For many, the phrase “it’s never too late” expresses hope, amidst uncertainty. In an educational setting, it means that wherever you are in life, you’ll likely still be a good candidate for going back to school.
Most of today’s students have traits that make them “nontraditional,” a term used by the U.S. Department of Education to describe people that don’t come straight from high school, work full-time and raise children.
While institutional services adapt to new demographics and offer as much help as they can, for many adult learners, as well as any other student, family emotional support benefits academic outcomes in significant ways, according to a Research in Higher Education article.
Explaining the reasons and the factors for going back to school can help families adapt to the new routines and, most importantly, encourage you in the process.
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Whether it’s asking for more help around the house or a schedule change at work, laying out all the cards to your family about what’s to come can help you avoid burning out when things get hectic.
So, here are four things to talk about with family members, co-workers and supervisors before going back to school:
Going Back to School Means You’re Committed
You Will Need Structure Before Starting Classes
Make Them a Part of Your Study Time, Sometimes
Have a Financial Plan? Talk to Your Family About It
Letting your family know why you chose to go back to school can help them acknowledge how much the decision means to you. Janessa Aarsvold, a BA in Business Admin/Management grad, recalls explaining her plans to her husband and daughter:
“I sat them both down and told them I would need their help – especially from my husband; he was amazing!”
Try explaining to them all the details about your program, what you’ll learn, how you’ll apply it, and why you believe it will benefit you as a professional and as an individual. You can take the same approach at work. Schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss your credit hours and how your back-to-school plan might contribute to your overall performance and success of the company. You might be surprised to find out that your manager will find ways to support your educational commitment. At the same time, it’s important to discuss your work productivity and set clear expectations based on your new schedule.
Going back to college requires time management skills. If you’re a full-time worker or take care of children, setting your routine before starting classes can be overwhelming. So, talk to your family members and friends about setting up a system to support your study habits. Discussing the system in advance and getting everyone on board can be an incredible source of encouragement.
If you get back home from work at 6 p.m. and usually take care of dinner and children’s homework, have another family member help you in that process so you can set aside time for classwork and get enough sleep to start the next day anew.
Other planning methods you can discuss with your support group include doing meal prep to reduce cooking time or visiting the grocery store on the weekend. Both arrangements can make it easier for you to put time aside during the week for coursework. Also, feel comfortable about asking them to help with chores, set bed-time routines if children are involved, and block off family time. In most cases, for every hour you spend in a classroom or online course, you’re likely to spend an additional two hours completing homework and studying. So, keep your family and manager up to date with your schedule, and, finally, be frank about the time commitment sacrifices you’ll have to make in the short term.
Ryan Keel, an operations manager at a large agribusiness company and MS in Supply Chain Management grad, recently shared his experience going through the program and the support he received.
“My support system is my family, mainly my wife since she did not see much of me during that two-year period as I spent many weekends catching up on assignments. My managers also gave me tremendous support along the way, and without them, I would not have been able to finish the program as quickly as I did.”
Transparency can set you and your family up for fewer surprises and time conflicts.
School causes inevitable moments of stress. And while blocking off time to study can come in handy, including your family in the process can sometimes spark moments of warm encouragement and help ease your stress.
For Annette Caldwell, an MS in Information Technology grad, that idea took the form of pleasant study time breaks while her cat rested on top of her books, and her spouse helped with house chores and chimed in whenever Caldwell had a question.
“He also had very valuable input from his industry’s perspective, which helped me foster comprehensive communications in my course materials.”
On the other hand, Trish Thai Cunningham, an MSIT in Cybersecurity graduate, bonded with her children and spouse while she finished editing essays. How? Cunningham would read her essays out loud, and they would listen.
“To my girls, thank you for trying to listen even when you didn’t fully understand the topic.”
Like Caldwell and Cunningham, being open to having another family member check your work can help them feel like they’re part of your success, which can lead to stronger bonds throughout your student journey.
“When I felt like giving up or was overworking myself, they would step in and make sure I was taking care of myself, but also continue to encourage me,” recalled Janessa Aarsvold.
Finally, the money talk can’t go unnoticed. Talking to your family and spouse about how you’re paying for your degree is critical, even before enrolling. Sitting down at home and putting together budgetary expectations for yourself and family members can help you strike a balance between payments and savings. A conversation with a spouse or a financially supportive family member can revolve around the following topics:
- Refinancing student loans
- Applying to grants and scholarships
- Repayment timeline options
- Seeking repayment assistance
- Making biweekly or monthly payments
- Saving plans
Be open about whether someone will want to help you finance your education. If so, let them know how and when you plan to repay or if your school of choice offers payment plans.
If you’re choosing to finance your degree on your own, discussing your payment plan is still an excellent way to let your spouse, children and other family members know where the money is coming from, in case an issue arises.
For some Florida Tech alumni, taking the initiative to discuss their career goals, time constraints, and degree costs with family and support networks might have helped them on their journey to graduation. Support networks can go a long way, and sometimes all that’s needed is the desire to spark a constructive conversation with those who know you best.