January 8, 2010
Working parents, especially working single parents, appreciate the value of going back to school but find it difficult to take on yet another commitment when their lives are already hectic and demanding. Even more difficult - the decision to take on the financial burden of higher education.
Yet, the numbers of non-traditional students are growing rapidly and schools are responding in turn. Thirteen percent are single parents according to the Department of Education. Colleges today are more attuned to the needs, constraints, and schedules of adult students. Night and weekend classes are ubiquitous, while online classes are quickly becoming a more attractive alternative. Online colleges are seeing huge leaps in enrollment, to the point that traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities are expanding their programs into the virtual realm.
Financially, non-traditional students have considerable ground to gain compared to their full-time on-campus counterparts. Nevertheless, half-time students are eligible for some forms of financial aid provided they are accepted into a degree program at an accredited institution and enroll in a minimum number of credit hours, typically six. Working adults should hunt down state grants, where a good amount of adult aid resides, and look into the possibility of employer tuition assistance. Single parents should know that according to the Department of Education thirteen percent of enrolled students are single parents. Many schools offer child care services or child care grants; in public four-year schools, almost sixty percent have child care services.
Returning to school is both a logistical and emotional balancing act. Everything is a priority and after work there is only so much personal time in the day. There are ways, however, to manage your time and energy.
- Delegate Duties - Thinking you can do it all is misguided. Delegating is necessary to your success as a student. Enlist your family to help with chores. Recruit your friends and neighbors to babysit or pitch in with household tasks. Set aside pride. Don't think of this as doing less. Think of this as managing what needs to be done.
- Don't Overload - Learn to say no. Accomplishing the essentials will be a challenge; anything beyond that will tax yourself beyond reasonable limits. You may no longer have time to volunteer as the classroom parent or host family barbecues. Sacrificing these extras in the parenting realm can be difficult, and disappointing to your kids, but it is more important to be a parent who is present and focused rather than one who is overextended and scattered.
- Forget Perfection - Abandon the notion of perfection. Your home doesn't need to be spotless. Dinners can be tossed together or ordered out. It is more important to spend spare time with your family than to maintain an appearance of perfection and order. Forgive yourself the superficial tasks and remind yourself that this is a temporary condition.
- Get Organized - Keep a calendar and organize your days ahead of time. Adhere to schedules and establish routines. Compartmentalize your time so that you're not letting work spill into study time or homework into office hours. Schedule fun breaks with your family. The more efficient and inventive you are as a student, the more time you will have for your family.
- Study Together - Create an interval of quiet time in your household so you can study in the company of your family. Kids can do their own homework, play video games on mute, work on crafts or puzzles or coloring books. Work as a group at the kitchen table or drift to separate corners in the living room.
- Don't Procrastinate - You may be a student again but it is best to avoid the undergraduate habits of last-minute cramming and caffeinated all-nighters. Plan well in advance and break down large or long-term assignments into daily or semi-regular increments. Procrastination destroys balance: at a crucial point, you have to set everything aside in the aim of just one thing, and you can't set everything aside when work and family are in the mix.
- Take Time To Adjust - Just because school has started doesn't mean you're going to be an ideal working parenting student right away. Nor does it mean your family is going to be a helpful intuitive support system right away. Give yourselves time to adjust. The first few weeks, or even the first semester, might not go according to even the strictest plan. Don't think: this isn't working. Think: we'll get the hang of this.
- "Fast Facts, Adult Learning" National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=89)
- "Nontraditional Students Enrich U.S. College Campuses, America.gov (http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2008/April/200804281212291CJsamohT0.3335382.html)
- "Going Back to College", back2school.com (http://www.back2college.com/library/faq.htm)
- "Finding Childcare on Community College Campuses", Community College Review (http://www.communitycollegereview.com/articles/60)
- Traditional Degrees for Nontraditional Students, Carole S. Fungaroli, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000
- "Adults in Session" by Amy Hoak, MarketWatch (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-adults-heading-back-to-school-can-balance-life-work-family?pagenumber=1)