7 Things to Think About Before Returning to School as a Parent

Juggling family life and academia might seem daunting if you’re a parent contemplating a return to school. Nonetheless, considering the things to think about before returning to school as a parent is crucial, especially when you’re in the shoes of two dads, balancing the upbringing of their two young children while pursuing bachelor’s degrees, a decade deep into their professional careers.

Going back to school as a parent can present many more difficulties, but that doesn’t make it impossible. If you prepare for and anticipate the issues that students with children typically face, you’ll have a higher chance of succeeding. Find out more about the top seven¬†considerations to make as a parent before you start or return to school.

Factors to Take Into Account for Parents Wanting to Return to School

The amount of time required, the expense, or the fact that you’re already worn out? Despite these obstacles, earning the degree, you have always wanted is still feasible.

Long referred to as “nontraditional,” students who are outside the normal age are now represented by around one-third of college freshmen in the United States, 20% of whom are parents. Some people go back to school to advance their education or enter a new field, others pursue degrees to ensure their job security, while others still yearn for personal development or want to set an example for their children.

Others are adamant about finishing what they started: More than 36 million Americans have left college without earning a degree, according to the Some College, No Degree (SCND) report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

However, returning to school can be intimidating for many parents. Studying for tests while managing a job and toilet training may seem tough. (There is also a cost.) But, according to the parents and professionals we talked to for this story, there are methods to make it work. Before making the plunge, consider this post to be something you must first read (a precondition, if you will).


At the age of 44, Chad Rendon-Thofson earned a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance in 2016. His husband Michael received his organizational leadership bachelor’s degree a year later. When their children were 1 and 2, they decided to return to school.

Michael, who had just lost his job, had completed two years of undergrad, while Chad, a stay-at-home father, had dropped out of college in 1998 with just one credit remaining. Instead of going back to work simultaneously as their family expanded, Michael and his wife “decided that let’s show our kids that it’s never too late to put your mind to anything.”

Two of the one million SCND students who went back to school and received a degree between 2014 and 2019 are Chad and Michael, who is now 49 and 37, respectively. Whether you want to finish your bachelor’s degree or start a new one, your first step should be to research the admissions requirements and surrounding colleges (unless you’re open to moving). Some institutions offer open entry, which accepts all applications (i.e., community colleges and some state schools). More selective schools exist. While many no longer demand the SAT or ACT, some still do, and so do your study.

Klein-Collins advises beginning the application process at least nine months before you intend to start, and longer if testing is necessary if you’re applying to top colleges. Find out if the institutions conduct prior learning assessments, which evaluate your life experience in hopes of allowing part of it to count as college credit, or if they accept past credits. For work experience, military service, or voluntary work, several schools grant credit.

Take into account the logistics.

Numerous colleges provide rolling admissions, accelerated, self-paced, or part-time degree paths, flexible course schedules, and these options. There are numerous online courses accessible. In less than a year, several certificate programs can be finished. (However, be on the lookout for dubious promises. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a program is probably a scam if it claims there is “no studying or tests required” or makes a quick-degree guarantee.)

When submitting your application, Klein-Collins advises, “Consider your education as a consumer and carefully consider what you need to make it work for you.” You want a school that accommodates your needs. Focus on universities where a large portion of students are adult learners. If a school wants to draw in adult students, it will emphasize on its website the advantages it offers to parents and full-time employees. Contact the admissions office and find out how the staff members there may assist you in scheduling classes around your schedule. Additionally, Klein-Collins reminds us: Since you are valuable to them, they ought to offer solutions to assist students like you in completing their studies.

Be honest about the time needed.

The time or effort required for a college course or program is frequently underestimated by many students (of all ages). The school should estimate the amount of time needed for your course(s), both in and out of the classroom. Many universities will let you think about full- or part-time enrollment.

“Even while it will take you longer to finish your program or degree if you aren’t enrolled in school full-time, it might be more doable. It might be preferable to discuss this with an admissions advisor. You may need to enroll for a specific number of credits each term if you require financial aid to help you with the expenditures.”

It takes a village, really.

At Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, fourth-year medical student Joycelyn Keller, 30, claims that her spouse had to take on the role of Super Househusband Dad for her to complete her coursework. In my first two years, I occasionally left the house before our son awoke and returned after he had gone to bed. The division of labor for the Rendon-Thofsons changed over time. While Chad had in-person classes, Michael had online ones. As a result, Michael had to manage childcare drop-off and pick-up while still studying at night and on weekends. (Grandparents also contributed.)

Reach out to your neighbors, friends, and extended family if you need assistance for a family or single parent: Can someone watch the kids while you study for a few hours? Try to connect with members of any student-parent organizations your school may have. Elizabeth Preovolos, a 39-year-old mother of two studying at the University of California, Berkeley, advises couples to stop hosting playdates so they can allow one another time to do assignments. During the pandemic, she and other student parents alternated reading books to one other’s children over FaceTime.

Even while just 15% of colleges provide on-campus childcare (public colleges and historically Black colleges and universities are most likely to do so), this option can be a game-changer. Autumn Green, Ph.D., was a 19-year-old mother of a 2-year-old and an infant when she transferred from a community college.

She decided on the University of Oregon in Eugene because it provided family housing and on-campus childcare. She founded the Campus Family Housing Database, a list of roughly 250 colleges and universities offering college-affiliated family housing around the country. She is currently a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Investigate available financial aid options.

This will depend on several variables, including the school/program you select and whether you’ve previously earned a degree. “Parents returning to school need to be aware that they are not eligible for federal loans, grants, or the American opportunity [tax] credit if they already hold a bachelor’s degree,” says Joseph Orsolini, CFP, of College Aid Planners. “Graduate PLUS loans are available if students decide to go back to graduate school. This frequently happens to people who are looking to shift careers or pursue nursing or teaching degrees.”

Even yet, particularly if you haven’t yet received a degree, you might be shocked to hear there is money available to aid with the school. “You might still be eligible for federal financial aid even if you are starting college a little later in life or returning after a break,” adds Rubin. “There is no age restriction to finish the FAFSA, despite the belief of many adult learners that this is not a choice for them (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You should submit your FAFSA as soon as you decide to go back to school, in my opinion. The FAFSA will assist you in applying for federal aid, but it is also utilized by states and schools to determine how much money to give out.”

Check out the list of state college scholarship programs Edvisors has put together, as many states have their own grant and scholarship programs.

While less adaptable, advanced degree programs are nevertheless feasible.

The normal academic calendars for master’s, law, and doctorate programs, which require two, three, and six years of full-time study, are related to falling start dates. According to Klein-Collins, admission requirements vary by institution; while some institutions no longer require the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is still necessary to apply to the vast majority of law schools. Transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal statements are typically required as part of the application materials for most programs.

It’s important to be organized.

During the first week of class, review the course syllabus. Note any deadlines, due dates, and test or exam dates. Then schedule the remainder of the semester, allowing plenty of time for study and assignment completion.

Procrastination is one of the major hazards. Enlisting a friend, a member of your family, or even a fellow student to act as your accountability partner can be beneficial. This person will watch out for your schedule compliance and may even gently scold you if necessary.

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