Going back to school for a graduate degree is an incredibly challenging and rewarding adventure. Specialized study on the graduate level involves lengthy research and projects, hours of classes and networking events, and the challenge of absorbing new skills and knowledge. Going back to school for a graduate degree as a working parent can seem daunting. How can you possibly navigate your roles as professional, parent, provider, and student all at once?
While adding graduate school can be difficult for parents of either sex, research suggests that women who are mothers are more likely to struggle to persist in graduate programs. Whether this is due to a lack of support for mothers, working or not working, in graduate programs, the fact that women are still more likely than men to do the majority of childcare and household management even if they work full time, or some combination of several factors is hard to know exactly. However, what is clear is that women who are single mothers, women with decades of experience juggling work and family life, and young women that are just diving into life with a career and kids can face unusual challenges when it comes to pursuing graduate degrees.
The first step toward success is to recognize that going to grad school as a mom is possible. This idea you’ve had isn’t an idealistic or irresponsible dream, it’s a real possibility with significant challenges and rewards. It will take hard work, but you can go to grad school as a mother without sacrificing the things that matter most to you, like your professional life and family life.
In fact, your experience juggling responsibilities and schedules as a parent is excellent preparation for your success as a graduate student, and your family can serve as powerful motivation as you work and study.
Don’t be scared off from school by an exam like the GRE. Many programs don’t have a test requirement, but even if they do, there are tried and true ways to make studying for the GRE a manageable task.
Wondering how to study for the GRE? We’ve collected some resources and inspiration for you as you try to study for the GRE with kids around.
There are practical and personal reasons for moms to go to graduate school now rather than later.
Practical reasons to go back to grad school now
Going back to grad school as soon as possible can significantly improve your financial life. There is a growing demand for advanced degrees across a variety of industries, and the growing demand means that the cost of graduate school is also increasing. By putting off grad school, you risk paying a significant amount more for the same degree later on and missing out on the higher earnings a graduate degree can bring you in the meantime.
This higher earning potential is what brings many people back to grad school; people with master’s degrees earn $12,000 more annually than those with bachelor’s degrees. Since the graduate degree is becoming more and more of a differentiator between committed professionals with specialized skills and the replaceable worker, it makes sense to get ahead of the game and go for your graduate degree as soon as possible.
Personal reasons to go back to grad school now
While the financial benefits of going back to grad school sooner rather than later are significant, the personal reasons to do this are even greater. Going back for your graduate degree is an investment in your own growth. Don’t even think about letting “mommy guilt” creep in here. When you grow and thrive, your life as a professional and as a mother thrive too. For mothers that are worried about balancing school and family life, your kids will always need you and there will never be a “right time.” By seizing the moment, you serve as an important role model for your children, showing by example that education and self-improvement are life-long priorities. You can bring a new perspective and new talents to your life as a mother and professional through your graduate work.
Perhaps most importantly, your graduate degree can put you on the path to a career that you love. If you are looking for a new challenge, wanting a promotion, or are dissatisfied with the work you do now, grad school is the chance to pursue the job of your dreams. While the time in school may be difficult, your whole network will be grateful over the years ahead that you invested in your own growth.
2015 Mean Earnings by Age and Educational Attainment
Taking on graduate level work when you have a busy home life or demanding professional life or both is a big decision. It’s important that you take the time to identify why you want to go back to school, what you’re passionate about. Otherwise, when things get tough, you’ll find yourself wondering why you took this challenge on in the first place.
Think through these types of questions and figure out which one you can answer with a confident affirmative. There are lots of good reasons to go back to school, in addition to the ones listed here, but it’s important that you do have a good reason. Clarity of purpose and clarity of intention will help you determine which program is best for you and will help you keep going on those days when it seems impossible.
Once you’ve clearly identified your motivation for going to grad school, it’s time to start doing the research on schools and programs. There are several important things to consider as you select a program that will work well for you.
Does the Program Fit Your Goals?
This question is crucial. Will the program actually help you to achieve whatever it is that got you interested in grad school in the first place? Keep your primary motivation at the front of your mind as you start sifting through your options. Even if the name of the degree sounds helpful and like what you’re looking for, make sure the coursework required for completion is targeted and relevant to your interests and needs. It’s good to assess your strengths and weaknesses at this stage: figure out if you are looking for a program that will reinforce and strengthen skills you already have or if you need courses that will build you in entirely new directions.
You don’t want to work your way through a degree and find out it’s not actually what you were looking for or expected. Do your homework on the front end as you search for programs.
Does the Program Fit Your Lifestyle?
Let’s say you’ve found a program that you think is just right. It has all the coursework you’re looking for, it explicitly talks about preparing people for exactly the career move you want to make, and it’s located at a place that is convenient for you.
Now it’s time to dig into the details:
Suddenly, depending on the answers, a program that looked perfect may no longer be a possibility if it is not flexible enough for your needs.
