You’ve been thinking about going back to college for a while. Every time the thought crosses your mind- you think of the deadlines at work, the kids’ activities, the babysitter’s schedule and you immediately push the thought from the forefront of your mind. I know how you feel because I was once there. I knew the only way to advance in my career field was to go back to school but I had these pressing issues and honestly did not know how or where school would fit into the equation of my busy life. I finally got out of my own way and stopped telling myself the reasons that I could not go back to school and decided to see what my options were.
Colleges and universities realize that many adults want to obtain their degrees but attendance in a traditional class setting is not always feasible with work and family life.
According to a 2015 study done by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, over the past 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have also worked while they were attending school.
The setting most conducive for me was distance learning (entirely online) where I received my Masters in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Criminal Behavior in 2016.
One of the obvious benefits for higher education is to increase your marketability, which means more employment prospects, regardless of your career field. Increased marketability also means increased salary potential. Who doesn’t want to get paid their worth? We all do right?!? Some lesser know benefits to higher education are a healthier lifestyle and reduced risk of obesity.
Let’s talk about a few options you may not be aware of that can turn thoughts of going back to school into reality. One option that many adults consider is evening programs. Many liberal arts colleges offer evening degree programs that are suitable for working adults. Classes are offered at night and even on the weekends. Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Benedict in South Carolina and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offer evening degree programs. This is a great option for people who prefer interaction and a classroom experience. Some of these programs, like the one at Oglethorpe University, allow potential students to take a test drive and determine if their college and specific program is the right fit.
Another option, and one that has become quite popular over the last decade is distance learning. Distance learning, also called e-learning is a way of learning without having to go to an actual college campus. There are two general categories of distance learning; synchronous and synchronous. Synchronous basically means at the same time, while synchronous means not at the same time. Synchronous distance learning is where live communication is done through chatting online or teleconferencing at a specific time. Asynchronous distance learning often has weekly deadlines but otherwise lets students work at their own pace for a number of weeks. Students are able to complete school work around their own schedules. In asynchronous distance learning, students interact with their class peers through the use of online message board systems such as “Blackboard”. Asynchronous learning will also sometimes use video and audio supplements. Here are some examples of synchronous and asynchronous based learning.
- Open schedule online courses give students a lot of freedom to complete their program. This is a asynchronous form of learning where everything is done entirely online. At the beginning of the program, students are given a deadline and students are able to work at their own pace, as long as they complete the coursework by the deadline. This is a good option for students who work well independently. If you are a procrastinator, this may not be the best option for you.
- Fixed time online courses are entirely online but students are required to login to their learning site at a specific time and mandatory live chats are conducted. This is a synchronous form of learning.
- Hybrid distance learning combines synchronous and asynchronous learning where student will complete some coursework online and some coursework in the classroom. Classroom time is a set time but assignments can be completed on their own time and submitted through an online forum. Computer based distance learning is where students meet in a designated classroom or computer lab at a specific time.
Licensure courses are another option for those wanting to acquire credentials, gaining additional training and knowledge in their field. More often than not, with more credentials comes more money. If you are not entirely sure if you want to enter a degree program, another great option is licensure courses. Career fields such as education, social work, mental health, substance abuse counseling, and real estate are all fields where licensure courses are plentiful. One of the appeals of obtaining a licensure is it is a much shorter time commitment than degree programs. Licensure courses can be completed through distance learning as well. It is important to note that once licensure is obtained, there will be continuing education units (CEUs) that will need to be completed to keep the licensure valid. These CEUs are often completed on a yearly basis.
So you are considering that college degree program or licensure course but are wondering how you are going to pay for it, right? Don’t listen to those that say there is no grant or scholarship money available to adult learners because that could not be further from the truth. There is money out there. Many employers also offer tuition reimbursement. Participating in a tuition reimbursement program means you will initially need to pay for your courses but you will be reimbursed through your employer. It is important to note that you will want to contact your company’s human resources department to confirm if they offer the program and what is covered. Some employers cover not only tuition but also the cost of materials (such as books, lab items, etc.) that may be needed. There are also financial aid options available. Reach out to the financial aid office of the school you are considering and find out what options may be available including federal aid, scholarships, grants and school based tuition discounts for adult learners.
If going back to school is your goal, let nothing and no one deter you from that. You can do it! Need encouragement? Read how this mom of 4 just earned a PhD.
What’s stopping you from going back to school? What reservations do you have? Let me know how I can share my experience as a mom who has been there.