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Graduate profile: what’s it like to study later in life?  

Rebekah Henry had always wanted to study law. 

Now working as a lawyer with Clayton Utz, Rebekah’s journey into her legal career has been vastly different from many others.  

She took her first step into the industry as a legal secretary in the US but was later drawn to the idea of studying a law degree. 

‘I knew that [studying law] was the kind of thing I could do, and it was interesting to me. But I just never had the opportunity.’ 

Rebekah says this was partly because she had kids (five in fact!), and partly because there was a lack of options to study in a way that she’d be able to manage. 

After coming to Australia and receiving her Australian Citizenship, Rebekah saw her opportunity to pursue a law degree and jumped at it. 

‘It was just the logical next step in my career path,’ she says. 

With five sons and a full-time job, Rebekah embarked on what would be a long, but worthwhile journey. 

Here, we talk to Rebekah about what it’s like to study later in life.  

Rebekah’s approach to juggling work, life and study 

Now, when Rebekah thinks about her journey, she says she can appreciate how significant it was. But at the time she was going through it, she says she downplayed it a lot. 

‘That was one of my ways of getting through it – to have the approach of, “it’s not that big of a deal – you have to do what you have to do.” To push through, I talked it down,’ Rebekah says. 

‘It was one of those things where you just decide: “Okay, I’m going to do this.” And you make it work however you have to.’ 

And that’s exactly what she did. 

Studying later in life and having the responsibility of a full-time job and a family meant Rebekah became an expert in using her limited spare time wisely to ensure her studies didn’t fall off her list of priorities. 

‘I would use my commute time to listen to lectures and write notes. I studied over my lunch breaks and after the kids went to bed, and took annual leave to sit exams,’ she says. 

Rebekah also honed some tactics for rising to the challenge of studying. 

‘I’m a bit of a nerd, I admit,’ she laughs. ‘But I found it really helpful to be strategic about how I procrastinated. 

‘So, if I had two papers to work on, I would limit my procrastination options to those two assignments. If I was getting tired of one, I’d procrastinate by working on the other. And then just bounce back and forth until they were done.’ 

Since she wasn’t able to block out large chunks of her day to complete assignments, Rebekah says she found it helpful to just get ‘the bare bones’ of her assignments down and then work away at them bit by bit. 

Rebekah Henry

How did she manage unexpected changes? 

Rebekah’s experience juggling work and study with her busy life makes her well-placed to offer a few words of wisdom. 

‘I think that being open to changing the way you study – which can be difficult later in life when you’re a bit more set in your ways – is huge,’ she advises. 

‘It’s a lot harder to when you approach it like, “I have to study this way, because this is the way that worked for me at the start.” You must be flexible and able to adapt, because life changes – life happens.’ 

Life did change for Rebekah. Going through a marital breakdown halfway through her degree meant she had to adapt and change her study methods. However, she says this didn’t halt her determination to succeed at studying later in life. 

‘It just became a matter of adjusting my study style to suit the circumstances, because I had to be much more efficient with my time,’ she explains. 

Rebekah also enlisted the help of an au pair in the last year of her degree, which she says made things much easier. 

‘It was fantastic to have that extra person there to help manage the day-to-day tasks.’ 

Even when things are tough, the way you talk about the situation to yourself is hugely important. 

 

'That was one of my ways of getting through it – to have the approach of, “it’s not that big of a deal – you have to do what you have to do.” To push through, I talked it down.'

Rebekah Henry,
Deakin Law Graduate

Rebekah adopted the mindset of: ‘Finishing my degree is not optional, because I have to do it. So, the question is not whether I will finish – it’s, “What am I going to do to make it happen?”’ 

She says keeping a positive mindset was crucial for getting through the experience without much of the stress you’d expect to go along with a degree. 

Did she ever ask herself, ‘is studying later in life worth it’?  

For Rebekah, there weren’t any moments of disillusion or regret throughout her studies, and she says this comes back to her mindset. 

Rebekah is a strong advocate for engaging in positive self-talk, and she says she was careful throughout her studies to try and view everything in a positive light. 

She notes a quote in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that says, ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’. 

‘So, if you decide something is hard, then it’s going to feel hard,’ Rebekah explains. 

‘But if you look at something and think, “This is wonderful,” then it will be wonderful. If you want to get a good experience out of something, you have to decide to be positive about the experience.’ 

What’s her advice for parents wanting to study later in life? 

‘If you’re later in life and interested in study, don’t wait,’ Rebekah says. 

‘There are so many things in life – big moments and milestones – you can’t wait for the perfect time to [pursue] it. Because there will never be a perfect time – there will always be something else that could stand in the way.’ 

This is true for so many people who are waiting to do something for themselves because they think that, when the right moment comes along, everything else will fall into place. But Rebekah says it’s important to remember that life will never be ‘perfect’, as such. 

‘If your mindset is, “I can’t do it because X,” there will always be something in life that can fill that gap. You can’t define your path based on whatever X is or could be. You’ve got to say, “Okay, despite anything – all the X, Y and Zs; all the reasons not to – this is important enough that I can make it happen,”’ she says. 

‘You get rid of all the reasons not to, you focus on the fact that you’ve decided to do it, and then you just get it done.’ 

Ready to stop making excuses and start studying? Deakin offers flexible online and part-time study options that make studying later in life easier. Find the course that will help you achieve your goals. 

 

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