BY JORI HAMILTON
Going to college is a big undertaking, but a college degree can open up doors in your career and qualify you for higher-paying positions than you’d find without a degree. When you’re a parent, balancing college, work, and parenting gets a little more complicated, but there are still plenty of parents who decide to go back to school and make college and parenthood work.
When you go to college, you’ll be investing in a better future for you and your family. You may need to take a little longer to complete your degree and will certainly face some challenges along the way, but your goal of earning your college degree as a parent is completely achievable with a little determination and planning.
Why Parents are Going Back to School
If you’re uncertain of whether or not you should go back to school, know that you’re not alone, since many moms are also facing the decision of whether to go to college. As a parent, you may feel guilty for taking time away from your children, and the cost of college may seem overwhelming when you need to pay your family’s bills and cover expenses like diapers and daycare.
But going back to college offers valuable rewards, especially to single mothers. Over the course of a lifetime, a woman who has a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $630,000 more than one who only has a high school diploma. Pursuing a graduate degree increases those average lifetime earnings, meaning a graduate degree will earn a woman about $1.1 million more than if she was just a high school graduate with no higher education.
Going back to school has other valuable benefits, too. You can inspire your child to also go to college when they’re ready. Your degree can help you qualify for better jobs that have scheduling flexibility, allowing you to spend time with your family. These better jobs also frequently offer better benefits, which means your whole family can have health insurance and enjoy better healthcare than you’d otherwise be able to provide.
Balancing Home, Work, and School
One of the major hesitations that many moms feel about going back to college is adding a school schedule and subsequent homework to an already busy life. With stagnant wages and the skyrocketing cost of living, married and single moms alike are needing to work to make ends meet. Indeed, low wages might be what has sparked your interest in going back to school.
While it might feel intimidating, you can absolutely make going back to school work with your job and home schedules. With online schooling options abound these days, you can make school work around your schedule and do it at your pace. You can take as many or as few classes as you feel comfortable doing, which will not only make it easier to fit into your schedule needs but will allow you to work with your budget.
Affording college will require some budgeting and planning. Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will determine any loans and grants you may be eligible for. You should also schedule an appointment with a financial aid advisor at your college to make sure that all of your financial aid applications are complete. An advisor can help you to identify any other scholarships or financial aid that you may be eligible for, since some schools and even departments within schools offer their own scholarships for students.
Next, establish a household budget so that you can prepare for college and identify just how much money you can spend each month. Start by tracking all of your income as well as your expenses and spending for a couple of months to identify areas where you might be over-spending, like going out to eat frequently. With all of these numbers recorded, you can identify areas where you should reduce your spending so that you have more money left over at the end of each month. You can use this money toward your college expenses, like buying textbooks or paying for any extra childcare you’ll need while in class.
Since you’ll likely be living at home while in college, pay particular attention to the expenses you’ll face in commuting back and forth to campus. Be sure to account for the costs of taking public transportation, or of maintaining a car. You may choose to sell a large, gas-guzzling vehicle for a smaller one that gets better gas mileage. Since you’ll be doing lots of commuting, it’s important to try to minimize your transportation costs.
Maintaining Your Health
During college, you’ll also need to prioritize your health so that you can attend your classes while also caring for your family. It may be tempting to skip meals or eat fast food on the go because of your busy schedule, but prioritize your nutrition and make time for healthy meals, even if that means bringing food to school with you and eating in between classes.
If you’re pregnant, first-trimester tummy troubles can make it difficult to get to class, but there are a few tricks you can use to soothe your upset stomach. Nausea is often worse on an empty stomach, so bring snacks to class with you to keep food in your stomach. Ginger and peppermint can help to relieve nausea, and increasing your intake of magnesium and vitamin B6 can also help. Even receiving acupuncture treatments can help to get you feeling better again.
Staying in Touch
When you start college, it may be time to reevaluate your current cell phone data plan so that you can stay in touch with your family and your employer without running up your bill. Find a plan that works best for your increased communication needs, and consider using apps for group text messaging, like Tango and WeChat. With these apps, you can text your significant other and your childcare provider, reach out to your classmates as you work together on a group project, and more.
When you’re balancing family life, college, and even a job, you’ll need to do a little juggling, but you can absolutely pursue and earn a college degree as a parent. It may be stressful and busy, but remember that it isn’t forever, and you’re doing this to give your entire family a better future. Once you have that degree in your hands, you’ll find that all of your hard work was well worth it.
Bio: Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Northwest who is passionate about education and social justice issues. You can follow her on Twitter @HamiltonJori