Returning to School as a Parent

Balancing Classes, Family, and Finances

At the tender age of thirty-five, I dedicated myself to continuing my education, and earning my college degree. All I needed to do was figure out how to make that happen with a wife and children at home, a full time job, and a monthly mortgage payment.

My first attempt at college was an exercise in beer consumption. As a result, I dropped out, and joined the Navy. In boot camp, I signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill, and that was the first smart thing I'd done in a long time. Five years in the military will do a lot for a person, and for me, it helped to pull my head out of my you-know-what.

8 am lecture Soon after an honorable discharge, I met the woman who is now my wife. Together, we decided the best choice for us was to buy a house, start having children, and for me to go back to school. With the GI Bill in hand, we were able to do just that, and here's how we did it.

Find The Right Program
I wanted to attend day classes so I could work full time in the afternoon and nights. Other continuing education students look for night classes, while some choose an online degree like those offered at Mount Washington College, the school where I now teach. Whatever the learning choice, it is important to dedicate to it, and not give up. Hard work pays off, as any parent will attest to.

Family Time
I knew finishing my degree would improve my family life, but I wasn't about to do that at the expense of our relationships. Look for classes that are not only core-requirements, but meet during the times you can easily make work with childcare and employer's needs. It may seem difficult, but schedule days off to spend with family. Since I was at school all day and working at night, I used every spare moment during the week to write my papers and study. When Saturday rolled around, I was able to spend 100% of my time focused on my family. Why do something if you can't enjoy the reasons for which you are doing it?

There was no ray of sunshine on this front. My GI Bill was for $12,000, and that was enough for two years. I had to increase my class load in order to make this work, and I found that seven classes is just as difficult as five, but by going full-time, it was the same amount of money. I applied for scholarships and grants, but that didn't bring much to the table. I bought used textbooks, and I wrote all my papers on the school computers instead of buying my own laptop. Of course, we had to live like hermits for a time. We became adept at shopping at Goodwill for baby clothes, cleaning supplies, and random household needs. It was during this time I began to learn how to stretch a budget at grocery stores. There were no vacations, and family Christmas gifts consisted of homemade arts and crafts.

Those days are behind us now, and though difficult, I can say without hesitation they were worth every struggle. I never lost touch with my family, we never missed a mortgage payment, and my wife and I both have jobs that allow us a more comfortable lifestyle. Without our dedication through those college years, I don't think we could have pulled it off.