Going back to school as an adult is challening; going back to college with kids at home can seem just about impossible. If a parent who has “been there, done that” tells you that it was easy, they’re probably lying, but it is doable. Here are six practical hints to take into consideration:
1. Research schools, the programs they offer, and career outlook before making any commitments. Going to college can be expensive and many students finance their educations with loans that must be paid back whether or not they earn a degree. That said; don’t jump into anything before doing a bit of homework. Whether you plan to take classes online or in person, research things on your own—don’t only rely on the information given to you by the admissions representatives. Is the college or university accredited? Do they offer the exact program you are interested in? Will you need to pass any licensing examinations after graduation before you are considered hirable? Are there many job opportunities in your area? What is the average starting salary for that position? If something sounds too good to be true, it might be.
2. Look at current and previous school schedules. If you think you’re ready to enroll in classes, peruse a current course schedule and ask if you can see previous and future schedules as well. Are any of your prerequisites or required core classes only offered at a time that will not work for you? Some college programs, such as nursing or other healthcare training programs, are only offered during the daytime for full-time students. If you work and/or have children, is that something you can honestly do? Even though other academic programs are a lot more flexible and can be completed by part-time students, certain courses may only be offered one day per week at a specific time.
3. Make a calendar. If you want to go back to college with kids, even a degree that traditionally takes two years to earn may take three, four or more if you’re only able to attend classes part time. Map out a tentative calendar, semester by semester or term by term, that shows which classes you should be taking when. (Many classes related to a specific major have prerequisites, which means that you will probably have to take some of your classes in a specific order.) Make note of your child or children’s ages at that time, as well as where they will be attending school—your kids’ daily schedules might change between elementary school and middle school, or middle school and high school. This calendar won’t be set in stone, but it’s better to have an idea than try to wing it.
4. Set practical goals for yourself. Once you decide to go back to college, you also need to be practical. You might have earned straight A’s in high school without trying, but times are different now—you’re older and you weren’t raising a family back then! No, you shouldn’t skip studying or put in as little effort as possible, but as long as you understand the concepts being taught and feel comfortable writing about them and discussing them, B’s and even C’s may have to suffice every now and then.
5. Sleep! Whether it’s starting a new job or starting college classes, adjusting to anything new and different takes its toll. It’s tempting to stay awake until 3 AM if you have a full-time job in addition to your classes, but that 6 AM alarm clock won’t sound very pleasant. Sleep deprivation plays a big role in your ability to think and learn, can affect your ability to drive to school or work safely, and can lead to a variety of long-term health problems.
6. Have back-up plans. It’s inevitable that things will come up. If your kids are usually in school when you are, remember that schools close for occasional teacher planning days, holidays, and sometimes because of inclement weather. That doesn’t necessarily mean your school will be closed, too. Baby-sitters cancel. Family members get sick. Traffic jams can cause major time delays. Having a back-up plan in place can help you out when the going gets tough. Have a list of trustworthy friends, family members, or neighbors who can help you out in a pinch.
You’ll probably get some funny looks if you run into class announcing “I’m a parent and I have a job!” on your first day of school, but it’s a good idea to inform your instructors that you have kids and/or work at some point. You shouldn’t use your kids or your job as an excuse for bad grades or tardiness, but chances are your professors will be more understanding when occasional emergencies occur if they know about your situation. Working adults going to college with kids have a lot more challenges than traditional-age college students—professors realize this. Many of them are parents, too.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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