The working mum’s survival guide for uni study

Charles Sturt University (CSU) alumna, weekend adventurer and boss mum Emma Turcato shares her experience balancing study, work and motherhood.

Emma landed her dream career thanks to flexible study at CSU.
Emma landed her dream career thanks to flexible study at CSU.

My journey to CSU

I’ve always considered myself a creative person, and working as a freelance photographer did fulfil my creative flair. However, I dreamed of wanting more.

I wanted to study at university. But at the age of 26 as a mum raising a little boy, I’d convinced myself that studying, working and raising a child would be too much to juggle and impossible to manage on my own.

I found the thought of university overwhelming and was concerned about the level of commitment I would need to give to my studies, which I perceived as just too difficult to fit into my already busy life.

Every year (for several years) I told myself ‘maybe next year’. But in 2014, when my son turned six, I realised just how fast life goes. So I made the decision to stop worrying about what could go wrong and instead focus on what could go right if I gave myself the chance to try.

Enrolling in CSU’s Bachelor of Communication (Advertising) and studying on campus, I opened a new chapter of my life as a full-time student.

Why advertising?

I love ads! Rare, I know, but I find the concept of advertising fascinating. In fact, a favourite event of mine is the Super Bowl – not for the football but for the amazing advertisements shown during the game.

My degree, my way

One of the first subjects I studied at CSU was professional writing, which gives students the foundations for writing at a university level. Having written nothing longer than a shopping list for many years, I found this subject reassuring and a strong base to start a degree.

CSU allowed me to take complete control of my degree and how I wanted to build it. From day one I was able to group together tutorials and workshops to avoid being on campus daily, and could change subject modes from on campus to online for flexible options to fit with my personal life.

I was able to select electives from a variety of course areas that allowed me to choose subjects based on my interests in marketing, graphic design and sociology, letting me shape and personalise the degree.

During my final year, I was required to undertake an internship as part of my degree. and I was able to choose a placement based on the career direction I wanted to take. I applied for a scholarship with OMD in Sydney, a media agency with some very well-known clients including McDonald’s, Qantas and Telstra.

I was lucky enough to receive a paid internship of four weeks. This financial support allowed me to fulfil the required practical experience without concern about finances during this time. The experience I had at this agency opened my eyes to the world of advertising and made me even more excited about my future career.

The final year of the Bachelor of Communication (Advertising) is designed to show students the expectations and reality of the industry, and I loved being treated less like a student and more like an employee in my final year of study.

Emma went on a paid internship at Sydney as part of her course.
Emma went on a paid internship at Sydney as part of her course.

The support I needed

Throughout my degree I felt supported and understood by both staff and students. Bringing my son to lectures, classes or group meetings was never an issue, and I always felt comfortable doing so if need be. Studying, working and being the best mum I could be was not always easy to manage, and I had to work hard and always be organised. However, it was the support I received both academically and emotionally from staff and peers that guided me until the end of my degree.

Fear is a liar

“I won’t fit in”, “I can’t do this” and “I don’t have time” were all thoughts that constantly ran through my mind. Initially, fear infiltrated my hopes and dreams. It planted a seed of doubt that threatened to stop all that I went on to achieve.

The reality was that my fears were just that, because I did fit in – CSU was not filled with just school leavers like I’d pictured. I was able to connect with a range of students of different ages and backgrounds, all with a different story leading to CSU. And I made some lifelong friends along the way.

I did do this! In 2017 I graduated with Distinction, was awarded the Executive Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence and have since started working within the industry, every day now doing what I love.

Emma enjoyed social events with new friends as part of the CSU community.
Emma enjoyed social events with new friends as part of the CSU community.

Advice from me to you

  • No more excuses: Stop dreaming of the career you want and start creating it.
  • Ask for help: The support services available at CSU are there to help you achieve your goals – use them!
  • Network: Make new friends, engage with lecturers, use social media to form connections and communicate with as many people as you can. The university wants to see you succeed and staff are always happy to share their knowledge and the connections they have with current employers.

I left CSU with more than just a degree. It was an experience and an important chapter in my life, one I will remember for ever.

Ready to start your journey?

If you’re ready to make a big life change, CSU can help you reach your potential. Apply now to start one of our professionally recognised degrees this July.