It’s important to pick a program that fits your goals, your learning style, and your lifestyle. Obviously going to school will require some adjustments of your current schedule and situation, but you want to make sure that these adjustments are reasonable and possible for you and your family.
Are Professors Available and Interested in Your Success?
Your professors are a huge part of what makes your graduate experience rewarding or difficult. While you can’t expect professors to cater to your individual needs all the time, it’s good to look for programs where they seem engaged and interested in the success of their students.
Here are some questions to think about:
You don’t want to walk into a graduate program expecting special treatment or favors, and you certainly don’t want to make a habit of making excuses, but life can throw curve balls, especially when you’re juggling work or family responsibilities.
It helps if you know that your professors are on your team, focused on supporting you to the finish line and that they have the connections to help you move your career forward. These are good things to think about as you pick a program.
Does the School Provide Helpful Resources?
In addition to the support of professors, check out what other kinds of resources and support are offered by the school’s community. Look for:
All of these types of opportunities could be sources of help, knowledge, inspiration, and motivation as you tackle your years of study.
Are Current Students and Alumni Happy with the Program?
Perhaps most importantly, you should try--if possible--to get an in-person feel for a campus and program. Online research is great, but can only get you so far. People are a much richer source of information than a piece of marketing material. If you can visit in person, schedule a coffee date or a tour with a current student and ask them about their experience. If you can’t visit, a phone call with a current student or alumni will go a long way to giving you that real sense of what an educational experience is like. If you’re a mom worried about balancing family and school, ask around to see if there is a student who is navigating a similar situation and get her feedback about life in the program.
Lean on Your Community
As you investigate and choose the right place and program for your studies, start conversations with family, friends, and your workplace about your plan to go to grad school. For moms and for parents generally, the big questions about going back to school are often related to balancing home, work, and school responsibilities. Since each area of your life involves expectations and time commitments, it’s important to communicate clearly how your new commitment to school will fit into your life so everyone is on the same page.
Developing friendships with other people who are walking through your program will provide an invaluable sense of community. Don’t hesitate to ask the people around you for help if you need or want it:
Get Yourself Organized
One of the most important tips for moms in grad school: support yourself by coming up with a clear and consistent schedule and then stick to it! A schedule that includes designated hours for homework and designated hours for family time means you can focus better on each task at hand, knowing you have built in time for your other needs. It also helps your support team know what to expect on a daily and weekly basis.
While you certainly don’t have as much time to spare as the single or non-working people in your program, superior scheduling and time management will help keep you better organized and more on top of your work than your single and non-working peers who feel they have endless amounts of time.
The more support you have, the more likely you are to have the time and mental energy to throw yourself fully into your new endeavor.
No matter how much or how little support you have around you as you start your grad school adventure, you’ll have to learn to accept your limitations. No perfectly crafted schedule can accommodate the unexpected challenges that pop up, and no support system can completely remove the extra difficulty you are taking on. Whether you have all the support in the world or you’re taking on life as a mother in grad school on your own, it’s important to stay realistic about your expectations for yourself and positive about what you want to accomplish.
Re-adjust your expectations for yourself as a mother
There is an enormous amount of advice out there about parenting that can make you feel guilty about how you are raising your children. Hopefully you’ve already recognized that “mommy guilt” is not something you need in your life, and you are pushing confidently forward, shaping your family life to look the way you want it to.
However, as a mom heading into grad school, there will be new moments where you worry about juggling work, family, school, and whatever else you have on your plate. It’s important to take stock of your parenting expectations and figure out what you can give up and what you don’t want to sacrifice. Maybe you give up picking up your kids from school in order to do homework, but you make sure that you’re around at bedtime to spend time with them at the end of the day. Maybe you save yourself time by cooking less, and you let the whole family enjoy the adventure of take-out food more often.
Whatever habits you’ve made a part of your life as a mother, make sure you are cutting yourself some slack and are willing to focus in on the things that are really important to you. Ultimately, your kids love you, you may be opening up new financial opportunities for your family, and it’s important for them to see you investing in yourself.
Re-adjust your expectations for yourself as a student
Maybe you were a stellar student in the past or maybe you struggled academically and really want to focus on your education this time around. Either way, as you start going to grad school as a mother, you will have to be willing to accept the value in accomplishing assignments and moving forward even if you think you could have made a better attempt. Paper deadlines will conflict with school talent shows, and kids will spike fevers as you are frantically trying to finish a capstone project. These things are part of life.
But don’t get discouraged or dissuaded from going to grad school by the thought that you won’t be able to focus purely on your classes and assignments. You will still be learning and growing in valuable ways even if your grades aren’t perfect.
