Time has progressively shown the value of education and has proven that the further along you go, the higher your salary will be depending on your profession. There has been an influx of adults choosing to go back to school just to keep up with the market and many adults are going back with an already full plate: full-time job, spouse, and kids. If you are a traditional college student (enroll and complete college straight after high school) there are tons of resources readily available for you. There is a large population of students who fall into the non-traditional route but provide a unique perspective in the classroom from being outside of it for so long. As a non-traditional student, I had to learn as I went and figure things out by failing and making other attempts until I got it right. There were some resources provided for me but I had to search deep down yonder for them. For those of us who happen to have more responsibilities than the average student, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering going back to school or finishing up your degree.
Identify the Purpose Behind Going Back
College is expensive and the price of education is never going to stop increasing. I personally believe in the value of formal education as well as real world schooling but I found purpose behind traditional higher education prior to going back. Are you going back just to say you went to college or is there opportunity for growth in your current field or you are considering switching fields? Prior to going back to school, I worked in a high school as a College Adviser where I constantly challenged my students to think critically about what it is they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Social & Economic Development and Policy. I see problems and I want to fix them but I also understand that in order for me to make a decent living, I need that degree.
“If money was never a factor and you could choose one thing to wake up to everyday, what would it be?”
The cost of college isn’t just tuition. Add books, fees, health insurance, daily living expenses (rent, car insurance, phone bill, gas, etc.), childcare. It is never the sticker price. Essentially, it would be cheaper to attend a community college than a four-year university or at least spend the first couple years at a community college and transfer to save money. Will your current place of employment help pay for your education or reimburse you? Complete your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see your eligibility for financial aid at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Contact the financial aid adviser at the universities of your choice to discuss funding options (loans, grants, scholarships, work study, etc.). Never take no as the first answer. I contacted my financial aid office several times until I was able to speak with the head person in charge about increasing my financial aid so I could cover all of my expenses. Remember, there is ALWAYS money.
My grandmother was 51 when she completed her Associate’s degree after having been married for over 30 years and 7 children. I cannot fathom how hard she had to work just to keep up and the amount of resources and support system she needed to be able to finish. As an adult student, our needs are different. It may take us a little longer to read and complete assignments, classmates may have to work around our schedule for group projects, professors may need to extend grace for us to submit assignments past the deadline and may need to allow us to bring our children to class if we aren’t able to find a sitter or take them to school. These are all questions that need to be asked prior to enrolling so departments on campus that cater to adult students are easily identified – that’s if the school offers resources for adult learners period. Do you have a learning disability and need to be accommodated for that? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 8.2 million people over the age of 25 million enrolled in college. That is a large percentage of people who require greater support to navigate their college journey.
Research Accommodations for Student-Parents
Being an adult learner is one thing but continuing your education with dependents is a whole different monster. Choosing to go back to school may require you to leave your full-time job or at least cut back on hours but that doesn’t mean your bills cut back and neither does the time that you have in a day. Does the school you are choosing to attend have a family-friendly policy? Does the financial aid office increase your package to accommodate childcare expenses? Is there a childcare center on campus and does it provide a subsidy and stipend for students to enroll their children there? How many other students attend that campus have children and can support each other? Are there readily accessible lactation centers throughout campus? Is there a policy in place to grant extensions if your child is sick and you aren’t able to attend campus that day to submit an assignment? College is so much more than completing a degree. It is a life-changing journey that affects more than just you so the babies need to feel as secure as you do.
Retention Rates & Testimonials
How long does it take students to graduate from the program? How long does it take students with children to graduate from the program? Have you reached out to alumni from that university to ask about their experience and what they are currently up to? Ask them what advice could they offer you to best help you make your decision on going back to school. Don’t invest the cash and time if the chances of you completing are slim to none. There are always exceptions, but fortunately, numbers don’t lie.
You will need help! You most likely need help now and you haven’t even started school yet. There will be times where you may need to enroll in an evening class or your child’s daycare/school is closed but you still have class. Who is in your life that you trust to help you while you finish your degree? Can watch the kids when you have class? Can pick the kids up/drop kids off when you aren’t able to? Can help tutor you if it’s a subject you don’t understand? Can slide over with a bottle of red wine when the semester just gets to be too much? Are there other students you can identify with (specifically minorities, older adults, and parents) and you all can support each other throughout the program? Inform the people closest to you about what you are getting ready to do and provide them a schedule and requests you have of them ahead of time. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to help you finish school.
Most importantly, it is never too late to acquire education. Whether that is formal or getting schooled in life. Enrolling in college is a milestone regardless of age and should be given much time, patience, and effort.
Have you thought about going back to school? If so, what do you want to go back for?