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Earning a Degree While Being a Mom: How to Make it Work

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mom-girl-workOne glance at a mom’s day planner shows the hectic schedules of today’s families – school activities, sports, social events, doctor’s appointments, plus music lessons, homework, special projects and more. Is there any time left for a mom to think about her own future – a future that doesn’t completely revolve around children? Yes! And now! Here’s why.

Today’s recession shows the fragile nature of most family’s incomes, whether they have one or two wage-earners. Moms need to be ready to jump into a position or earn a new one after a lay-off. Many of the best jobs require a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, which takes time and planning.

There’s good news, though, for those who need to earn or finish that degree or develop new skills. There are “family-friendly” degree options, like online learning. There are also many resources and options to help you include tuition fees in your family budget.

Here are some tips and strategies to help moms join the college ranks.

Time to dream

First, ask yourself what you want to be when you grow up. You may want to pursue a childhood dream such as becoming a teacher. Or, you may have discovered a new talent or passion, such as information technology or public service.

Degree programs today help students realize those dreams by offering much more variety and specialization. For instance, the online American Public University System (APUS) offers a criminal justice degree with a concentration in forensics. It offers master’s degrees for teachers in six different disciplines, including gifted education, reading and literacy and instructional leadership. The business administration bachelor’s program also has six different concentrations, including business analysis, marketing and small business management.

One APUS student, Rebecca Roch, is a single mom of three who is now pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Administration online from APUS. She says the public administration degree combines all of her interests — finance, management, planning and more – and offers many job opportunities in the public and private sector.

New learning options

Online learning has become the preferred choice for many adult learners with families. It offers flexibility, portability and affordability. APUS, for instance, has asynchronous courses. This means students do not have specific log-in times, but study where and when they want. Courses in eight- or 16-week formats help parents integrate studies into upcoming family or work commitments.

Roch describes her online classroom as a tight-knit community to whom she can relate. She especially likes the in-depth online discussions.

“I love that aspect. You’re not going to miss out on any information like you would in a traditional classroom, where you would have to raise your hand and wait your turn,” she says.

Online institutions offer many tools to help students succeed. At APUS, the online campus provides the framework by connecting students to courses, student support services and the online library. APUS has research librarians, who are available 18 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist students. The online “student lounge” and alumni group enhances what is learned in the classroom.

Students also share ideas and make personal connections through Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Those who are new to college or are facing certain challenges can turn to fellow students for advice.

Financial Aid

Paying for college is no small challenge, but there are ways to ease the strain on the family budget. Knowing what’s available is the first step. Options include:

Students did get a boost recently from President Obama’s administration. Through the fiscal 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the maximum Pell Grant will increase to $5,550–an $819 increase over two years ago. This link helps unravel what’s available and how to apply: http://tinyurl.com/n4wu66.

APUS offers details regarding other options and how you might qualify: http://www.apus.edu/financing-your-education/index.htm

Making the commitment

Earning a college degree does take a significant time commitment. Online learning makes it easier, as long as you’re honest about what you and your family can accomplish.

Roch, for instance, had originally enrolled in four courses, all in the eight-week format, thinking a master’s work load was similar to a bachelor’s degree. Her student advisor contacted her immediately to discuss the demanding requirements. Roch decided to start off with two classes. She was glad she did, admitting the load might have been enough to make her drop out.

Roch had been working as an employment counselor and studied on her lunch hour. She now studies when her children study in the evening, while on vacation, and even at Cub Scout meetings

The right choice

Moms, like Roch, tend to put family first.

“As a single mom, I put my career goals on the back burner,” she says. She found by returning to college she can be a good mom and pursue her dreams.

“My kids think it’s exciting that mommy has more homework than they do and they look up to me in a new light,” says Roch, who is now engaged to be married. “I have been able to give my children more goals to strive for and more dreams to dream.”

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