Mom! It’s Time for School!
By Mali Anderson
If you’ve been out of school for a while—be it a year or decades—returning to an academic environment can be daunting. But the trend of adults returning to school is on the rise. One study reports adult students (over 25 years old) make up nearly half of the new and returning student population on today’s college campuses.
So, if you’ve been dreaming of finishing your first bachelor degree, or are chomping at the bit to get your second graduate degree, there are more options than ever to help you attain that goal. Keep in mind, it can be a struggle to cope with financial responsibilities, children’s needs, household management and work, all while attending classes, but these are short-term sacrifices needed to achieve a long-range goal.
Marci Nogueira, a working mother who was promoted from general manager to director after obtaining a graduate degree from Post University, says, “having my family see me in a different career light is incredibly rewarding. My family was able to see me engaged in the process, to know what it’s like to work hard, go to school, get an education, but also to advance in your career and apply leadership skills both at home and at work.”
Have you decided to hit the books? Consider the following tips to help you get started on the delicate balance of returning to school and raising a family.
Do it because you want to…
This sounds obvious but there are many pressures to attend school. Furthering your education needs to be important to you. Attending school because someone suggested it, or in hopes of one day making more money, could make it more difficult to finish. Study what you love and the passion will come through.
We don’t all know exactly what we want to do, but everybody has interests. How do you spend your free time? What books and magazines do you read? Which class have you taken in the past that has stuck with you all this time? Follow these ideas and talk to advisors at the university to help define what you could study in order to make your ideal career path a possibility.
“Choose a specialization that you truly care about. The juggling act will be much more challenging for you if you don’t enjoy your field of study. A focus area you are passionate about will help you achieve success” says Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon, associate dean of Walden University’s School of Counseling and Social Service.
Consider a flexible program…
We all have varying levels of support. If you have an encouraging spouse and an extended family willing to help, you may be able to attend a traditional degree program. If that is not a possibility, there are alternative methods such as part-time enrollment, low residency graduate programs and online classes.
For instance, Nancy Hemenway, a working mother of two daughters, is pursuing a graduate degree at George Mason University. She says, “I can take some of my classes online, which helps me keep a flexible schedule. When I looked at programs, I wanted to be able to do a good portion of my grad work online but still have the connection to the university. I also looked for a program that would give me some time to finish. My plan is one course a semester including summer sessions. So, realistically, I should be able to obtain my degree in 3 years.”
Reorganize your life…
Scheduling a time and place to do your studying can help with self-discipline and time management. Just as young children thrive in routines, having a set time for your own studies—maybe once the kids are in bed—and a set location—a well lit table away from distractions like televisions and household duties—can assist parents in staying up-to-date with the assigned reading and papers needed to finish an advanced degree.
Also, many schools have programs to assist adults in the transition from parent to parent and student. For example, UW-Milwaukee has a children’s center and a life impact program. The tuition at the children’s center can be adjusted to fit within a family’s finances and life impact provides resources, meeting groups and scholarships, designed specifically for parents returning to school.
At the start of your first semester, reach out and ask faculty if they are aware of helpful study groups. Exchange email addresses with classmates as soon as school starts to set up a support system early. This way, if you miss a class, or there is a concept everyone but you gets, you won’t fall behind. Often, if you ask for help, you’ll be surprised how willing others are to supply it.
Questions to ask before returning to school
How will school fit into my schedule?
There are a variety of programs available for non-traditional students. Would you be able to attend a low residency program? Would night or online classes be a possibility? Take a hard look at your planner and see where adjustments can be made. School is a big commitment and chances are things will have to be sacrificed. For instance, vacation time may be used for a low residency graduate program, or family dinners may be interrupted by Monday and Wednesday evening classes.
Can I afford it?
Once you have a school you’re interested in, ask about financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Check with the human resources department at your work about any programs they offer to reimburse educational expenses. Armed with this information, sit down with a fresh piece of paper and look over family finances. For many, an advanced degree will mean a tight year or two before a degree can be obtained. Remember, on top of tuition, you’ll need books, possible childcare and in many cases a new laptop. If the numbers truly don’t add up, start a savings fund while researching affordable schools and financial aid opportunities. Education enhances life, but financial stress can affect how well a student does in school, too. Figure out what works for your family, and stick to the budget.
Will I be able to work?
With more and more adults returning to school, many have found ways to continue working while studying. Would your current employer be open to flexible hours? Or can your position be reduced to part time? Do you know other parents who have been able to swing school and work? Ask around, you may be offered the ideal opportunity for your situation.
Acacia Academy is a private therapeutic day school ages 6 – 22 for those with learning disabilities, emotional concerns, autism and intellectually challenged students who benefit from a personalized program designed to meet individual needs. Natural habitat and three-acre school Nature Center located on campus provides students with a unique outdoor experience and summer program. AdvancED accredited and approved by the Illinois State Board of Education for out-of-district placement. Transition programs and vocational services are available for ages 17-22. Kathryn Fouks, principal. 6425 Willow Springs Road, LaGrange, IL 60525. (708) 579-9040.