Going back to school can be daunting for anyone, but for parents seeking higher education, it poses a particular challenge. A recent study by The Young Invincibles found that careers which once required only a bachelor’s degree now require advanced degrees as many employers are increasing education requirements for the newly hired. So with the increased need to advance education to lead to advancement at work, how can busy parents balance work, school, and domestic responsibilities?
Establishing a support system
James Vander Hooven, President of a Community College in Massachusetts, works with a large population of parents. “When times get difficult or unexpected situations happen, school generally becomes the first to go,” he said. “There’s the myth of Super Mom or Super Dad where parents think they don’t need help, but actually the opposite is true.”
Parents who proactively have plans for child care in place prior to the beginning of classes have a better chance of success.
Amy Zabac, a local teacher at St. Joseph in Maumee, had two sons at home when she decided to go back to school. “I had been teaching for about 13 years with a Bachelor’s Degree when I decided that I really wanted to finish my licensure with the State of Ohio.” Zabac’s husband was a tremendous help in taking care of their children and doing housework. “Our family made it a team effort,” she says. “We studied together, did housework together, ate together, and made sure we kept the lines of communication open at all times.”
Taking the first step
Getting a degree can be a “career changer” or a “career enhancer”, so it’s vital to establish your goals upfront. If you want a completely new career, the best option may be a full-time program with internships that provide hands-on experience. However, if you plan to stay in your current field, but advancement depends on a higher degree, a part-time or online program may be a better choice.
Vander Hooven strongly recommends the community college route. “The support networks are much stronger,” he says. “In fact the colleges themselves are almost completely designed around working adults. It’s important to start slow, taking only one or two classes to get an understanding for what it will be like to work, go to school, and care for children.”
Getting involved with an extra-curricular activity is also highly suggested. “That’s shocking for a lot of people,” he admits. “We’re talking about a population of students who are already very busy. It doesn’t have to be every week, or even every month, but there has to be some level of involvement that builds community and a connection to the college that becomes unbreakable outside of the classroom.”
A local choice
Michelle Rable, Dean of Admissions and Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research at Lourdes University, encourages parents to stop dreaming and go for it. “Lourdes offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing as well as the Direct Admit to Nursing for both transfer and new students,” she says. “We also offer a Flexible BSN program that provides the opportunity to complete a degree in three years, or two years for transfer students.” The Lourdes MBA is available as well which develops business professionals and empowers them with the necessary resources to be successful in an ever-changing global society.
Researching financial aid options can also make a big difference. Financial aid is available at Lourdes and Ms. Rable states that often opportunities are overlooked. “I find many adults think they are not able to afford higher education. However, there are many ways to make it work. Scholarships, grants, and loans exist to help make your education dream a reality.”
“My boys were in high school when I went back to school,” Zabac explains. “One of the things that made me nervous about going back to school was the tuition; however, when I looked around, I found there was help out there.”
Vander Hooven recommends contacting individual colleges to ask about financial aid and grant options. “The easiest way to get started is a simple Google search. Taking the time early in the process can save money.”
Be honest with your kids
It’s a big adjustment for children when a parent decides to go back to school. More time away from home means less time for them. Little ones need to be informed about time constraints every step of the way to avoid blindsiding them with the additional commitments involved in attending classes and study time. Children who are old enough to attend school can understand why mom or dad is choosing to pursue higher education. Some families set aside specific times when everyone in the family does homework together.
Take time to relax with your children when you can. While it’s important to model good study habits, it’s equally vital to maintain healthy relationships and model positive ways to relieve stress.
Take care of yourself
It’s important to establish a healthy lifestyle for all family members. Eating and sleeping well are cornerstones to being able to balance work, children, and college. Set your priorities and work together as a family to create as harmonious an environment as possible for everyone.
Going back to school as an adult can be a complicated journey, but with proactive planning and dedication, the degree you earn will be well worth the effort.