General Advice for Part-time Engineering Students
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1. Thoroughly investigate available programs. Find out if the quality, cost, and major field are compatible with your needs. Talk to current students and recent graduates of the program. Find out how the reputation of the school is viewed by your employer.
2. Financial Planning - While one of the ultimate goals of getting more education is to increase income, the opposite typically occurs during the education process. Figure that you will have the added expense of going to school and will probably be less available for overtime, side jobs, and other income opportunities. In addition, if a spouse needs to stay home more to "cover the bases" while you go to school there could be some lost income there as well. Child care costs could be increased also. Make a budget that projects your real income and expenses while a student and avoid surprises or unnecessary interruptions to your course of study. Avoid dropping out in the middle of a quarter because of financial problems. Check with your employer to see if tuition reimbursement is available. If none is available, ask if they would consider starting a tuition reimbursement program.
3. Time Management - Be realistic about your ability to devote 10-20 hours per week to school work.
Prior to deciding to return to school - It may take you as long as one or two years to position yourself for school. Start your planning by making a one week "time picture" that shows how time could be used. Analyze carefully all of your commitments and determine which ones can be postponed and which ones should be retained. Consider also which of your activities are "stressful". Work with your family to come up with a workable plan. [Author's note: When I went back to school in 1984 I had a wife and three children. I taught a 3rd grade Sunday School class, was active in Indian Guides, was member of a school board, had a multilevel business, and owned two rental units. In order to survive I sold the rental units, went inactive on the multilevel business, and resigned as Sunday School teacher. I stayed with Indian Guides (and later Scouting) and the school board because they seemed the most important.] Use this information and family input to come up with a plan for being able to continue school. Consider strategies for rewarding your family for being cooperative, supportive and understanding.
During School - Keep a good calendar. Schedule family and personal needs first. This practice is important because if you and your family know that family events and time together are on the schedule it becomes much more bearable when you are away for class or in seclusion for studying. Also be aware that as an engineering student you will be studying primarily math, science and engineering topics. The mind needs to be fresh to get the best results. (You and your family need to understand that studying math, science and engineering after 9 or 10 pm may be very unproductive for you while watching an hour of TV at that time is no problem. Three hours of study on Saturday morning may be more productive than six hours of studying after working all day.)
4. Become a Student of "How to Study" - There are strategies for notetaking, studying, and test taking that can save time, reduce stress, and improve results. Become a student of the learning process and find techniques that make your life easier.
5. Stress - Watch for signs of excess stress and try to manage it. We have noticed that taking too many classes or taking too many difficult classes simultaneously produces stress in students. Financial and relationship problems also produce stress quickly. Your spouse will probably notice your stress level long before you do. Excessive stress can reduce your learning capacity by 50% without you even knowing it. Often adult students become very grade conscious which induces performance stress. Our advice is to not become overly consumed with your GPA. If you do your best with the time you have allotted then be happy with the results. (Note: The average engineering student GPA is around 2.7 - 2.8. At Cal Poly, any engineering student with over a 3.0 GPA is highly regarded.)
6. Teamwork & Networking - Develop friendships and working relationships with other students. Study together occasionally and network over the phone, IM, email, or at lunch. These relationships will make the program easier, produce friendships, and may help you establish important contacts later on.
7. The Secrets to Success - Persistence, family support and flexibility.