Are you considering the crazy idea of heading back to college?
Trust me, I've been there. It's a big move. This decision goes beyond just personal growth. It affects your whole family dynamic. How will you juggle it all? Can you handle the financial strain? Balancing priorities is no joke!
In this article, I discuss the five main factors you need to consider before taking the leap into higher education.
I urge you to delve carefully into each and see what other questions they bring up from you. Then, drill down on every thought and scenario to ensure that heading back to college is right for you at this time in your life.
What are your career goals?
Some careers definitely require a college degree, like medicine, teaching, or law. But if you see yourself in jobs that don't require college degrees, you will be better off building your portfolio, getting certified, completing short courses, and continuously upskilling. Think executive assistants, writers, artists, business owners, and skilled labor.
While having a degree increases your job opportunity and earning potential, it also has drawbacks. For one, it can restrict your options. Yes, a diploma can gain you a job in the field you graduated from. But what if you suddenly realise you want a career shift? Sometimes, your degree can make it harder for you to find employment in other industries.
Can you afford it?
I'm sure by now you have already researched how much tuition fees in Australia cost. Unfortunately, the already unaffordable price of college is not just about tuition and other fees. Food, groceries, transportation, and technology are equally important expenses you must think about. And if you have little kids, include daycare or babysitting services in your budget, too.
Together, these expenses will take a huge chunk off your family budget. If your earnings fall in the Aussie family's annual household average, you will have to set aside half of that each year to finish your college degree.
What's a bummer is you might find it challenging to find additional part-time jobs to augment your income. College will take up most of your time, so juggling different jobs, alongside your responsibilities in your family, can be a struggle.
Sure, there are scholarships. But these can be highly competitive, in addition to scarce. You can also take out student loans, but proceed with caution. In my case, I heard that many Aussie grads are still buried in student debt, even after years or decades of paying. That's scary, so I opted out.
Do you have enough time to study?
You already have many things on your plate as a single parent. There's your family, your job, your relationships, self-care, and several personal struggles you could be facing. Is higher education something you can fit into your schedule right now without getting overwhelmed and burnt out?
College, especially in this day and age, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You will spend time in class, whether virtually or on campus. Then, you will need time to complete projects, research, and prepare for the next class.
It's no surprise that single mothers are less likely to graduate than their peers who are not in the same situation but it's not impossible. If you're hell-bent to finish your schooling, then prioritising your family, alongside studies and self-care is certainly achievable. Giving up activities that unnecessarily take your time are significant steps to succeed. Taking fewer units per semester may also help.
Are you in the right headspace to see it through?
It took me quite some time to continue my undergraduate degree. I knew that it was an absolute necessity to be emotionally balanced and ready. I was aware college would be tough, especially with the gap in my schooling and my responsibilities as a mum.
Being in the right headspace all the time is challenging, especially so for a single undergraduate parent. If you are dead-set to finish your studies, you must develop positive coping mechanisms.
In case of a major challenge, like divorce or mental health struggles, think twice about going back to school. These will make you lose focus on studying and cause your grades to suffer.
Do you have enough support around you?
It takes a village to raise a child. And we single mums need all the help we can get ... especially when heading back to college.
Surrounding yourself with people who support your goals and aspirations is vital if you want your return to college to succeed.
That can be your parents, who can volunteer to look after your kids. Your best mate can happily cook your meals or clean your house occasionally. If you have people helping you succeed by taking over some chores, you will have fewer worries and can focus better on studying. You don't need cynics in your life right now.
Support can also come from government monetary incentives for mums returning to college, such as Austudy. Or, it can be your college if they have programs to help single mums, such as free daycare in their libraries.
Final words on heading back to college
I'm privileged to be one of those mums who successfully returned to college and finally got the degree I've always dreamed of. But the reality is that not all mums who return to school will graduate.
Before submitting that application and paying the exorbitant tuition fees, it's crucial to assess your current situation and whether you will finish what you start. Ask yourself:
- Do I need a college diploma for the career I want?
- Can I handle the financial requirements?
- Can I manage my time to study and perform my responsibilities as a mum?
- Am I mentally prepared for college?
- Do I have enough support system?
But saying no any of these questions doesn't have mean you have to give up on your college dreams. Postponing going back to college for a few more years until you're in a better position in life is perfectly okay.