If you’re a working Mom contemplating going back to school on top of both parenting and a career, you are not alone. Across the country lives a small but mighty contingency of working Mothers who also take on degree programs in addition to their other responsibilities. This is no small task.
However, it is more than possible and, with some strategy and intentionality, absolutely doable. Countless Moms have been able to successfully earn a degree while balancing all the other responsibilities life can hold.
Use the following guide to help you determine the best course of action for not only taking on a degree program but finishing strong as a working Mom.
Deciding to Go Back to School
Before enrolling in academic study, it’s really important to assess the purpose and advantages of earning that degree. Balancing three comprehensive roles (employee, Mother, and student), roles that each are usually considered full-time in themselves, is no picnic.
The additional responsibilities and stress of a degree program should only be taken on if that degree will provide tangible benefit to you down the line.
Be honest about the cost and investment of resources that a degree program will demand. This requires thinking through the various implications of earning a degree.
How long will it take you to complete? How much will it cost you monetarily, and is that an amount your budget can safely handle? What kind of weekly and monthly time commitment will it demand? What kind of class structure and schedule would work best with your lifestyle and other responsibilities?
How will the time commitment (and its potential for cutting into sleep, social availability, and recreational time) affect other parts of your life? This should all be thought through carefully so that you can effectively weigh and anticipate its challenges.
The other side of this equation looks at the potential benefits a degree will offer. How will this degree help your career? Will it mean that you can look for other positions that you would enjoy more? Will it tangibly increase your earning power? Is that a certainty (for instance, your current employer has talked with you about a raise or upward move if you earn a degree) or just a potential that may or may not be realized down the road?
A degree program can offer significant benefits in many circumstances, but it’s important to think through exactly how those will translate to your particular life situation and career rather than be content with general but vague conventional wisdom about the value of degrees.
Picking the Program Format That Is Right for You
Once you’ve considered both the costs and benefits of earning a degree and have decided to move ahead in earning one, your next step is choosing the degree program for you.
One important consideration to help determine the perfect degree program for your unique needs, lifestyle, and situation is choosing between an online vs. in-person program.
Online programs in many industries are earning themselves a strong reputation for being just as robust and effective as in-person programs, dispelling myths that in-person degrees are advantageous or fundamentally higher quality over degrees earned online. This helps students choose the format that fits best with their needs without having to worry about disadvantaging themselves later on.
In-person degree programs can be preferred by some individuals who learn better in classroom settings where they can interact with their professors and peers in real time and shared space. Online programs can benefit those who need more flexibility or who want to partake in a degree program that is not located nearby.
Online degrees make academic institutions available to an individual that could be located on the other side of the country or even the other side of the world. They also cut down on the superfluous time spent on the program – commuting to and from class, or the amount of class time that is sometimes spent on things that could be more efficiently accomplished via more expedient channels in an online program.
A related consideration is the institution from which you want to earn a degree. Especially in some industries or fields, certain academic institutions have strong reputations or offer innovative programs. These can sometimes be worth the higher applicant competition or cost because of the name recognition or superior education quality you’ll receive as a result.
Making It Happen: Balancing Work, School, and Motherhood
After all your deliberation and research, you’ll reach the point in the process when you’ve decided that going back to school is the right choice for you at this point in time and you’ve decided on the program you’ll attend. Then you apply, get accepted, and enroll. You’re off to the races! The only task before you now, is simply to complete the program and earn the degree.
Obviously, this is where the real work begins. There are a few crucial strategies you’ll want to think through – preferably in pre-beginning stages when you’ve not yet started the degree program – to make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running and equipped to manage all that this new undertaking will throw at you.
It probably goes without saying that time management will be a hugely important skill as you engage in a degree program. Many tools exist to help facilitate effective time management for a variety of lifestyles and needs. Your own system could take a wide variety of forms. Don’t worry too much about how your time management methods stack up against your friends’ or what you see on blog posts – what’s important is to be intentional about creating and sticking to a time management plan that works for you.
Think of time management as the skeleton or wireframe of a day or week that defines the time you have available to you, and prioritization as the process you use to determine how various activities and responsibilities fit into that skeleton. The sum of the potential tasks, responsibilities, and activities that could be included in your daily life will exceed what you could ever complete.
This means that you must learn how to weigh them against each other and determine what things actually get done and what things are eliminated or delegated to others. This is a learning curve – however, it is an incredibly important skill that is worth honing.
Your kids, your partner, your boss and coworkers, your professors and course administrators, your friends and family, and your course mates all exist within your circle of direct or indirect influence and thus could potentially be affected by the added responsibilities you’ll be taken on. It’s important to be intentional about keeping them in the loop.
When (not if) you need to ask for help, extensions on deadlines, or for grace when you’re stressed and tired, you’ve already let them know what’s going on in your life. People are almost always much more understanding, lenient, and generous when you’ve been proactive in keeping them apprised and letting them know that your capacity will be stretched more thinly than usual.
This is a huge asset as you take on what often can prove to be the most taxing season of your life. It is important to develop one. This may take different forms for different life situations and personalities – the most important part is to make sure you have people in your life that you can lean on for help, encouragement, and practical support when you need it.
This might look like a core group of friends, your partner or spouse, your parents or other extended family, a good babysitter on speed-dial, or any and all of the above. This is an investment of time and energy that can completely change the game for you as you take on a degree on top of being a working Mom.