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Colleges are experiencing a shift in the age demographic of their student body.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there is a projected 9% rise in enrollments of students under 25 and a whopping 23% rise in enrollments of student 25 and older from 2010 to 2019.
As more older students are hitting the books with their younger collegiate counterparts in an effort to improve their job prospects, one group in particular faces a unique challenge when heading back to school: moms.
“There’s a world of differences between a parent and a non-parent,” says David Wyld, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. “[With] the time demands, the focus demands, simply trying to divide up the day so that you’re paying proper attention to your children and their needs and yet, you have your own education requirements that you have to be concerned with.”
Here’s what the experts, including experienced moms, say mothers need to take into consideration when heading back to school
Obstacles to the Classroom
When a mother’s priorities expand to include making sure she is also doing homework, accurate time management is crucial.
“You have to be able to be realistic about what kind of schedule you can take on--how many classes you’re taking, what’s realistic in terms of having to do the work for each of the courses that you’re taking, how that’s going to impact you at home, and what kind of support you have at home,” says Rebecca Hall, a private wealth advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services Inc who earned her certified financial planner certification while seven months pregnant with a 2-year-old son at home.
Part of planning a daily routine involves scheduling in time for course work, writing papers and studying on top of all the other duties at home and work. Mothers should pick their class schedules to overlap during times their children are already busy (say in school, or in an extracurricular activity) and prepare for off-hour study times that may include either the wee hours of the morning or at night when the little ones are asleep.
If you are a single mother or if your partner is also working or in school and not able to help as much with the kids, Sherrill Mosee, founder and president of Family Care Solutions Inc (FCS) and author of Professor, May I Bring My Baby to Class?, says that many mothers face difficulties finding quality, dependable childcare.
“Some colleges and universities don’t recognize the value of offering these support services for students to help them complete college,” she says. “If they had some of these programs in place, even if they didn’t have on-campus childcare [but were] able to offer resources to help students find off-campus childcare or to locate or identify community services that would help them pay for childcare, that would be a big help in addition to supporting them academically.”
Take Advantage of Your Resources
With many more responsibilities than the average student, moms need to use the help that’s available to them, say the experts.
Mothers who are fortunate to have a supportive partner to take on some of the parenting and household duties should make sure to maintain open communication regarding each others’s needs.
“They have to be willing to help pick up the slack, particularly at times when you have an exam or midterms are due,” says Hall. “You have to have the buy-in from that person so you don’t feel like it’s a battle that you’re fighting every time you need to take the time to focus on the academics.”
When it comes to handling academics, Rita Toliver-Roberts, Dean of Students for Peirce College suggests moms use their institution’s resources and student services to their advantage. An academic advisor can help determine if a mother can test out of certain classes or get credit for past work experience.
“Moms don’t have a lot of time to be repeating courses or taking courses she doesn’t need to graduate,” she says. “Establishing a good relationship with your advisor is the first step to mapping out a path to academic success that meets your unique needs.”
You’re Not Superhuman
Moms need to be realistic and know their limits so they don’t get discouraged, says Toliver-Roberts.
“Set short-term goals and reward yourself for little victories--don’t beat yourself up if you don’t complete the program when you initially planned,” she says. “Making the decision to return to school is a big step and there will be obstacles, so be kind to yourself.”
Although it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed from time to time, Mosee says it’s important to take a breather once in a while and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Oftentimes, we look at the big hurdles that are in the way and we kind of tell ourselves, ‘this is too much, I can’t do it,’” says Mosee. “But if we tackle things a little bit at a time, envision the diploma and that graduation instead of trying to tackle too much at one time, eventually you’ll get there.”