As the school year is looming in my not-so-distant future, I’m overwhelmed, nervous, nauseas, and so f’ing excited. That’s right friends, this girl is finally in her last year of undergrad. My journey to this point has been all over the place. I graduated high school 12 -gulp- years ago. And I am just now getting finishing my undergraduate degree. I had 6 years before Z was born to finish that degree, and I made a lot of missteps, mistakes, and all out bad choices in those years. I’ll save the specifics of that for another post, but for this one, I’m going to hone in on finishing a degree as a parent. Being a student is difficult at any degree, but parenting through it all definitely adds different pressures. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the ins and outs of finishing a degree as a parent. Part 1 is all about what you SHOULD do.
- Take your time! One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (a few times) on the road to a degree is changing degree programs, schools, and formats too many times. I’d reach a point where I wanted to finish my degree in a more condensed time-frame, so I’d settle for something I wasn’t nearly as interested in, or in a way that didn’t inspire me. As a parent, you can feel the pressure of hurrying through a program for financial reasons or wanting to hurry into the workforce with your new degree. And those are legitimate, however, going to school is an investment. Invest in a degree that means something to you and for you. Don’t just settle for the fastest way to get through it.
- Stay organized! Google calendar has saved my life more than once. I would have never been able to stay on top of Z’s events, practices, my schoolwork, appointments, etc, if I didn’t stay on top of my calendar. Google calendar works for me, but you might have a different method. Whatever your organizational method is…stay on top of it. Your life will already be stressful enough balancing parenthood and work and school…the last thing you need is another battle to fight.
- Keep yourself inspired. There will be numerous times that you will think, “What the hell am I thinking?” Self-doubt will creep in all the time. Find things that will inspire you to keep going. I’m a words person, so I have quotes posted all over. Write down your goals at the beginning of each semester, and the reasons (and people) you’re doing this for…keep it somewhere visible to remind you why this matters, when you need it most.
- Find financial flexibility where you can. Depending on your degree program, format of schooling, work schedules, school/daycare/preschool schedules, it can feel impossible to finish something as expensive as an education. If you need to tap into your savings (Hahahahaha, who has a savings?!), take out student loans, reach out to your job about education assistance…etc. I took out the max amount I could for student loans. I know, a lot of financial planners would flip after hearing that, but I am attending a brick and mortar school, during the day while my daughter is in school, and am mostly single parenting. That meant I needed something that could fill in the gaps from missing a regular 9-5 job through the week. I also have my military education benefits which provides a monthly housing allowance. So, with my weekend part-time job, financial aid, and my housing allowance, I make it by and have the flexibility in my schedule to invest in school and my daughter.
- Know and be kind to yourself. I’ve learned that I do not operate well in late afternoon/evening classes. I hit a mental block and lack focus. I’ve learned that I study best in the early-to-mid morning, and that late night cram sessions are not beneficial for me. I’ve learned that I need to start writing essays early, and write a little bit each day instead of procrastinating to the last minute. I need calm music when I study, and I retain more when I sit at my desk than on my bed. This is probably my best piece of advice: Be aware of yourself. That sounds a bit hokey, but seriously, the more aware you are of what does and doesn’t work for you, the more successful you will be. Every school and professor will try to give you study/academic tips, and they can be helpful, but knowing yourself and how you function at your best, is the easiest way to set yourself up for success.
It is not impossible to finish your degree as a parent. It takes some creativity, but it is 100% possible.