Authentic Advice for Moms Going Back to School

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Are you thinking about going back to school as a mom? You’re not alone! There are so many moms out there who have thought about going back for one reason or another. Maybe you love working but have lost that spark. The passion you once had slowly fizzled away. At this point, simply making it through the day now requires all your precious energy. Your job is sucking the life right out of you and you desperately need a new direction.

Or maybe your career was put on the back burner while having your kids but now you’re ready to get back into the game. You feel that you have so much energy, insight, and enthusiasm to offer! Despite all your talent, getting back into the workforce feels incredibly daunting. Your past educational experiences don’t necessarily align with your current career goals and you need additional coursework.

Maybe you still love what you do but long to level up. You know that you’re capable of so much more but the path to your next step leads directly through a new degree.

The decision to go back to school as a mom is not one to be taken lightly. You’ve already got a ton on your plate and taking on even more feels incredibly overwhelming. You have no idea where to start.

I’ve been there. As a mom who has juggled school and work for the majority of my 9 years as a mom, I completely get it.

And I’m not going to lie about the tough choices you have to make when going back to school. It’s never easy.

But you have goals and dreams and owe it to yourself (and your kids!) to go after them. It’s your time!

My Story of Going Back to School as a Mom

My story of going back to school as a mom starts with a fine arts degree and limited job prospects.

After graduation, I found myself married and living in a tiny town where supporting one solely as a freelance pianist and teacher was impossible. And as someone who had always been motivated to have a fulfilling career outside the home, a new direction was in order.

I began to explore different options, finally landing on nursing for its versatility and job availability. Unfortunately, this meant returning to school for a 2 year nursing degree.

Nine months into the 2 year program, I found myself pregnant with my very first child.

Despite a multitude of challenges, I successfully graduated with an associate degree in nursing 6 months after her birth. Since that graduation, I have divorced, remarried, had 2 additional children, and finished a baccalaureate nursing program.

Although I enjoyed my time working as a registered nurse, I felt driven to do more.

Four months after the birth of my third child, I began a graduate nursing program. Three years later, I completed the program and emerged with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in my hand.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 9 years, it’s that you CAN go back to school as a mom. It just takes a little bit of faith, lots of hard work, and a ton of patience.

Getting Clear on Your Why

I may have mentioned this earlier, but I am not promising that going back to school as a mom will be easy. In fact, it will probably be one of the toughest things you ever do.

While I was going through the graduate program, there were so many people who told me I would look back on the experience and wonder how I did it. They weren’t wrong.

I have been out of the program a year now and still wonder how I made it through. The only answer I can come up with is that even before the program began, I got very clear on my “why.”

I desperately wanted to make it through the program and emerge triumphant on the other side. Failure was not an option.

I knew this degree would open amazing doors for both myself and for my family so I was going after it with everything I had.

Never losing focus of my “why” helped me through all the papers and the tests and the discussion posts. It carried me through the moments when I thought failure was inevitable.

Take some time to get clear on your own “why.” Contemplate what’s driving your decision to take the road less traveled and write it down. Post it where you can see it every single day and be ready to pull it out whenever your faith begins to fade.

Resolve to never give up regardless of what stands in your way and you too will emerge triumphant on the other side.

You may also enjoy reading this post about staying motivated when things get tough.

Manage Your Expectations

Now that you’ve gotten crystal clear on your “why,” let’s talk about expectations. We all have expectations for ourselves and as moms, sometimes those expectations are crazy high.

I’m talking completely unrealistic, never-in-a-million years unattainably high.

And when the expectations we place upon ourselves don’t pan out into reality, we feel guilty. The mismatch between expectation and reality can then trigger significant anxiety and depression.

Can I let you in on a little secret?

In many cases, we perpetuate our own guilt. Our standards are way too high for anyone to possibly live up to. The very first step is admitting how unrealistic our expectations truly are.

Adding school to your ever-growing list of tasks and obligations will feel overwhelming if you let it. But if you lower your standards and (dare I say it!) relax, everything will be ok. Your kids will be just fine regardless of whether they have homemade mac & cheese or Kraft dinner. Extra tablet time is not lethal nor is letting your kids structure their own play.

The world will not screech to a halt if your sink is full of dirty dishes or if toys are perpetually scattered around your house.

Everything will be ok. Your basic household tasks will get accomplished. The kids will be happy and well-adjusted because you’re a great mom! And you will not only finish your homework but you will graduate to a world of exciting new possibilities.

Expectations about Work

Managing your expectations also extends to your work schedule. Before diving into that degree, evaluate whether your current work schedule will allow you to complete the program successfully. Find out whether students in the program are realistically able to work full-time or whether cutting back is recommended.

There are a ton of different programs out there which can be completed while working 40 hours a week and raising a family. But there are also many which truly can’t.

Be honest with yourself about your ability to handle both.

Although I was able to manage working full-time hours while completing the baccalaureate nursing program, I cut back during the graduate program. Between in-person classes, clinicals, and the extensive academic demands of the program, working full-time was not a reality for me during the program.

I was incredibly lucky to have a flexible position which allowed me to cut back on hours during the more intense parts of the program. Consider whether you may need to find a more flexible position while completing your degree. Cutting back on your workload may mean the difference successfully completing that degree or dropping out.

