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How to support an online student through their degree

By Nathan 30 Jul 2019
Image of two students studying in the library.


In July 2014 I crossed the stage as a graduate of the Bachelor of Business. Three years of late nights, early mornings and non-existent weekends were finally behind me. I’d done the hard yards and now I had my testamur to show for it.

While my time as a student may have (finally) come to an end, my girlfriend Andrea was still studying and had another 12 months before it would be her turn to cross the stage. She works full-time, so studies part-time online after work and on weekends. The finish line was in sight, but we both know was still a lot of hard work ahead of her.

It’s not always easy to support a friend or partner through study, especially when you’re living under the same roof. Things get busy, people get tired and sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re helping or just getting in the way. Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far:

  • Give them their space. Be respectful and give them their peace and quiet when they need it. Visit mates at their place instead of inviting them over, or at least make an effort to keep the noise down.
  • Pick up the slack. When you’re living together, you kind of have things figured out when it comes to the cooking, cleaning and other house jobs, but when it comes to assignments or crunch time with exams your normal routine might go out the window. Cut your friend or partner some slack and help out wherever you can.
  • Be there for them. Sometimes the best way to help is to be another set of eyes and ears when your friend or partner is working through an assignment. Andrea often calls out to me for ‘help’ when what she really needs is just someone to talk her ideas through with or to proofread her work. You might not always understand what they’re working on but that’s ok; sometimes an outside opinion is exactly what’s needed.
  • Treat them to a break. There’s a fine line between treating your friend or partner to a study break and encouraging procrastination, so be careful that you don’t get too carried away, but going out for lunch or even running errands together can be a good way to help them de-stress and refocus. If you notice they seem a little tense, jump in the car and head out for a while together.
  • Be patient. My girlfriend often gets pretty tired, cranky and short with me when the pressure is on with uni, especially when she’s had a full day at work and is still trying to push out assignments that night. Remember that it won’t last forever and whether they say it right now or not, your support is important to them.
  • Bring them food. It sounds simple but it really does work. A steady stream of snacks and a well-stocked fridge will go a long way.

The main thing I’ve learnt from living with an online student, especially now that I’ve finished my studies, is that communication is the key to making things work. Everyone gets busy and wrapped up in their own things and sometimes it’s easy to forget the amount of work that your partner is putting into their study. Having their assignment and exam calendar somewhere in the house that everyone can see it is a good way to keep everyone in the loop with what they have coming up and helps you to plan around being there to support them when crunch time hits.

Nathan at graduation with his girlfriend Andrea.

It’s not always easy and you might not always get it right, but it’s pretty cool to see your partner getting through their studies and knowing that you’ve been able to support them to keep going. Andrea and I have been together over five years now, so I was there to see her through her first semester and I’m looking forward to supporting her through her last. It’s a team effort and I know it’ll all be worth it when she crosses the stage.

If you haven’t studied at uni yourself, or are looking for more ways to help your student on their path to graduation, check out the great advice in Katie’s blog, the family’s guide to uni.

Author profile image of Nathan.