Following writing my post 6 Reasons Why I Decided To Study For My Degree As A Thirty-Something Mum-of-13 a couple of years ago I have received several emails from parents who were keen to return to studying but not sure if they could, for one reason or other. I have also received plenty of lovely emails from parents who have or currently are studying who have shared their experiences. I have tried to put together the information I could on weighing up the pros and cons to returning to study in this long-promised post.
Making the decision to return to school is never an easy one. On one hand, it could be beneficial to your family by giving you better career prospects. This could mean more financial stability, more family holidays and a better home in future. But on the other, it could also put you under financial pressure and reduce the amount of time you spend with your kids each day. This can put you in a difficult situation where you feel unsure of what to do for the best. You may even experience feelings of guilt about pursuing your educational aspirations. While you could bury your head in the sand and put your dream on hold, this isn’t necessarily the best tactic.
To ensure you are making the best possible decision for your family and yourself, you need to access it from multiple angles. That way you can make a more informed decision about returning to school or not. To help you get started, take a look at the following points.
Are your finances able to cope?
Before you make the decision to go back to school, you need to establish whether you can afford it. Tuition fees, transportation costs and school supplies are all things you will need to pay for throughout the school year. You may also have to consider the costs of childcare if you’ll be studying at a bricks and mortar establishment. This can be a lot of money to find all at once and put your finances under strain. The last thing you want is for your kids to miss out due to the money you are spending on your education. So before you start choosing schools, you need to check your bank and savings accounts and work out your finances. Perhaps you have a rainy day fund you can use or maybe you’re getting a pay rise at work that you can put towards your studies. After all, you are making an investment in yours and your family’s future. Find out the approximate costs of school, childcare, and transport and see whether you would manage financially.
If you don’t think you have enough financial backing at the moment, you may still have some options. Many schools offer financial aids and grants which you might be able to apply for. These can then be paid back once you have completed your course. Again, consider whether you would be able to afford the repayment. Alternatively, you might be able to borrow the money you need from relatives or friends and pay them back overtime. If you want to pay yourself, start looking at ways you can lower your monthly expenses. This can help you save more money each year which could help you get the finances you need to go back to school.
Which school is right for me?
As well as considering your finances, you also need to think about which school you want to go to. This will be strongly influenced by multiple factors such as the location and course options. You could enroll at a local college where you can attend lectures and workshops. Or perhaps a night class would be a better option for you. Many parents find online learning a more cost-effective and convenient option and this is the form of study I opted for through the Open University. These are becoming more popular and allow you to complete your assignments in your own time at home. This could give you more time with your children, but will only work if you stick to the deadlines. Visit potential schools that offer online or on-site learning to see whether they are right for you. If they are too difficult to get to or lack the course you require, it’s better to know beforehand.
As well as picking the right school, think carefully about the course you want to complete too. Could you get ahead without it? Or is your lack of knowledge getting in the way of your progression? Research the content of the course or courses you have in mind to see whether they are of interest to you. Be honest about whether it will aid your career or if it will limit you.
Can you find a balance?
One of the biggest challenges parents who are students face is finding a balance between family and school work. When you’re a student, you are required to complete assignments, attend classes and do plenty of studying. This can be extremely time-consuming and requires a significant amount of focus and concentration. When you have children to take care of too, it can be difficult to combine the two. But it’s not entirely impossible. The best way to see if you can make the time for school and your kids is to access your weekly schedule. I would usually study in the evenings once the younger children had gone to bed but still had to balance this with any work that I needed to do too.
Consider when you would write your essays or study and when you could have family fun. Maybe you have time when your kids are at school or at an after-school club which you could use to complete your school work. Perhaps your parents or partner could take your children out for the day while you study. If you’re working as well as going to school, do you have enough time to travel to each destination? It’s also important to see whether your schedule allows you free days to spend with your family. Remember there will be times when family and work commitments clash with your education. Would you be able to plan in advance to avoid making a sacrifice for one or the other? Or would you find it difficult to miss family occasions? This is something I found particularly hard to balance this year and so I ended up deferring my module. Would that be an option if, like my circumstances turned out a few months ago, you suddenly couldn’t commit due to some unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances?
Effective time management will be essential when you are trying to find a healthy balance. You will need to be firm and ensure your family knows how important your school work is. Establishing a flexible schedule that allows you to study and bond with your family is the best approach. But if you’re not sure whether you can cope, maybe returning to school isn’t the best option.
If you’ve considered each point honestly and realistically, you should have a better idea of whether or not you should go back to school. As I have discovered, it does take an immense amount of dedication and commitment to complete any lectures and the coursework required, so you may find it quite challenging if you don’t have adequate support to help you.