Back-to-School Isn’t Just Child’s Play

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Unhappy in a job with limited potential, I returned to school for a master’s degree as I approached my 40th birthday. I began searching for options in other fields of study, determined to work a schedule other than eight to five with four kids at home. My current employer offered tuition reimbursement, which provided an additional incentive. Despite my fears and uncertainties, I plunged into a master’s degree that I’m thankful today offers a wide range of opportunities.

Returning to school as an adult requires serious consideration. When raising a family at the same time and/or working full-time, it means personal sacrifice and strict time management. However, it can bring greater job security and satisfaction, in addition to access to skills of higher demand or personal interest classes for individual enrichment.

Here are a few issues to consider first.

Why?

Are you looking for a career change that requires a long-term commitment? Do you hope to increase your marketability with current career-related courses? Or do you want to acquire a new skill through a continuing education course? The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the primary reason adults return to school is to take work-related or personal interest courses. Regardless of the reason, having a clear goal will help determine your direction and how much time and energy you need to invest.

Tuition

Finishing an undergraduate degree or diving into a graduate degree can be expensive. Where you choose to attend, private versus public, and full-time versus part-time status determines how much you spend. Tuition reimbursement plans and low-interest loans can play a role in helping with expenses. It’s important to have a financial plan to avoid setbacks that might prevent you from reaching your goal.

How to Accommodate

What changes do you need to make in your schedule to accommodate the addition of classes and studying? Will your current employer allow time off? Do you need to secure babysitting for your children? Do you have volunteer duties you can delegate to someone else? Prioritizing your responsibilities allows a smoother transition with your new schedule.

It’s also important to seek your family’s support. Consider asking for additional help with housework or meal preparation. When I returned to school, I had a nighttime class every semester and asked our oldest daughter to assume meal preparation that night. The other children helped with clean up and after-dinner chores, enabling our household to run smoothly and enjoy a home-cooked meal without me.

Be Flexible

An aging parent with a sudden illness or a child in need of extra time and attention may slow the progress of classes. While completing my degree, my husband’s job was transferred, which prompted an out-of-state move before I finished. Then I learned I was pregnant (unexpectedly) with our youngest child. It seemed impossible that I could complete my schooling, but I searched several options before giving up. I consulted with a school in our new location and learned I could take my last two classes after we moved, transferring the credits back to my current school to complete my coursework. I couldn’t travel to the graduation ceremonies at eight months pregnant, but I beamed with pride as I received my diploma through the mail upon completion!

Perseverance toward your goal, despite unexpected circumstances, will lead to accomplishing what you set out to do.

Returning to school as an adult offers fresh challenges and exciting opportunities. With planning and perseverance, it opens up a variety of doors that add new meaning to life. What better time to consider the endless possibilities of returning to school? You’ll be glad you did!

Gayla Grace is a life-long learner who writes, speaks and coaches on family and stepfamily issues.       

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