Going Back To School As A Parent: 12 Helpful Tips You Need To Know

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When you think of a college student, you may imagine a fresh-out-of-high-school teenager. Someone trying to figure out what the heck they want to do and how to do it. In reality, a third of college students are non-tradition (25 years or older). And, over 20% of undergrads are parents! These students usually go back to school for various reasons: job security, personal growth, seeking a higher income, or setting an example for their kids. For many parents, the idea of going back to school is DAUNTING AND STRESSFUL. As a recent college graduate and a mom, I learned how to balance motherhood and a full academic workload. So, I am sharing helpful tips to help any parent thinking about going back to school.

Going Back To School As A Parent: 12 Helpful Tips You Need To Know

1 – There’s no better time than now.

Your first step is to research colleges and admissions standards. Keep in mind your goal to either finish a bachelor’s degree or start a new one. 

Some universities offer open admission, which accepts all applications. Other schools can be more selective. SATs or ACTs may not be required. Thus, you must do your research. 

Start the application process at least nine months before your ideal start time – especially if you’re applying to prestigious colleges. If you need to do testing, plan for more time. 

Lastly, find out if the school accepts previous credits. Life experiences — including volunteer work, military service, and previous employment – may be credited.

2 – It takes a village.

Balancing an academic load, parenthood, and life, in general, is overwhelming. You will burn out and not give your best if you cannot find time for your studies.

See if you can get someone to babysit. Do you have a friend who loves your kids? Are family members available to watch your kids for a few hours? Does your school offer on-campus childcare?

Unfortunately, roughly 15% of colleges offer on-campus childcare. Finding suitable childcare can be challenging, but it is so worth it. You need at least a few hours a week to complete assignments and study childfree.

3- Be realistic about the time required.

Many students don’t realize how much time and effort goes into finishing college. The school can estimate the time commitment required for your program of interest – both in and out of the classroom. Moreover, you can choose between enrolling full- or part-time at several colleges. Even though it will take longer to finish the program enrolled part-time, it may be more doable. 

The best person to discuss this with is an admissions counselor. 

Additionally, you may need to enroll for a specific number of credits each term. If you apply for financial aid, you will need a specific number of credits per term to keep your financial aid. This helps with the fees.

4- It may be more manageable than you expect.

Many institutions offer flexible schedules. They can be standard, accelerated, or self-paced. Online classes are available at many schools. You can also complete many certificate programs within a year.

However, you need to be aware of the program you are applying to. Unfortunately, there are suspicious/too-good-to-be-true promises out there. The Federal Trade Commission explains how there are empty promises for college degrees. Do you see a program that mentions no studying required, no exams required, and/or promises you will get a degree in a few short days or weeks? RUN. It’s a scam.

If you are still unsure, you can always contact the school’s admissions. Ask them how classes can fit into your schedule and the support offered to students.

5 – Find out what financial aid is available.

Getting financial aid depends on many factors. Some of these factors are the school, the program you choose, and if you already have a degree.

You can also check out what scholarships are available to you. 

6 – Pick the program that works for you.

You can opt for an advanced-degree program or a certificate program.

Advanced-degree programs are more traditional. They start in that fall and need 2 to 6+ years of full-time studying. They may be less flexible, but they’re still doable. This is the one I did.

Certificate programs are usually noncredit education. BUT, they are more flexible, take less time to complete, and are field-specific. Moreover, they are becoming popular. Students tend to get practical experience and gain confidence in completing the program. Just be sure to see if the program is accredited. This can be an important factor when trying to advance your career.

image of toddler at a laptop
My toddler was always determined to help me meet my academic deadlines.

7.  Do NOT fear failure

If you are afraid to fail, you will never succeed It’s as simple as that.

If nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.

8. Good organization is essential.

One of my essential keys to success during college was reviewing the course syllabus within the first week of class. I was able to make a game plan, note all deadlines and due dates, and plan study time in advance for any tests or exams. 

Additionally, procrastination is your worst nightmare, especially when you are a parent going back to school. 

9. Create a study space. Schedule time to study.

Everyone gets their work done differently. 

Some people need total silence, while others need music. Some people are early birds; others are night owls. One person may focus on the books laying on the floor. Another person may need to sit at a table in a coffee shop.

Figure out what works best for you. Then, schedule time to get your work done. 

10. There will be sacrifices ahead.

You may end up feeling parental guilt. It’s natural.

If I had a penny for every time I had mom guilt related to finishing my degree, I would have been able to pay off my student loans before graduating!

Don’t beat yourself up though. Life happens. Sadly, kids may not understand why you aren’t there for all their after-school programs. And, they certainly won’t understand why you are extra tired.

Seriously, how do we bottle up a child’s energy? Where does it come from?!

If it helps, you can always speak to your professors about getting work done sooner or a day later. If you talk to them early in the semester, you will be able to make a strong game plan.

image of cereal scattered across table, laptop, and notebook
Messes happen.

11. NEVER lose sight of your end goal

I can’t tell you how often I thought of throwing in the towel and giving up. Not as often as the mom guilt I felt, but it was still a lot!

Related Read: 25+ Genuine Quotes for Mom Guilt You Need to Hear

Remember why you started in the first place. And, remember that you are setting an example for your child. By earning your degree, you are telling your child that anything is possible.

12. Your hard work and persistence will pay off

Again, remember why you started. You are aiming to improve life for your family. 

Final thoughts on going back to school as a parent

Undoubtedly, going back to school as a parent is HARD! I won’t sugar-coat it. Some days are harder than others. But, it is important to keep in mind why you wanted to embark on this journey in the first place. The decision to go back to school is not an easy one, especially as a parent. But, you have to ask yourself, “If I do not do this now, will I do it later?” If the answer is yes, then just go for it! If the answer is no, then tell me why are you looking into this. Raising a child always takes a village, but adding an academic load makes it challenging. Even so, you should not fear failure or the unknown. 

If you need motivation, think about Elsa in the second Frozen movie. She was getting stronger every day. Went on a journey that required sacrifice and a community. And, it was all worth it in the end.

If you found this post helpful, share it with someone you know who is thinking f going back to college. Or tell me what you think in the comments below! 🙂

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