Tips and tricks for getting your degree as a parent and working adult
Tips and tricks for getting your degree as a parent and working adult
Are you a working parent considering going back to school? Here’s your definitive guide to making it happen - on your terms, your schedule, and your budget.
Returning to school to earn your college degree can be daunting, and even more so as a working parent. But, making the decision to invest in a degree paves the way to new job opportunities, higher salaries, and better benefits — it can be one of the best investments you can make for you, your family, and your future.
While returning to school may feel scary, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone. According to this report from the Harvard Kennedy School of Education, today over 70% of students are:
More than one in five college students—or 22 percent of all undergraduates—are parents, says a new analysis from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. In response, an increasing number of schools are adapting to provide the right kind of resources, support, and programming to facilitate academic success for parents.
As the resources and options grow, it’s important to do your research, weed through the clutter, and find a college degree program that works best for you. Equipped with the right knowledge, resources, and support systems, it’s possible to balance your personal responsibilities as a parent with your educational pursuits.
Ready to take the plunge? We’ve talked to an array of parent-learners and educators whose advice will help you get the most out of your educational journey. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of going back to school as a working parent:
First, take the time to get clear about your goals and priorities for going to school. Consider the following questions, which will help you figure out what degree program is right for you:
Do your research to understand the job and salary outcomes of different degree programs. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few options, then you can find the right program and make a plan.
You want a degree and a school that meets you where you’re at. Search for colleges where working parents and adult learners are a considerable portion of the student body. You’ll be able to tell based on the website and whether they highlight the benefits to parents and full-time workers. You can also ask to talk to an admissions counselor or a current student who is also a parent.
In addition, there are a growing number of "competency-based education programs," which are a great fit for working parent learners. Competency-based education programs are an emerging education model that focus on assessing skills and learning rather than hours in a classroom. With this focus on skills rather than hours, it’s possible to finish coursework more quickly if you already know the material. As former President Obama put it, the approach ''gives students credit for how well they master the material…if you are learning the material faster, you can finish faster, which means you pay less.'' It also means you earn your degree in less time. Competency-based degree programs are a great option to consider as a working parent.
As you research programs, you should also consider the following:
Remember that school's are looking for you to attend, so ask a lot of questions before choosing a college. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to get some clarity on the cost of going back to school, especially as a working parent.
Let’s be real, college is expensive! This reality is partly because of policies in the last 40 years that have made education, long seen as a “ladder” of mobility, into a potential debt-trap. These barriers are exacerbated here in the state of New Jersey, which has among the highest student debt levels in the nation and the third highest cost of attendance in the nation for in-state, full-time students. Furthermore, the impact of student loan debt on New Jersey borrowers disproportionately harms borrowers of color, according to a new report by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
But New Jersey students shouldn’t have to wait for policies to change to make their college dreams come true.
“No- to low-cost tuition equates to better economic footing and the ability for Newark residents to start their careers with a clean financial slate. Debt-free graduates will have more money to build an emergency fund, save, and invest. We believe that college programs like Gateway U, which minimizes the cost of tuition and increases access to post-secondary education, play a vital role in urban communities.” - Della Walker, Jr., Director of Hire Newark
Finding the right college, and the right support to make a strong financial plan, can make college accessible — and set you up for long term economic stability.
We suggest searching for a college access program or nonprofit in your local area. Find an organization or person that can review your expenses with you and help you come up with a financial plan for going back to school. For example:
These resources can help you assess your current expenses, the cost of school, and your long term goals. Below are additional steps to help you prepare a college financial plan.
Ultimately, remember that your budget is a “band-aid” solution. Getting your college degree is a pathway to more financial freedom in the future. As Saymah Nah, Gateway U’s ED notes, you are trying to make a school plan and financial plan that moves you from a job to a career and from surviving to thriving.
Now that you’ve reviewed how to minimize your life expenses, figure out how to make school itself as inexpensive as possible.
As you consider what you are going to spend while in school, don’t forget that the goal is to eventually make that money back, plus more! Keep the long game in mind. Factor in what you hope to be earning after you receive your degree and the timeframe for paying off any loans. You might consider how much you hope to earn with your college degree and how much you will make over time.
Making the time to study can be one of the most difficult and important components of getting your degree, especially as a working parent. But it’s possible, and worth it! Online, distance learning, and self-paced degree programs offer a variety of formats that make it easier to both study and raise kids. You can take classes in the evenings, mornings, weekends, or even during your lunch break. While the flexibility and choice in when and where to study is helpful for you as a working parent, it can also mean you feel the weight of responsibility to create the routines, habits, and structure that works best for you. But, it shouldn’t be all on you. Here are a few tips to manage your time:
While the tips above will help you plan your study time, the larger point is this: it’s not on you to do it alone! Asking for help, setting expectations, sharing your schedule with someone, planning group study sessions, and finding fellow parents in college who are going through the same experience will help you manage your time and reduce stress.
If you’re not careful, paying for childcare costs while also paying for school can quickly double your expenses. To avoid this predicament, research and plan your childcare routine before you decide on your program.
And don’t forget to be realistic about your goals. As one Gateway U student, Mone’t Amos, emphasized,
“When I applied to Gateway U, I kept asking myself if this was the right time and the right program. I went over how much time I actually had and how much time I had to sacrifice. I was honest about what I wanted from Gateway U, my coaches, my family, and myself. By being honest about my wants and needs, I was able to create a schedule and boundaries to focus on my bigger goal of getting my degree.”
By getting clear on what your goals are, creating a schedule and boundaries to accomplish your goals, and communicating your plan with others, it’s possible to make earning a college degree work for you, even as a working parent.
It’s no secret that going to college, especially as a parent, is hard work. It takes time, money, and a dedication to your long term goals.