Dear Heather

Dear Heather,

I’ve been a part-time AU student for a few years. Earlier this year I was laid off from my job, and I decided to take the plunge and start studying full-time. I’m taking five courses (15 credits) every five months, and I’m finding it a little hard to juggle the assignments and readings for so many courses at once. Do you have any suggestions?

June S., Beaverton, ON

Dear June:

There’s no question that taking on a full course load is a challenge. When you’re doing it by distance education, it’s even more difficult because there’s no predefined structure, so you have to manage your own time. In a traditional university, your profs would give you a due date for each assignment, which would help you stay on track.

If that sort of structure sounds appealing to you, why not set those due dates for yourself? That way, you can have the advantage of the structure that deadlines offer, but still enjoy the flexibility of distance ed, because you can arrange those deadlines around your own schedule. To do this, look at the requirements for each of the courses you’re taking right now. Estimate how long each assignment will take you, and think about which ones you would like to do at what times. For example, if you’re spending a particular weekend at your cottage, that might be a good time to do some reading. The week that your kids will be at their grandma’s would be a great time to tackle that big paper. If your best friend is coming to visit for a few days, you might want to schedule some time off from studying. And of course, if you’re dreading the statistics assignment, schedule something more interesting afterwards as a reward (perhaps some psychology reading, or whatever you consider to be a bit of a treat).

Once you’ve figured out when you want to work on each assignment, decide on a due date for each one, and write it down. Book your exams ahead of time, so that you really have to stay caught up (you can always reschedule them later if something really catastrophic happens). Treat your due dates as seriously as if they were set by your prof. If you start to fall behind, do whatever it takes to catch up again. If you get ahead of schedule, you can either try to stay ahead (which gives you a little breathing room if something goes wrong later) or you can take some time off.

Just one caveat about all of this: make sure you build some down-time into your schedule. If it’s too punishing and you never have time to relax or do anything you enjoy, you will begin to resent and dread doing schoolwork. That’s not good for your stress levels, and it makes quitting just a little too tempting. Not to mention, school can be a genuinely enjoyable experience if you keep a positive outlook!

In case all of this scheduling and juggling still sounds a little daunting, in next week’s column I’ll offer a slightly unusual approach to scheduling courses, custom-designed for people with poor organizational skills (it’s the one I use myself). Then, you can decide which method is most appropriate for your needs and your learning style.

Until then, good luck with your courses!


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.

%d bloggers like this: