It’s safe to say that being a student is stressful to say the least. We’ve all been there. Struggling to balance the pile of books to and from classes, trying not to have a mental breakdown over the magnitude of those looming assignments, attending your job AND having a social life. There’s certainly not enough hours in the day for that unrealistic miracle.

What student doesn’t loathe the run up to Christmas when their assignment deadlines are suddenly dawning upon them? It’s like an express train is coming full pelt at you and you’re tied to the train tracks. Not to mention the period after the holidays spent revising for January exams. Some unlucky students spend their Christmas worrying about three different assignments and exams every semester. Even the thought of that makes me feel uneasy. Luckily for me, that worry and angst has disappeared like students’ social lives!


I’ll start with a bit of a background to my University career – it’s probably not like any you have ever come across. I have been in University for five years and still have two years left. I know what you’re thinking – how on earth could I stick that? There has admittedly been hiccups along the way, but I’m glad to see that sweet finish line in the distance.

I, like most pupils in Upper-Sixth, had the idea that for a successful life, I had to follow the same repetitive journey as everyone else to get me to where I wanted to be. School, University and then, a big boy job. Isn’t that what life’s all about? I started Northumbria University studying Geography and that’s when it clicked with me – I was on a path that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I had no interest in the birth rates of Guatemala or the angle that rain fell. Who would?

After passing first year, I decided to swiftly move away from this course into something that I would enjoy. I applied to a Communications Management course, continuing living the life in the ‘Toon’ and finally, I was loving it.

Towards the end of my second year in Newcastle, my old boss contacted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse – a huge promotion back in Belfast to work alongside him. After endless emails and phone calls with UU, they thankfully agreed to let me study my degree back home, going straight into their second-year course. I was over the moon!

Trust me, if you think you’ve made the wrong decision studying away from home, give Belfast a go, you won’t be disappointed! The main reason I came home was to focus on my full-time job, running events. As September approached, I was getting more anxious about it. Everybody would already have their friendship groups and I didn’t want to be left out; the dread was an awful feeling.

Trying to juggle a full-time job and a full-time degree meant that I was struggling with both to say the least. I knew that another change had to happen – this time, I needed to get it right. My course director in UU suggested I finish my degree part-time. Something I had never even thought about. This allowed me to focus the majority of my time on my job, whilst also completing my degree. I haven’t looked back since! Studying part-time was by far the better option for me. I hope my honesty and uneasy journey will help someone out there!

The content is exactly the same, only it takes double the time. The full-time students worry about completing six modules a year with different assignments and exams – no easy task! Luckily, one year for a full-time student is spread out over two years for me. I know it doesn’t sound great but if you have other things to juggle like me, it’s an excellent option.

Part-time allows you to dedicate more time to each module. I definitely don’t miss stressing about cramming in revision for those exams. Since I have swapped to part-time, my work has improved drastically! I have developed from only scraping a pass in first year in Newcastle, to completing my second year with a first – result or what?!

Now I’m in final-year. The supposedly dreadful year. But for me, it’s a whole lot easier. As opposed to covering four modules along with a dissertation like most students, I can focus solely on my dissertation for a whole year. Jealous?


Some students I’ve chatted to about the part-time option, are very keen about it and I can’t blame them. Although my abnormal journey has not been an easy one, I can benefit other students by advising them on their University path. If you’re one of those students who are unsure about your future, feel free to contact me. Everybody has a different path, I can certainly help to get you on the right track!


Cal McIlwaine is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Facebook – Facebook Account / Twitter – Twitter Account / LinkedIn – Linkedin Account