Are you someone who likes to make New Years resolutions each year? And if so, do you stick them out or do you tend to try pretty hard at sticking with it for the first month of the year or so and then life gets in the way?

I’ll admit, I’m not much of a New Years resolution person. I like to think that if I want to make a big change in my life, I’ll just do it when the timing seems right rather than at the start of the new year. That’s too much pressure for big decisions!

However, as my life has shifted a lot in the last few months – I made the decision to go back to school and decided to do it full time, making career changes in addition to the education changes (and I also got married right before starting up classes, so I guess that’s a big change too!) – I am looking at the start of 2015 a little differently than I have in the past. 2015 also happens to be the year in which I turn 30, and though I’m not too concerned about the aging thing, it’s still a fairly monumental life moment. So, with all of that, I am thinking that perhaps this is the year to make some resolutions and to stick with them.

If you’re thinking about enrolling in an online program, but haven’t yet taken the plunge, perhaps this is a great time to take the necessary steps to do it for 2015! Here are my tips for making sure this resolution sticks if it’s one you want to make this year (well, next year, I suppose):

Get organized!  If you’re a follower of this blog, you already know I’m big into organization, and therefore this isn’t just limited to setting up a study plan. I love being organized in everything I do in life. When I started my classes this past fall, I splurged a little on a fancy weekly planner and it just makes me so happy! When I’m talking about staying organized with your educational New Years resolution, I mean that you should consider the following:

  • Determine all of the necessary steps involved with enrolling in a program. What types of forms will you need to fill out? What information is needed on those forms? Do you need to collect information about all of your finances before enrolling? Are there financial aid processes that have to be done within a certain time period? How long will it take from the very first step of the enrollment process (and perhaps that is just as simple as an initial phone call) to the point where you are enrolled? When do you expect classes to begin? If you map out all of these steps and the time involved from start to finish, you will have a better idea of when you will be starting classes, and when you will hopefully be completing them. Then you can arrange things in your life accordingly and make any necessary job, childcare, schedule changes as far in advance as possible.
  • And speaking of that topic, you should arrange your life to make room for school. Make sure you can think ahead to how long you will need to spend on schoolwork per week and be sure you have that time available. Figure out what needs to change in order to make that time available. Do you need to alter your work schedule? Do you need to come up with alternative childcare options or rely on family and friends more that usual to help with childcare so you have some free time for schoolwork? Do you need to cancel involvement in activities like a book club, church committee, or community volunteer work – just temporarily – while you’re in school? Make those changes now so that you have less to worry about when you’re starting classes.
  • Think about the types of classes you’ll be taking. Are they held at a specific time or can you do all of the class requirements each week on your own time? If they are held at a specific time, do you need to plan ahead to make sure you don’t have other responsibilities at that time? An example would be a class that you have to attend around dinnertime – can you change your typical dinnertime to work around the class? Do you need to prepare a meal in advance, so that it’s ready to go right after class or can be made by another family member during class (especially if you have children who’s schedules are hard to change)? Will your sleep schedule need to change? I’m all about getting as much sleep as possible while in school, and not falling into the trap of just sacrificing sleep to get things done by the deadline, but that involves a good amount of pre-planning to make sure that happens.

Talk to family and friends. One of the things I was not quite so prepared for with school was the impact it would have on my relationships. My free time disappeared pretty quickly, which made it difficult to socialize with my friends as frequently as I was used to doing. Additionally, my husband and I had very little time together, and when I was home, I was studying, paper writing, and doing school-related work. Our TV date nights now had a third wheel – my books. Luckily, I have been able to communicate with the important people in my life about all these changes and my limited time as things are happening. My friends know that I can maybe get together once a month and usually only if it’s planned in advance and not around a big deadline. My husband and I are working on trying to do something together once a week or at least every other week outside of the house so I won’t be torn between spending time with him and trying to get ahead on my schoolwork. However, if you’re planning on making 2015 the year of college for you, talk to family and friends BEFORE you start classes about how it may impact your life and your relationships. In retrospect, I wish I had a better idea of how much college would impact my relationships and that I could have talked to people about it before I was in the middle of everything. Be aware of the lack of free time you’ll have and be upfront with them about that, because it’s only temporary. That’s the great thing about college – eventually you get your degree, or at least that’s the goal and what you’re doing this for, and then you get a social life back again!

Find a study spot! I returned to school to get a graduate degree, so I do have the experience of college under my belt already. However, the last time I was taking classes, I was single, living with roommates, and on a college campus with coffee shops and libraries to study at whenever I needed to do that outside of my apartment. Now, I’m married, I have a dog who needs walking and attention, and I am not living on a college campus. I realized that before my classes started, I needed to make a space for myself at home that I felt comfortable studying in and where I could write papers in peace. I don’t have the ability to use my bedroom as a private space, like I did in an apartment with roommates, but I also don’t have to worry about taking over the shared space in the house like I did at that time in my life. I set up a desk for myself in an area I felt was private enough, but also not totally closed off (because I prefer to work in more open spaces that have a bit of noise to them). Make setting up a study space part of your New Years resolution about college.

Budget! My last tip is pretty obvious, but something you have to think about constantly when you’re a student. Think about how you spend your money on a regular basis and figure out where you can cut costs while you’re a student, because you are going to have additional expenses to consider. Even if you’re receiving full financial aid, you will still want to budget – use the savings from budgeting to put money aside for when you have graduated and have to start paying back loans. One thing I discovered, since I like to complete schoolwork in a busier spot that has background noise (if it’s too quiet, I find myself going onto Facebook and other sites when I’m supposed to be working on a paper in order to distract myself), is that I am spending more money on coffee and tea at coffee shops than I did before I went back to school. I had to figure out when it’s okay to spend that extra money, when I need to avoid coffee shops and just tough it out in a quiet spot at home, and where I need to stop spending money in order to have that extra available for coffee and tea (since I wouldn’t feel okay sitting in a coffee shop without at least buying a small cup of tea or something). Thinking about money in a very specific and detailed way, and making resolutions specific to how you plan to spend and save while attending college is super important!

These are by no means all the tips out there for how to make a resolution about going back to college and then stick with it until you get that degree, but hopefully it’s helpful as you think about what you want to do in 2015! So, I say make that big resolution, think about what you need to do all year long to stick with it, and hit the ground running next year.

Happy holidays and happy New Year everyone!