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What’s Your Major, Mom? by Jacki Christopher

Thinking about going back to school? Perhaps you want to return to that B.A. you never finished or you’d like to advance your career with a Master’s. Choosing a degree program once you are a mom isn’t the same as thinking about your college major when you’re 18, or picking a school based on the college “experience” you hope to gain. Campus aesthetics and sorority offerings take a backseat to more utilitarian concerns like proximity, credits required to graduate, and available scholarships or grants.

What Do You Need? Since a mom’s resources of time and money are limited, we need to be all the more discerning about what types of degrees we seek and why. Think about the career you are hoping to pursue as a result of your degree and learn what is really required for success in that field. A lot of us think we simply must have the Master’s degree, but many times a shorter certificate program would get you the skills you desire to move into a new career or advance in your current field. Education is no doubt valuable for its own sake, but if you have young kids, the longer your program and the more expensive, the higher the risk that you won’t be able to complete it. Go-getters though we are, it’s not a bad idea to start small—you can always add to your credits to “upgrade” your degree.

Talk To Moms In Your Field. Though the Internet is our immediate information go-to for any topic from first aid to financial planning, you’ll benefit from some face-time with moms who are doing what you hope to do. Set up a few coffee dates with women who can give you some insider perspective on your field and what the prospects are for moms with children. ‘Magazine Editor’ may seem like your dream job, but 12-hour days probably aren’t an option if you’ve got a couple of tykes under age five. Ask these veterans what tips they have and what they’d do differently if they had it to do over. A few face-to-face conversations with the ‘experts’ are worth more than the several hours you’ll spend trolling the Internet.

Timing. As much as you may be chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom, it’s important to ask yourself if this is the right time. It’s easy to get bogged down in the daily mundane tasks of motherhood and wonder if life is ever going to be more than diapers and Dora The Explorer. Life is lived in chapters. You have many yet to come, but the key to contented living is being fully present in each one. If you see your schedule opening up and the going back to school looks feasible for you and your family, then go for it. But if it seems like you’re most needed on the carpet with the kiddos, don’t despair. Being a fully engaged parent, and raising awesome kids is one of the best gifts you give the world.

Think Outside The Box. Non-traditional education has never been easier and it can help make continuing education a legitimate possibility for moms. Over the past decade, online degree programs have gained serious traction—this may be the perfect option. But make no mistake, accredited online degree programs can be just as rigorous as their in-residence counterparts—sometimes even more so. Though you may not be commuting to class, you’ll still have a load of readings, lectures, papers, assignments, and required classroom interaction. But online programs are geared to allow you to set the pace. Often you can take a class online without needing to be fully accepted to the school. Enroll in a class and see how it works out for your and your family.

If you’ve gone back to school as a mom, what worked for you? Share your stories in the comments below!

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