Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Kids Are Going Back; Why Not You?

As the kids prepare to go back to school, that longing for a missed opportunity may arise.  But you work full time, or you have small children, or it would be easier to wait until the kids are out of the house.   There’s no way you can go back to school now, right?  Wrong!
I can tell you from personal experience it is possible.  I graduated in June with a BA from Carleton University.  I also have four children ages 17, 15, 5 and 4.  I have a four-bedroom house to manage.  Did I mention I have a full-time job too?  It’s not always easy; ok, it’s hardly ever easy, but it is possible.
If you know what you want to take, you’re halfway there, but if you don’t, that’s fine too.  Contact the school of choice or contact several schools to see the different options.  They all have some sort of student services department to help get you started and guide you.  You’ll need to apply, but don’t worry if you don’t have the required background.  I hadn’t even graduated from high school but was able to apply as a mature student.  Maybe you started your university or college career years ago and flunked out.  That’s ok too.  Talk to the school.  You may have to write a letter explaining why you want to try again, but you’d be amazed at how helpful the schools can be if you really want to go back.  It is that motivation that they are looking for.
Ok, so maybe you can get accepted, but how are you really going to juggle classes, a job, family and everything else life throws at you?  Start with one class to get your feet wet.  One class for one semester is about 13 weeks, plus an exam.  There are evening classes if you work days, or why not ask your boss if you can work different hours so you can take a day class.  You can offer to stay late or work a half day on the weekend and if it is related to your work, your boss may just let you have the time.  You never know until you ask.  I would often take classes from September to April and then work extra hours to make up the time during the summer.  If you’re really lucky, they may even pay for the courses.  Always ask, because the worse they can say is no.  And if they say no, it may not be that they aren’t supportive, it may be they just don’t have the budget. 
The next step is to make a master schedule.  Have your kids’ and husband’s schedules and your work schedule on hand so you can work around times when you really need to be at home or at work.  If Tuesday nights both kids have activities, it may be hard for your husband to cover both.  Or if you’re a single parent, maybe you’ll need to pair up with another parent.  They take your children one school night and you take his or her kids another night.  There’s probably a neighbour who would love to have an evening off even just to enjoy the quiet of the house.  Maybe your family can help.  Ask for help if you need it.  Remember it’s only for a few months to start.  Talk to the people at the school because they may have programs to help you out.  Many university classes are held once a week.   If you are persistent, you will find a way to be at your class once a week. 
The next challenge that you will face is finding time for homework.  The good thing is that most of this can be done late in the evening after the kids go to bed or if they are older, while they are doing their own homework.  I think some days my older kids found it easier to stick with their homework when they looked over and saw Mom still at it.  Make sure you add due dates for assignments, papers, midterms and exams to your schedule and plan well in advance.  Start assignments early so that if the kids are sick the week before the exam, you’ve already started studying and have all the reading done.  As a parent, all-nighters are much harder to pull off, because you still have to get up and get breakfast for the kids, go to work and get to class.  It is also helpful to have someone you can rely on to watch your younger kids for a few hours if you need a couple hours to work on a paper.  Maybe a grandmother will take the kids to the museum, or the community centre has a Saturday drop-in program.  Use whatever is out there.  Remember, people will be happy to help those who are trying to better themselves.  Persistence is the key to finding out what’s available. 
Maybe I’ve convinced you that one course is possible for one semester, but where will that get you?  It takes more than one course to graduate.    I took my first course as a mature student in 1997 and did not graduate until 2010.  Accept that it will take time, but eventually if you stick with it, you will finish. 
One option to consider is taking distance education classes.  You can do entire degree programs online or in combination with traditional in-school classes.  Discuss the options with an advisor at your school to make sure the credit can be transferred if you choose that route.  Carleton University has CUTV classes that can be watched on cable or downloaded from the Internet.  This can allow you to take more than one or two classes as there’s no travel time except for exams, and with the video download you can watch classes late in the evening after the kids go to bed or fit them in around your work schedule.  One problem people have with this kind of class is they tend not to watch the classes and leave them for the week before exams.  If you have one distance class it’s possible to do that, but not advisable.  One winter I took five CUTV classes, a full-time course load, and there was no way I could get behind.  Five nights a week after working 7:30-3:30, picking up kids, going home, making dinner, doing laundry or whatever else needed to be done, I’d sit down and watch a three hour lecture.  I’d do my reading at lunch, while I supervised bath time or on weekends.  Assignments usually were done on weekends too.  I had no life, but it was one winter and it got me so much closer to graduation that it was worth it. 
You have to realize that some things will need to be sacrificed, especially if you take more than one course at a time.  I missed many trips to the museum and park with my kids that my husband enjoyed.  I didn’t watch television and very few movies that year and I didn’t read a book that wasn’t on a reading list, but it was worth it.  One highlight that really made it all worth it was when my teenage son told me that when he goes to university and finds it hard, he’ll remember what I did and know that he can do it.  I never intended to set out an example for my kids, but it was a wonderful perk. 
You have to want to go to school in order to stay motivated.  It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.  Anything is possible until you say it isn’t.

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