After having children, you may feel compelled to return to school. It might be a path to a better career, so you can provide more for your children, or a personal calling you’ve experienced in the wake of raising your young kids. College certainly isn’t exclusively for recent high school graduates, so you’re sure to find a place for yourself in nearly any university—but you need to be prepared for the unique challenges you’ll face along the way.
These are the five biggest challenges every returning parent faces when attending college:
- Time management. Even if you’re enrolled in a part-time college program, your coursework is going to take a serious chunk of your time. Each class in your schedule will occupy several hours a week in lectures, homework, and studying. On top of that, you’ll need to find time to watch the kids, organize other people to watch your kids, and possibly juggle your career responsibilities. Finding the time, and using that time wisely can be enormously challenging.
- Emergency situations. The life of a parent is anything but predictable. If your child develops a chronic cough, you may have to drop everything—including excusing yourself from a lecture—to take care of it. These occasional interruptions may not seem like much, but when your success in the classroom depends on your ability to dedicate yourself to the academic work, they can be devastating.
- Budgeting. Depending on where you go to school, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars a year for your education. On top of that, you’ll have children to take care of, and to make your schedule work, you might have to pay for someone to watch them on a regular basis. Needless to say, this can make your budget fairly tight, putting financial strain on you and your family.
- Concentration. Most college classes require your concentration, both in and out of the classroom, and getting the opportunity to concentrate, uninterrupted on your own work can be rare for a parent. Even if you’re in another room of the house, the noise from your playing children can make studying nearly impossible.
- Social dynamics. Your social dynamics will also become more difficult. You may be surrounded by other students at a fundamentally different stage of life, and have less time to interact with your partner, family, and friends. That makes it difficult to get involved in study groups and extracurricular activities, and can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
However, one may be able to overcome those problems by being proactive with as much as you can, in your personal and academic life. If you know there’s a big essay due at the end of the semester, start working on it early. If you know your children need to visit the doctor soon, take them as soon as you have a moment. This will help you prevent your responsibilities from piling up excessively.
Have multiple contingencies in the event that something crops up, because your life is going to be hectic and unpredictable, it pays to have lots of backup options. For example, you should have two or three babysitters on call in case your primary means of care isn’t available. And if your home is insufficient as a studying spot, you should have two or three backup locations in mind, like a café, a library, or even a friend’s house.
Set time aside for yourself to study. Cramming the night before an exam has never been an effective way to study, but it’s even less effective and reliable for parents returning to college. Instead, study in chunks, even for a few minutes at a time, over the course of several sessions throughout the semester.
If you’re worried about budgeting, try seeking multiple different forms of financing. Filing for FAFSA can help you find student aid at the federal level, and if you look for them, there are scholarship opportunities everywhere.
It’s much easier to find balance in your life when you have a wide network of people willing to help support you. Talk to your friends, family members, and neighbors about what you’re struggling with, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Try not to overburden yourself with work, and take your time as you wade through your courses. This will certainly be a trying experience for you, but when you’re done, you’ll feel more accomplished, and you’ll have a better career path so you can build the lifestyle you want. Until you reach the end of that tunnel, take things one day at a time.