By Susan Ott
If you’re a full time mom looking to go back to college to complete your degree, you’re probably both excited about the new opportunities your education may provide you and nervous about how you’ll adapt to going back to school.
Thankfully, there’s never been a better time for moms going back to college than the present; adult learning options are numerous, from night classes to whole degrees obtained on the internet, making it easier for those with daytime commitments to go back to school. But if you’re apprehensive about taking the leap from diapers and sippy cups to textbooks and research papers, don’t despair. The following tips will help you put your priorities in order so you can continue to be a mom and get a college education at the same time.
Fully Research Your Options
College education for adults has become a huge market as many are looking to complete their degrees or earn new ones to make a career advancement or change. This is good news for you, because there are many different options available. Night school has been a popular option for those going back to school, since people can continue their day jobs without interruption and still earn a degree. But an even more convenient option that’s gained popularity over the past decade is getting your degree online.
Attending an online college means that you can make school fit your schedule instead of having to rearrange your life to go back to college. Many online degrees allow you to learn and work whenever it’s convenient for you, which can be early in the morning, during the baby’s nap, while waiting during soccer practice, or after the kids go to bed at night. Beyond convenience, online study can help you save on tuition, the costs involved with transportation, possibly paying a babysitter, and even on buying new clothes to wear to classes.
Develop a Timeline
Many schools offer completion degree programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree in 12 or 18 months if you already have an associate’s degree or equivalent credits. To get a degree that fast, however, you’ll need a good deal of open time to study at an intensive rate. Obviously, everyone wants to get their degree as quickly as possible. But it’s important to map out a study schedule that will allow you to keep up enough energy to reach the finish line while continuing to take care of your family. Most schools will allow you to take a semester off as well as increase or decrease your course load as you go along. It may be in your interest to allow yourself two years or more to finish school, rather than trying to rush through it.
Get Organized Before You Start
Going to school is always a large undertaking, but when you have a family to care for at the same time, the commitment can feel overwhelming. Before you start, it’s important to organize your home to make room for your new workload. Designate a space in your home that’s yours alone to do homework, study, and store your books and supplies. Make sure it’s quiet, comfortable and free from daily distractions. Let your kids know that this space is off-limits; nothing in this area is to be touched, and when you’re here, you’re not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Keep your supplies and anything else you need for school in this spot so you’re always ready to get your work done and make the most of the time you have.
Make Sure You Have a Support System
Life happens and things go wrong, but when you’re a mom, mishaps are multiplied. Kids get sick, the car won’t start, teachers call conferences and everyone needs to be fed and clothed on a daily basis. When you’re going back to school, these challenges can seem overwhelming, which is why it’s important to enlist others who can help you on this journey. A spouse, parent, sibling or close friend can be a wonderful ally, helping out with the kids and the home so that you can continue to focus on school. Friends and neighbors can carpool and host playdates, and a babysitter can make afterschool snacks and help kids with homework. It’s important to acknowledge that you will need some help to get it all done and enlist people you really trust to support you and your family while your continue your education.
Put Yourself on the Family Schedule
Most moms have a hard time making themselves a priority, electing instead to put the rest of the family first. But when you’re going back to college, you need to carve out regular time each week to get the work done. Instead of just “winging it,” trying to fit schoolwork into a busy family schedule, mark out blocks of time on the calendar just for you. Treat this time as any other appointment, and stick to it. Let the rest of the family know that you are unavailable at these times, and you’ll be happy to help them when you’re done. Look through your syllabi for the semester and plan your time accordingly, making sure you have the time to get all of your assignments and studying done.
Be Realistic and Cut Yourself Some Slack
Going back to school is a huge commitment of time and energy, and even though you can find convenient options for college, life won’t be the same as it was before. You will have to give certain things up to make time for school, and that’s okay. Be realistic about the way your life will look while you go back to school. You may have to rely on more convenience foods, give up certain activities or say no to commitments you used to embrace, like volunteering at your child’s school. While this may be difficult, remind yourself that it’s only for a short time, and the benefits of earning your degree will far outweigh the temporary inconveniences to family life.
For moms going back to college, there are many factors to consider beyond your own personal life and fulfillment. But with some advanced planning, people to help you and a clear focus on your education goals, you’ll be able to juggle school and family without losing your mind. It will take some adjustment, but it can be done.