Going Back to School as a Mom

Tips for managing this transition to benefit you as well as your family

If you’re a parent, you’re likely always thinking about ways to improve your situation so you can give your kids a better life. Maybe you’re not working now, but are looking for a way to get back into the job market, and figure that education is the way to go. If you took a break from work or school to have kids, it might be time, now that they’re old enough, for you to go back.

Whatever your motivation, know that you’re not alone in this ambitious undertaking. There are lots of other women out there like you trying to figure out how to make the same transition. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students 25 and older will increase 18 percent between 2014 and 2025. And the moms among them face special challenges. Here are some suggestions for ways to manage this challenging time:

Evaluate your options

Look at your current schedule and be realistic about how much time you have to devote to going back to school. Remember that this should include not only the time you’ll spend on campus going to class (or at your computer, if you enroll in online courses), but also additional travel time. Then of course there’s the hours you’ll need to spend studying. When you’re looking at different programs, ask current students or instructors how much time you should expect to study each week for the classes you’re considering. This estimate can help you decide how many classes you could handle over a given term—especially at first.

Know your limits

A lot of women put pressure on themselves to “have it all”—usually meaning a family as well as a career—and this can cause us to put unneeded pressure on ourselves. People usually apply the term “work-life balance” only to women, and if you decide to take on something ambitious for yourself, like going back to school, it can be a constant struggle to feel like you’re doing a good enough job as a parent. Be kind to yourself and remember that nobody’s perfect.

If you already have a childcare provider, find out how much flexibility they can offer you—especially in the early weeks when you’re first starting back. You might need an extra hour here or there as you adjust to your new schedule. If you’re depending on friends and family for help, talk with them about how they can support you during the transition.

Start slow

Be realistic about the number of classes you can take, and what times of day you’re available to travel back and forth to a campus. For your first term back, consider taking one class or going only part time. You can always increase your course load later, once you’ve got the hang of dividing your time.

Find stolen time

Are you an early bird? Then maybe getting up before your kids in the morning is a way to get a stolen hour or two of uninterrupted study time. If you’re more of a night owl, then set aside some time after they go to bed. You’ll figure out when you’re most productive and have the best attention span. Either way, try to make sure you’re getting enough sleep—it’s essential to performing as a student and as a parent.

There are other secrets to making the most of your new schedule. Switch the time you spend surfing social media to study time—even 10 minutes here and there throughout the day can add up. If you take public transportation to school or work, use those minutes to review your class notes or catch up on a reading. You’d be amazed how efficient you can be in those small chunks of time. Keep in mind the sacrifices you’re making won’t be forever.

Ask for help

Don’t fall into the all-too-common trap for so many women for trying to continue doing everything you’ve always done. As they say, “something’s got to give,” and the smartest way to handle any big change like going back to school is to make conscious decisions about what can maybe fall by the wayside—at least temporarily. Take a look at your “to do” list and ask, which of these items are not essential? Consider who in your life could pitch in to ease your transition. A friend or neighbor who can help out with even one grocery store run a week, or one trip picking your kids up from school, can make a huge difference for your schedule and stress level. Keep in mind you’re more willing to stick with your classes and do well if you’re giving yourself a bit of a break on the home front.

The other place to ask for help is at your school or program—if you’re struggling with a course or a certain subject, your instructors are usually eager to work with you and help you get back on track. This is also what people like deans and advisors are there for—to help out. Be sure to make the most of these resources. They can help lighten the load.

Consider your budget

Consider programs targeted to people who are eager to get into the work force and start earning a paycheck. These can be accelerated and thereby shorten how much time you spend studying instead of earning. Community Colleges are one good option, but so are professional training schools like the American College for Medical Careers in Orlando, FL. Certain fields in health care, like medical assisting, dental assisting, and medical billing and coding—lend themselves to specialized training that you can complete efficiently.

Talk in detail to advisors at each program you’re considering about what financial aid is available, whether in terms of loans or scholarships (like the Federal Pell Grant, which includes the “Moms Return to School” grant for part-time students).

We hope that this article has helped you break down a few of the many steps it can take to make the transition into student life as a mom. You can do it! Always keep your end goal in mind: the career you want. It will benefit your family as much as you. And your kids will grow up with a proud mom who was committed to her own hopes and dreams. Good luck!

This article is part of the weekly blog of the American College for Medical Careers. We’re dedicated to supporting our students’ lifestyles and general wellness as well as their career readiness. Find out more about the different programs we offer at our Orlando campus. You can also schedule a visit, apply online or call us at 407-738-4488 for more information!