Hey, Momma! Another school year is starting for the kids. How do you feel? Excited? Nostalgic? Nervous? How about envious? If you’ve been thinking about going back to school – at any level – you may have all of these same feelings (and more!) about cracking open the books again. You may also be wondering how to even begin.
After working with professionals furthering their education for many years, I can promise you are not alone in your feelings or questions. Below are a few key steps to help any Mom work through the decision of whether or not to sharpen those pencils and head back to school.
Tips for Moms Going Back to School
Understand your goals
The first thing to do when deciding whether or not to go back to school is to understand your “why.” Why do you want to go back to school? What is your goal? Is it to reenter the workforce after staying home with the kids? Advance in your current job? Change careers? Maybe you just like to learn.
There are many valid reasons to continue your education, but be honest with yourself. Going back to school will require sacrifices for both you and your family, so a clear understanding of the “why” is important.
Find the right program
Considering the sacrifices you’ll make, you want ensure your time and money are well spent. Make the effort to research and find the program that best fits your goals and life. It’s ok if you feel overwhelmed by this task; there are many options out there. Fortunately, if you know your “why,” you can begin to narrow your search for the “what” and “how” into manageable chunks.
Research what you want to study
You can narrow your search for programs by thinking about what you want to study. Sometimes, this can be easy; if you want to become a nurse, you can look specifically at nursing programs. However, if your goal is a little less defined, like using school as a transition back to the workforce, then you need to dig a little deeper. Start by thinking what interests you, then about where you want to build your career. Once you’ve done that, research academic programs where the two areas meet.
For example, do you want to go into business, but are more interested in people than numbers? Then maybe look at degrees in the human resources space. Are you social media savvy? Check out marketing or communications programs.
If you don’t know what you like, or where your career should go, don’t worry. Just start paying attention to things you’re naturally drawn to. Also, talk to people with jobs that make you think, “I’d like to do that!” Even if these aren’t what you end up studying, you can at least start to get an idea of what to research.
Consider how you want to learn
Online learning was on the rise even before the pandemic, but you may still be hesitant to go 100% virtual. And that’s ok! Just make sure you consider the impact being required to be somewhere on things like work or babysitter schedules.
Fortunately, many reputable schools offer flexible options these days, where you can take some classes online and some in person. I personally took advantage of this hybrid approach back in 2015, when I switched from in-person learning to virtual after I had my oldest.
However, if that’s not the case, and you decide you want to give online learning a try, find out if the delivery method is “on demand” (meaning recorded), or live and instructor-led. Zoom-meeting jokes aside, having an instructor and other students to interact with in real time can lessen the struggle some moms may have when not sitting in an actual classroom.
Understand the financial implications
Before signing on the dotted line for any program, make sure you understand the impact on your finances. Consider everything, not just school-specific items like application fees, tuition, and books, but also hidden costs like daycare and how it affects your income (if you’ll be working fewer hours).
If you plan to take out loans, talk to the program’s financial aid advisor. If you want to avoid taking out loans, look into grants or scholarships you may qualify for. If you’re working, see if your employer will cover some (or all) of the costs. If you’re not working, check out work-study programs that may be available.
And remember, it is possible to pay out of pocket. One mom I spoke to saved for 15 years and paid cash when she went back to school. It may have taken awhile, but in her words, paying cash was “rewarding and satisfying.”
Finally, consider your “why now.” This doesn’t mean to question if you’re too old. You’re not. Remember, you’ll be 30/40/50 years old regardless if you go back to school or not. If you want to do this, you can. It just may take some planning.
“Why now” is more about logistics. As a mom, you’re likely in charge of your schedule, as well as several others. Are you starting a new job, while moving houses, with a two-year-old? It doesn’t mean you can’t go back to school, but you may decide to start classes in the spring instead of the fall. Asking “why now” is not about shutting the door on something you want to do, but instead about deciding to open the door at the right time.
Yes, going back to school will mean making sacrifices; however, it can also be personally and professionally rewarding. If you’re questioning whether or not to go back to school, take the time to work through the above steps, and make the right decision for you. After all, only you know if that school bell is ringing for you.