Have you heard the secret to making working mom life work? Find out here!

Financial Implications of Going Back to School as a Mom

Now is also a great time to evaluate the financial implications of your decision to go back to school as a mom.

Will going back to school result in a pay increase? If so, how much? And if not, is the effort and cost of tuition worth going back? Many people (myself included) return to school to increase their income potential. Others do not place as much weight on this factor in their decision making process. Either viewpoint is completely fine but take the time to uncover your own truth ahead of time rather than look back with regret.

How will going back at this point affect any outstanding student loans? Will you need to take out additional loans to cover tuition costs? Will your income after graduation outweigh your outstanding loans? Does your employer offer any incentives such as tuition reimbursement or scholarships? Are you eligible for other scholarships which could help cover costs?

If you do need to cut back on work hours, how will your monthly budget be impacted? And is it possible to cut back your budget elsewhere so you can work a little less while in school?

Spend time up-front considering all the financial and time implications so you can make the most informed decision possible. Maybe you have too many other priorities right now and don’t feel like you can adequately shift them. That’s ok! We all go through different seasons in life and maybe all you need is a bit more time. Be honest with yourself and you will succeed!

Evaluate Your Current Schedule

Consideration of your why and your expectations in going back to school as a mom are crucial because overwhelm and mom guilt are real. You need to take the time to clarify your own feelings on these topics otherwise it will be very difficult to follow through.

Evaluation of your current schedule is an equally important task because something has to give. I’m guessing that your days are full to the brim with all types of tasks, duties, and activities essential to the wellbeing of both yourself and your kids.

And somewhere in the midst of the chaos, you need to find time to complete the work required for a degree.

Different Learning Formats When Going Back to School as a Mom

In some cases, this may mean allotting time to attend class in-person or it may involve online classes. Depending upon the type of degree you are seeking, it may mean a combination of both.

I have extensive experience with both learning formats and as a general rule, prefer online formats. There are instances when I find classroom more valuable but they typically involve some type of hands-on learning or lab environment which is difficult to replicate online.

All programs have different requirements. Some require clinical time. Others have a heavy emphasis on group projects. It all depends upon the individual program.

Do your research on all the different options out there. Find the program which aligns most closely with your needs and understands the special demands placed upon those going back to school as a mom.

Regardless of the learning format, give yourself time to adjust. Being in a classroom setting after taking many years off as a student can be very intimidating. You may need to completely re-learn how to learn because techniques which worked when you were younger are no longer effective.

Give yourself grace while you figure out how to go back to school as a mom!

Class Schedules

If possible, I wholeheartedly recommend taking one class at a time to start with. Some type of general education course is perfect to ease your way back to school as a mom because those courses are designed with broad learning principles in mind. It’s a great way to practice the skills you will need for success in school.

It can be tempting to load up on coursework to get done faster but this can backfire quickly. Taking on too much too quickly can lead to burnout especially when you have kids.

Although the amount of time you will require to complete homework and prepare for class will vary greatly, you can typically expect to spend about 3 hours out of class for each credit the class is worth. For example, if the class is worth 3 credits, expect to spend about 9 hours a week on activities outside the classroom.

I’m going to let you in on another little secret I’ve learned the hard way. Carefully consider the contribution of the homework assignment or course to your overall goals. Then allot the appropriate amount of time to it.

As a type A perfectionist, I obsessed over every single assignment in ALL my classes. I put so much needless pressure on myself to excel in everything that the price I paid was my own peace of mind.

Anxiety became my constant companion as it slowly sucked the joy out of everything.

Don’t be like me. If the assignment doesn’t really matter all that much in the bigger scheme of things, do what you need to do to finish it and move on with life.

Always choose progress over perfection and you will find a greater sense of inner peace.

You may enjoy reading this post about choosing peace over chaos.

It’s Your Turn

I hope this post has inspired you to consider going back to school as a mom! It’s never easy but taking those first few steps toward a more fulfilling work life is invigorating!

And when work is fulfilling, other areas of your life are so much brighter. Going back to school as a mom means tough choices but it also means being a role model for your kids. It means showing them the importance of being passionate about what you do. Your decision to chase your dreams inspires your kids to never give up on what they love no matter what.

I’d love to hear from you below on what’s holding you back from starting your own back to school journey!

8 thoughts on “Authentic Advice for Moms Going Back to School

  1. I finished grad school when my kids were really young. I often say I’m glad they were so young because they don’t remember it 😉 Honestly though, if you have the right support system it can be done, and it is so important to show our kids that we will not stop dreaming.

    1. I imagine that it’s definitely tougher to do grad school with kids but I agree that a support system helps tremendously! And I think as moms, we are tougher on ourselves than our kids are on us. A tough season for sure but worth it in the end! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Great, encouraging post! I admire moms who put things on hold then return to school to fulfill a dream. Thanks for sharing your story and your tips.

  3. While I am not considering going back to school at the moment, I will admit that it has been something I have thought about before and I wasn’t sure how I would balance it all with motherhood. This is excellent advice and a lot of moms will benefit from it.

    1. Returning to school as a mom is challenging in so many ways but I think it forces you to grow as a person. It also forced my husband and I to grow as a couple because there were so many things we needed to work through and I’m not sure we would have if I hadn’t pursued school at this point. Going back as a mom is tough, but possible! Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂

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