demanded of them at the end of their journey and that the whole is a combination of its parts.
  5. Learners need to develop strategies to effectively use resources and overcome challenges that are uniquely associated with online learning (e.g., written communication) (Hill, 2002).
  6. Online learners need to become motivated to overcome the procrastination challenge associated with online learning (see Elvers, Polzella, & Graetz, 2003), and to take advantage of online communication affordances to create meaningful interaction (King, 2002).
  7. Online learning provides flexibility for learners to pace their own study (Chizmar & Walbert, 1999). The anytime, anywhere feature of asynchronous online learning provides learners with the ability to plan their activities at the time and the place that are most convenient for them (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). This can often feed procrastination because the learners most always allow themselves more time than they actually they have. Be very careful, procrastination may be your biggest culprit!
  8. Learners still have the flexibility to choose the most convenient place from which to create their own learning space (Song et al., 2004), and decide on their own learning pace and sequence (Chizmar & Walbert, 1999). Be careful and do not over estimate your abilities or capacity.
  9. In an online learning environment, the monitoring responsibilities are in large part left to the learner. They must decide whether they understand the subject correctly [or not] (Shapley, 2000) or are heading in the right direction with their course work. Even though your professor may be only an email away, he or she may also not be!
  10. The level of responsibility for seeking assistance is also on you as the learner. It’s your time, your money, and ultimately your responsibility if you succeed or not!

Nashid Shakir has worked in social services and community capacity building for the past 25 years. Union Institute & University became a path to increase his effectiveness as a social entrepreneur. In his direct social environment there are a plethora of doctoral-level graduates and candidates from Union working to bring about productive change. These alumni and their achievements inspired Nashid to join Union’s master of arts program.