Adjusting to an undergraduate or graduate degree program can be a challenge for any student. This transition can be even more difficult for a student parent who is juggling family obligations and work on top of their class schedule and school work.
Despite these challenges, many parents pursue a degree in order to create a better future for their family. Based on data from the Social Security Administration, men with a bachelor’s degree earn a median of approximately $900,000 more in lifetime earnings than high school graduates. On the flipside, women with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $630,000 more throughout their lifetimes than women with only a high school education.
While the promise of a better future is enticing enough to encourage many parents to go back to school, this can be a daunting task and the ultimate balancing act. Unlike their younger counterparts, student parents may not have as much time to dedicate to their studies or coursework. This doesn’t mean being a parent and going to college isn’t possible. It simply means you need to be mindful and strategic with your time. To help you succeed in your academic endeavors, we’ve put together these five college tips for parents.
1. Find a Program With a Flexible Class Schedule
As a working parent, you don’t have the time to spend all day on campus and enjoy mid-day study breaks on the quad or in the campus coffee shop. As you plan your return to school, look for programs that offer online courses or night classes so you can attend classes when you have child care or while the kids are asleep or otherwise occupied.
Many schools, including National University, offer flexible class schedules and programs tailored specifically to adult learners. At National University, you can attend in-person or online classes to help you fit college courses into your already busy life. Our degree and certificate programs consist of four-week courses that allow you to start and stop when you choose.
As you are considering your choices for schools to attend, find out more about in-person and online learning options so you can set yourself up for success with a program that fits with your work and family schedule.
2. Manage Your Time
The time you spend in class is only half the battle: don’t forget about study time and coursework. Developing a consistent routine will enable you to carve out dedicated study time and also help your family understand when you need heads-down time to concentrate. Maybe you can devote one to two hours to study after the kids go to bed each night. Or maybe your kids have activities on the weekends and you can slot in some time there to complete your assignments.
Whether you find time while the kids are in school or daycare, or while they’re asleep, schedule your school work time as non-negotiable and hold yourself accountable to complete the most important tasks during this time.
While sticking to your schedule will ensure you have an adequate amount of time to study, don’t forget to take advantage of any unexpected time you may find during the week. Keep your school materials with you so you can crack open your book if you find yourself with an extra few minutes. Soccer practice running late? Review your notes for your upcoming test. Are the kids actually playing together without fighting? Use that time to proofread your paper before you submit it to your professor.
3. Ask for Help
Parenting while in college is no easy feat; managing your course load, school work, and family takes a village. It’s important to have a support system of family and friends that you can enlist for help. Do you have a relative who lives nearby who can take the kids for a couple hours each week while you finish your assignments? Can you switch off hosting playdates with a neighbor or family friend to give yourself some extra time to study? Now is not the time to be prideful, and you never know who is willing to help until you ask. Chances are, your family and friends want to see you succeed and will do what they can to help and support you.
Besides enlisting help for child care, be communicative with your professors and academic advisor. This doesn’t mean you should ask for handouts, but communicate that you’re a parent and there may be times where you will have to miss school or may need an extension on an assignment. Develop a plan for how you will handle these situations so everyone is on the same page when they arise.
4. Manage Your Expectations
By now, you understand that pursuing your degree while raising a family isn’t going to be easy, but you know the struggle will be worth it. Now is the time to redefine how you measure success. Striving to get straight A’s may not be feasible, and if you’re going back to school to create career opportunities, does getting an A on every test really matter?
Instead, define what success looks like and celebrate the small wins along the way. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about getting good grades, but take a more holistic approach to your coursework. Although you may initially have to relearn how to study, your professional and life experience can actually help you succeed when you return to school. Based on data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, one-third of student parents have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, compared with 31 percent of independent non-parents and 26 percent of dependent students. Use your life experience to your advantage and don’t stress if you don’t ace every exam or complete every assignment perfectly.
5. Consider Financial Aid Options
Time constraints may not be the only factor to consider when you go back to school. Depending on the program or university you choose, pursuing an education can be expensive. If you’re returning to school with the hope of making more money, you may be wondering how you will cover the initial costs. Many schools, like National University, offer a diverse range of financial aid options, including grants, loans, and scholarships to help you pay for your education without putting an additional strain on your finances.
Single parents may also be eligible for special scholarships or grants including Helping Hands for Single Moms, which helps single mothers in college with financial assistance; and the Live Your Dream Award, which offers cash awards to single parents. For more ideas, explore these resources for single parents in college.
Make sure you understand tuition costs, as well as any added costs for course materials before you enroll in a degree or certificate program. Work with an academic advisor to find a program that works with your schedule and your budget.
Parenting While in College: Endure the Struggle Today for a Better Tomorrow
Being a parent and going to college won’t be easy, but the struggle will be worth it for the sense of fulfillment and additional career opportunities that result from earning your degree. Before you enroll in any classes, find a college or university that allows you to work around your own schedule and obligations.
Many schools, including National University, recognize the importance of helping student parents earn a degree to create a better future for their families. We’re proud to offer accessible higher education to adult learners in both an on-campus and online setting. With over 75 degree programs and our four-week course format, we provide adult learners the opportunity to complete their degree while working and raising a family. If you’re thinking about going back to school, contact us to learn how you can make your education goals a reality.