I’m guessing there are probably some working moms in our WMAG community that are thinking about going back to school. Whether you’re looking to earn a degree, complete a degree that got cut short (thanks to kids, or life, or life with kids), or earn an additional credential – here are some tips and tools to help you make the transition from mom to student.
To Go or Not to Go, That is The Question. And it’s a question I can’t answer for you. The answer depends on your industry, career aspirations, and personal definition of success. That said, the Bureau of Labor statistics clearly show that higher education levels yield more income and lower unemployment rates. Going back to school is a great way to gain new skills, show value to a current employer, or reinvent your career altogether.
Where to go? Years ago returning to school meant campus visits to local colleges and universities in your community. Today, there are a slew of choices available in multiple modalities and weeding your way through them all can feel overwhelming. One new tool that can help is the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard. This gives you real, transparent information on important factors like cost, graduation rate, and even a price calculator to estimate the cost of attendance. Once you’ve made a short list of schools to check out – start calling the schools. Someone in the Admissions office should be able to answer all of your questions over the phone. This means you can do research while on your commute to work, a lunch break, or during a spot in the day that works with your schedule – without having to find time to visit the campus.
Accreditation: Quick lesson here folks – and it’s an important one. Accreditation is quality assurance for education. It’s third party validation that the academic quality of an institution is strong. There are two types of Accreditation the Department of Education awards to schools – National Accreditation and Regional Accreditation. This article does a nice job outlining the differences between the two. Since selecting the wrong one could ultimately impact your ability to transfer credits, earn additional credentials, or even find employment, it’s worth making sure you know exactly what the accreditation is for any school you’re considering.
What to Study? 10 years ago I would have told you to study something that interests you – something that you truly love (hello, English major over here). That was before the economy tanked and the job market got crowded. Today I’d tell you to still find something that does interest you, but something that also has a good job outlook and earnings potential. The Census Bureau has this nifty tool to show you information by programmatic area of study to help you better understand the market.
How to Learn? Online, blended, campus based – there’s a variety of formats and modalities to explore. Online is probably the most convenient option for busy moms – but it’s worth noting that convenient does not mean easy. To be successful in a fully online format you need strong self discipline skills…and hours during the week where you can be alone to work on assignments and postings. Attending class online is not like browsing Facebook while the kids play. It requires focus, dedication, and time.
Campus and blended learning programs are great as they allow you to build a network with local learners – which is ideal for study groups and support, but you will need to coordinate childcare and time to commute to campus if you go this route.
Talk to folks in your network who have done both and try mapping out the pros and cons of each modality for you and your family to discuss.
Financial Resources: This is where you’re hoping I can tell you about some magic program that lets you go to school for free. No dice – sorry to disappoint. That said, there are some resources that might be helpful:
- If you’re interested in Federal Financial Aid, the first step to the process is filling out a FAFSA. As a side note, the FAFSA should always be free…don’t fall victim to sites that want to charge you to fill one out.
- You can use this tool from FAFSA to estimate the amount of financial aid you could potentially qualify for.
- Looking for Scholarships? They are harder to come by these days, but Fast Web is a great resource for finding them.
- Lastly – reach out to your employer. They might have some tuition reimbursement available to help you finance your degree.
Making the decision to return to school, at any age or education level, is a big one that requires research, reason, and resources (not to mention help from your family and support network). There’s never going to be a perfect time to go back – but going back will set a great example and reaffirm to your children the value that you place on education. The road won’t be easy – but it will be worth it.
Moms who have done it – what are your secrets? What did you find helpful when making the decision to go back school?