How Balance School and Your Family

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Juggling school, your family, and a job can be the most challenging part of college for an adult student. And finding ways to stay focused and on track personally, financially and academically are key ingredients to achieving your dreams. Here are a few tips to help you alleviate some of the stress so you can meet your goals.

Make a solid academic plan

Work with your advisor to create a concrete plan that shows what classes you will need to take and in what order. For example, some classes have prerequisites or must be taken in a specific sequence so be sure you have a clear understanding of “what” and “when.” Some students waste valuable time and money taking classes that fit into their schedule but may not meet the requirements for their degree program. Having a solid academic plan has been shown to help adult students stay in school and finish their degree. If you are unsure of what you want to major in, it’s all the more reason to meet with an advisor who can connect you with appropriate career exploration services provided by the college.

Brush up on your academic and technical skills

If you have been out of school for a while, you may feel fully confident about your abilities to handle the coursework. Most colleges offer refresher courses and/or tutoring centers not only for writing and math, but also for technical skills like using required computer programs. They also may offer a general “learning skills” course that may be a great way for you to get a better understanding of what college work will entail, and how to improve your time management and study skills. Some of these courses may be offered online which makes it easier to fit into your busy schedule.

Stay on top of your finances

Going back to college is a major financial commitment. If you’re like many adult students with children, you may need to make some significant sacrifices to keep your finances in order. Start by making a budget and automating as many of your bills as you can to avoid being late or missing some payments. Have an open discussion with your family about your return to school and money may be tight. It will help them understand why they may have to temporarily forgo some luxuries and can support you in your dream.
Make sure you have applied for all the financial aid you may be eligible for. The financial aid process can be somewhat overwhelming for adult students, so if you have questions contact your school’s financial aid office and ask to meet with a counselor. They can help to make sure you have completed the application(s) correctly and on-time, and to make sure you understand your options with regard to grants (which don’t have to be paid back) versus loans (which do). Some schools offer special financial assistance to adult students such as The University of Wisconsin – Barron County. The University provides a dedicated adult student advisor as well as a financial aid advisor to explain the financial aid process and help students navigate and balance the going-back-to-school experience. They also offer a special “Return to Learn” scholarship. You definitely want to find out if your school offers similar services or scholarship opportunities.

Seek out a community

Many adult students find themselves overwhelmed and isolated, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many students on campus in the same situation as you, and connecting with them for support can be vital ingredient to increasing your confidence and engagement in school. Some schools actually have more formalized programs and groups to support their adult learner population. For example, Texas Woman’s University has an organization called Student Pioneers Also Raising Kids or SPARK, a student organization focused specifically on the needs of student parents. The organization offers a variety of programs and services which may vary each semester/year based on the interests and priorities of the students involved. Finding affordable child care is one of the biggest issues for parents at the University so one of the most popular events is their Annual Child Care and Employment Fair. The group also holds workshops on topics such as dealing with trauma, dating, disciplining children and how to cope with multiple roles and responsibilities. Ask if your school has a similar program. If they don’t, consider starting one by reaching out to the Student Affairs department or student government organization on campus.

Find a dedicated study space

When studying at home, make sure you have a quiet place where you can keep your materials in one place for easy reference. Let your family know the importance of this place and your need to study, and when you are there you may be less available. While at school, use the library or check to see if your school has any dedicated space for adult learners. Columbus State University has an Adult Resource Center set aside for students who are 23 and older and is specifically designed to provide quiet study space, computers and a place for students to relax and connect with other adult students.

Take care of yourself

Remember that no matter how hard you try to extend it, there are only 24 hours in a day. Make it a priority to get enough sleep so that you can perform at your highest level. Also, try to fit in some time to just rest and relax away from homework, studying and household chores—even if it’s only for 30 minutes a day. Everyone needs downtime to recharge, and the health benefits can’t be denied. You will be in better shape to manage your school work and take care of your family if you are well-rested and not stressed out.

These are just a few of the strategies to help you make your dream of earning your college degree a reality. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional assistance from faculty and staff if you start feeling a little over your head. They have worked with many students just like you and are there to support you. The more proactive you are in seeking help, the greater the likelihood of your success.

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