This is not for someone who just graduated from high school, enjoying their last summer with their friends before they part ways for college. This is not for you if you’re reading this in the back seat as your parents drive you to your dorm with all your new bedding and boxes of clothes that you will not be able to fit next year. This is for the ones that play nurse, taxi driver, superhero, attendee at a fake tea party, and a therapist all in one day. This is for the ones that claim dependents on their taxes, attend parent teacher conferences after working all day, the ones that choose between a new pair of shoes for themselves or music lessons for their child. This is for non-traditional students. Parents that have chosen to go back to school for the third, fourth, and maybe even the fifth time. It’s not easy going back to school as a parent nor is it even an easy decision. Just thinking about it, can be a headache! Is this the right time in my child’s life? Who is going to watch my child while I go to school? How will I work, go to school AND be an active parent? These are not questions, this is you convincing yourself that it can’t be done or that it can and YOU just can’t do it. Instead ask yourself questions like: What major should I pick? Which school should I choose? You need to get excited about this journey because the work will be enough, don’t let your thoughts add more weight. Now that you have decided to go back to school as a parent, here are some tips to help you be a successful student and maintain your sanity.
Not only can the workload of becoming a student again appear overwhelming but so can the tuition. Try a community college to start! Community Colleges are so underrated when it comes to education. It’s like the drunk uncle at the family reunion. Sure he’s embarrassing, but I bet he gives the best advice, tells the best stories, and was the life of the party. Community colleges typically get this reputation because they are usually in heavily populated, urban areas with lower incomes. They offer programs for people that live in the real world and not a frat house. There are no dormitories, homecoming spirit weeks, or large groups of people taking tours of the campus with their parents. But what they do have are options. Options that are geared toward those that have to balance unusual circumstances or uncommon lifestyles. They offer such a variety of programs, certificates, training, and degrees. They are extraordinary stepping stones that not only lead you onto a path for a four year degree but a path of less financial obligations. For example, six credit hours for an in-state student at Gwinnett Technical College in 2016 is $864. Six credit hours or less at Georgia Tech in 2016 is $2,675. Keep in mind, you haven’t even bought a number two pencil yet. If you attend an accredited community college, you can knock out all of your basic courses, put another degree under your belt, and not add substantial debt to your list of worries.
Online courses are merely for flexibility. Do not misjudge these courses as easy or not challenging. Online courses can sometimes not only require the same amount of work as a class that you must physically attend but sometimes they require more, just because the professor wants to be sure you’re putting forth the same efforts that are not visible to him/her in a classroom setting. Keep in mind, that most science courses will not be considered completed online because of a ‘lab’ that is associated with this course and you will have to physically be present for these. You will need the sitter for a few more hours for these. However, the option of online classes lets you take a quiz on your lunch break, read your child a bed time story before beginning your next assignment, or complete your final exam while in the waiting room at the ER because your child wanted to be a gymnast on the monkey bars today. Even though there are deadlines and due dates for assignments, you essentially control where and when you want to learn.
Don’t take this the wrong way because I am all for aiming high, but you have to be realistic about your capabilities as a parent. The world is no longer your oyster. Your kid has taken the pearl out of your oyster and replaced it with reality and responsibility. If your purpose was to go back to school to increase your finances, you might want to steer away from majors like dance, horticulture, or recreational therapy. If you are a single parent with multiple children, you want to consider the amount of ‘outside’ hours that some majors require. For example, nursing school will require on-site hospital hours, preparing for board examinations, clinic hours, etc. Again, this is not to deter you from a certain major but you must be prepared for what they require.
The best way to stay organized is to keep an agenda and do NOT stray away from it, not in the least bit. There is no room for error this time around, this is your money and time away from your children. This is not the time for Stella to get her groove back or hang out with your new classmates that just last year had to ask permission to use the bathroom in class. Stay focused, stay away from distractions, and don’t add anything to your plate that does not belong there.
Notice that I said ‘build’ because not everyone comes with a support system. Connect with other parents that are on the same mission. This might sound far-fetched but even offer to babysit if you have kids of the same age. They can keep each other occupied while you study. There are some schools that even have an on-site childcare option while you’re in class. Get to know your neighbors, talk with other parents in your child’s class to make them aware of what you’re trying to do. You will be surprised that complete strangers respect your grind and want to help you, but you have to let people know.
I usually get the same three questions about returning to school as a single parent and one of them is, “How do you still make time for your child/children?” Key word, ‘make’ , you squeeze them in wherever and whichever way you can. You might have to hold them and read quantum physics vs. Green Eggs and Ham. You might have to let them sleep with you in the bed just to feel close to them because you’ve been gone all day. What you will HAVE to do is realize that this is all apart of the sacrifice and that you are doing this to give them a better life. You will spend less time with them, you will have less money to spend on them, but you will not love them any less and they don’t think that either. We as parents put these unbelievable and sometimes unobtainable expectations on ourselves, not our children. There is a difference between ‘guilty’ and ‘guilt’, you are not guilty of committing any crime, don’t treat yourself as such. The guilt is all mental and will literally vanish as you walk across that graduation stage.
These are merely tips and suggestions that hopefully brought more insight to your consideration of going back to school. It is NOT impossible but it is also NOT easy. Following these few guidelines could possibly save you an additional bottle of Tylenol or a few crying sessions.