If you’ve been out of school for a while - be it a year or decades - returning to an academic environment can be daunting. The trend of adults returning to school is on the rise. One study reports that students over 25 make up nearly half of the student population on today’s university 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, your 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 again? 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 post- secondary institution of your choice 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 extended family that’s willing to help out with your family, 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. “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 three years,” she says.
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 (once the kids are in bed) and a set location (a table away from distractions) can assist you in staying up-to-date with the assigned reading and papers needed to finish an advanced degree.
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 need help, you won’t fall behind. Often, if you ask for help, you’ll be surprised at 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.
Can I afford it? Once you have a school you’re interested in, ask about financial aid and scholarship opportunities. If applicable, 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.
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.
Mali writes about art, culture, and parenting. She lives with her husband and daughter, Ivy.
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