Friday, September 2, 2011

Weighing Your Higher Education Options as a Parent

--Guest Post by Philip J Reed, on behalf of Westwood College

Making the decision to go back to school is a difficult one for anybody to have to make. Now imagine how much more difficult it can be if you are a parent. There’s so much more to consider, and so much more riding on that decision! It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but don’t! With this article we hope to help you make an informed decision. Of course, the decision is ultimately going to be up to you to make, but we hope we can at least help you put it into the proper perspective!

First of all, think about your responsibility to your spouse, and also to your children. How much time will you actually have to attend classes, study, work on projects, and do research? Don’t forget to factor in travel time, library time, study group time, and anything else you may need. Will your spouse be able to handle the family’s responsibilities without you for that time? There’s no definitive answer to this; it’s up to you (and your family) to decide.

Also, what about the expense? College – and we all know this, though it bears repeating – is not known for being cheap. In addition to tuition you will need to factor in the cost of campus fees, lab fees (if necessary), gas money, meals, textbooks, and anything else you’ll have to purchase for the duration of your college career. Is this something your family can afford? If not now, will you be able to afford it later, after some saving? Again, that’s up to you to decide, and it’s nothing anybody else can answer for you. But it’s very important that you do consider it seriously before you make any large decisions.

Additionally, where will you go to school? You’ll probably want to select a college near to you, to avoid undue strain on your family, but will that college offer the degree program you’re looking for? You’ll need to do your research, and decide well ahead of time what your ultimate ambition will be. If you wait decide, or just count on figuring it out “along the way,” be prepared to waste a lot of time and money (and make things far more difficult on your family) than you would if you go in with a clear and precise plan!

One option that is becoming more common in recent years is online college. If you obtain your degree online, you can plan your school work around your family’s schedule, rather than around your professor’s. It is also likely to be far less expensive, as you won’t be paying for college services that you don’t use, and might even be assigned to use digital study materials rather than pricey texts. Location, as well, is no longer of importance if you’re actually just studying from home. Relegating your studies to nighttime hours (or even the time that your children are attending school themselves) can seriously reduce the strain on your family relationships, and they’ll thank you for it.

The only real question that remains if you choose to embrace distance learning is what degrees you’ll be able to obtain. In the past online degrees were fairly limited, but today you can work toward anything from a bachelor’s degree in information security to an MBA degree online, and that really opens up your opportunities.

In short, you (and your family) will need to decide what works for you. But don’t let the perceived difficulty of going back to school stop you; there’s a way to lighten every load, so if you’re looking for a better job (or even just a job to begin with), don’t discount the value of returning to school. It just may be where your future lies after all!

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