Going Back to School as a Parent
By Kimberly Blaker
So you’d like to further your education, but you don’t know where you’d find time with your current job and parenting role? Even if you could, there are the costs for courses and books to squeeze into your budget. Fortunately, today, there are many ways to overcome these obstacles.
If you’re undecided about your career goals, get started by reading What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles, or Who Do You Think You Are? by Keith Harary and Eileen Donahue. You can also check with a local institution for the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator test to discover your interests and strengths. Finally, visit nearby colleges or visit their websites. Find out which offer the courses, degree and options for earning credits that suit your needs.
Non-traditional college credit
Today, more accredited colleges offer a variety of options for earning nontraditional course credit. Look into this first to save time and money.
At some colleges, you can earn Self-Acquired Competency (SAC) credits, which may have different names at various institutions. Such credits are available for a wide range of skills and life experiences. They require compiling a portfolio for faculty evaluation. In your portfolio, you can include on-the-job training, work and volunteer experience, workshops, seminars and more. If you served in the military, you might be eligible for Military Service Credit for education you gained through schools, experience or service.
You can also earn credits by examination. Some of these include:
- Credits for College-Level Examination Programs (CLEP)
- Advanced Placement Examinations (AP)
- Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)
Credit by examination can also save time and money if you have knowledge in a particular area or if you study and test well. But be sure to check with your institution before enrolling since credit may not be awarded following admission.
Another possibility for credits is if you’ve completed any noncollegiate or in-company sponsored programs or courses. Find out if those programs have been reviewed by the American Council on Education (ACE). If so, ask your academic institution if they award credits based on ACE recommendations.
Correspondence and online courses
Independent study programs offer a couple of options. You can take online courses in the convenience of your home. These usually require attendance (at your computer) at specific times. Correspondence courses are a good option also because there are no schedules. They typically allow 6-18 months for completion with a 1-year extension. Evening and weekend courses, as well as accelerated programs, also offer some flexibility.
How to pay for tuition and books
There are many options for financing your education, such as the Federal Pell Grant which is awarded based on financial need. Several other options include:
- The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
- The Federal Work Study program
- The Federal Perkins Loan
- Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan
- Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan
Many scholarships are also available. For example, if you’re a single mother, you might qualify for grants and scholarships available to single parents. Ask your academic institution what it offers. A wide variety of other scholarships are available as well. Check with your institution, a scholarship guide, or an online scholarship search.
Ask your employer if it offers reimbursement for college courses. If the classes relate to your job, your employer may cover the costs.
Finally, don’t forget the HOPE Scholarship, a tax credit available for eligible Georgia taxpayers. There’s also the Lifetime Learning tax credit, but specific requirements and restrictions apply.
Colleges that offer independent study
Before enrolling, make sure credits are transferable and the institution is fully accredited.
- Indiana University’s School of Continuing Studies, Independent Study Program.
- Eastern Michigan University, Distance Education Program.
- Ohio University Lifelong Learning Programs, External Student Program.
- The University of Colorado at Boulder Independent Learning Program.
- Upper Iowa University, External Degree Program.
- The University of Texas at Austin Continuing and Extended Education, Distance Education Center.
Resources for financial assistance
- Visit Fast Web for information on colleges and a scholarship search at http://www.fastweb.com
- For federal grants and loans request your Student Guide by calling (800) 433-3243 or visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/resources
- Visit the U.S. Department of Education for information on tax credits at https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/tax-benefits