Advice for parents returning to education

If you have kids, you’re probably either dreading or cheering for the day they’ll finally head out to college. Maybe a bit of both. But while there are plenty of survival guides for parents sending the offspring off to college, the reverse happens more often than you’d think.

Parents return to education for many reasons. A stay-at-home caregiver may need a refresher course to step back into the workforce when the kids are old enough to head back to school themselves. Your first career might be less rewarding, offer fewer opportunities in your area, or not be as good a fit for you as you’d hoped, and you need to study and gain the skills to change course. Maybe your career is taking off, and you need to upgrade your education with continuing or specialist coursework or degrees to keep growing and access new opportunities.

Whether you’re reentering the workforce, pivoting to a new career, or looking to level up your skills and credentials, returning to education can be a valuable and much-needed step. However, chances are your life already feels full to the brim, and making time for work, family, and studies may seem like a lot to take on right now. Here are five tips to make the most of your investment and experience:

Identify your goals

You need a solid plan before you take action. Why are you heading back to school? What do you hope to accomplish? What are the costs and benefits you will face?

You’ll be more motivated during your studies and get more value out of your education after you have completed it if you identify your goals ahead of time. Be specific. Where do you see yourself in a year, five years, ten? Is this course of education going to get you there? Are there reliable, relevant examples of other people that have used it to achieve the results you hope for? What does the future of the field or industry you’re studying look like?

You don’t want to invest time, energy, and finances in your education if it won’t help you reach your goals. That said, your goals don’t have to be based on a title or annual salary. It’s perfectly valid to return to education out of a love of learning, for personal development, and for your own interest. On the flip side, you’re going to be frustrated if you pursue a course of study hoping for a certain job or career trajectory and discover afterwards that it didn’t get you any closer to your goal.

Schedule some sleep

This tip is simple: your brain needs sleep to learn, problem solve, and retain information. You’ll do better in your education if you can get plenty of sound sleep. As you’re coming up with a plan for going back to school, take into account your real capacity to manage your schedule. It’s better to do part-time education, learn at your own pace, or otherwise adjust your studies to avoid overcommitting and performing poorly because you were too overloaded to hold on to the things you’ve learned and apply them. You can see a full description of associate’s degree programs and other qualifications from colleges that offer online and remote learning; a very productive way to learn amidst a busy schedule.

Find an outlet

Not for your laptop. Find an outlet for stress, frustration, anxiety etc. When tests, projects, or papers loom, the accumulated stress will need to be defused before it explodes all over your family or makes you ill. Figure out what works for you, schedule it in, and make it a priority. Letting off steam (and getting enough sleep!) will help you learn and perform better, and keep your relationships happy at the same time.

Apply for funding

Adult students often have more sources of funding available than they realize. Look for regional, national, and interest-based funding sources if financing your return to education is a concern. While some grants and student loans are location-based, others may be related to a hobby, personal background, social or faith-based community, or field of interest. Employers may also be a source of funding; some workplaces will invest in your education to create a more qualified workforce internally. Others are facing a skills shortage and are motivated to train potential employees to fill the gaps.

Involve the family

While the pressure will be on you as the student to meet the requirements of your course of study, engaging your whole family in the experience will improve your outcomes and connection. Communicate your needs, schedule, and challenges, and enlist family member’s support and understanding. Awareness of what you’re facing and actionable things they can do (or not do) to help will make you a team and reduce the friction during this new chapter of your lives.

Pursuing education as a parent can be challenging, but it is absolutely necessary to meet some goals. Identify what you hope to get out of the experience, invest in sleep and other stress-busting activities to maximize your outcomes, investigate sources of funding, and enlist the whole family to help you make the most out of your studies.