Re-adjust your expectations for yourself as a professional
It’s good to take stock of your professional life and recognize that going back to school is a long-term investment in your successful career. While there will undoubtedly be many opportunities for your new skills and learning to inform and improve your current performance, this might not be your year to take on a lot of new projects or to shoot for your best numbers yet.
Of course, if you can handle grad school and an accelerating career, that’s fantastic! But if you’re worried about the challenge, don’t hesitate to focus on your education temporarily. Think of this as a chance to regroup, focus on developing yourself through the adventure of grad school, and then re-engage your career goals stronger than ever in the years to come.
While you should be willing to accept your limitations, you should also be willing to celebrate your strengths, including your life experience as a professional or as a mother.
Many parents and mothers in particular feel self-conscious about their family life, as if they need to pretend that they are devoted to their graduate program and nothing else in order to fit in with students who may be younger and unattached. In fact, your life experience as a mother and your professional experience can give you a distinct advantage in grad school.
Parenting while in grad school gives you the chance to bring wisdom from other areas of life to your studies. Don’t be afraid to talk about your children and family! To excel in any field of study it’s important to understand human beings, how they think and operate, and how to connect with them. Your experience as a mother opens up insights that are unavailable to your colleagues who are unattached. You also are a better steward of your time because increased responsibilities require you to be efficient and decisive in your work.
Your professional experience is also increasingly valued by graduate programs who know you have more to offer and more clarity about your goals due to your work background.
Over half (54%) of all students pursuing a master’s degree had waited 3 years or more after receiving their bachelor’s degrees to return to school.
63% of students pursing a master’s degree were working full time.
25% of master’s degree seeking students were married with dependents.
The average age of all grad students is 33 years old. Even if your life doesn’t look similar to the lives of your fellow students in your particular program, take comfort in these statistics and know that you’re in good company. Many parents across the country are taking on the adventure of grad school just like you.
Taking care of your physical and mental health as a mother in grad school is the most important thing you can do. Sacrificing your happiness, physical health, and your relationships for a degree is never worth it.
The real point of picking the right program, clearly identifying your goals and motivations, and cultivating the support system you need is ultimately about enabling your personal strength and health while embarking on a mentally challenging adventure like graduate study.
However, thoughtful preparation and planning to organize your life and time for graduate study is not enough to ensure your own health. You also have to prioritize self-care in order to be the woman you want to be in your relationships and responsibilities.
This is the most obvious but neglected thing you can do to improve your energy, focus, mental health, and of course physical strength. Even if you don’t currently have habits of exercise, this could be a great addition to your life during grad school. Most schools have fitness centers with classes that are free and available to students. Take advantage of these! For more inspiration, read: The Joys of Working Out: How I Stay Balanced in Grad School.
This one is tough...since you have so much on your plate, it will be very tempting to give up sleep in order to fit it all in. Just don’t. Sleep is a crucial part of overall health and especially important when you are trying to learn and assimilate new information. Productivity, creativity, retention of information, and improved mood are all associated with getting a good night’s sleep.
Find Positive People
One of the easiest ways to look after your physical and mental health is to surround yourself with positive people. Positive people will help you stay inspired, will grow your self-esteem, and will push you to stay grateful even when things are tough. This could mean finding a mentor, finding a women’s group, or just making sure you’re spending time with friends and family who build you up.
Take Time to be Mindful
Staying in touch with your goals, aspirations, and dreams can take time, but touching back to the things that give you meaning enlivens your work and life. Use a journal, meditation time, yoga, or just a relaxing walk to practice mindfulness and reflect on your life.
Find a Way to Have Fun
Does playing games with your kids relax you? Does a day at the spa relax you? Do you love a trip to the movie theater? Whatever it is that helps you relax and live in the moment, make sure you’re giving yourself the time to do it!
Kent State Recreation and Wellness Resources
At Kent State, staying healthy is how we stay gold. That’s why there’s all kinds of resources available to help you thrive while you’re a part of the Kent State family.
We’re proud to offer a variety of inclusive, vibrant fitness and wellness programs for all fitness levels and abilities at our Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC). In addition to open recreation, our fitness offerings include personal training and fitness consultations, massage, and nutrition counseling. Customized programming such as presentations and custom group exercise classes are also available.
Raft, kayak, snowshoe, backpack, and more during a trip through the Adventure Center. Use the climbing wall (year-round) at the SRWC. Or simply come rent what you need for your camping, boating, and biking adventures.
From intramural sports and community leagues to club sports, there’s an option for every level of athlete at Kent State.
The Counseling Center at Kent State University provides over 4,000 hours of confidential counseling annually. Comfortable and professional, the center represents an opportunity to pursue progress, healing, or education relating to your concerns. All services are provided free of cost to Kent State students, staff, and faculty.
The mission of University Health Services is to provide quality healthcare, psychological counseling, and healthcare education for the campus community. We are here to help keep all Kent State students, faculty, and staff healthy and safe.
Find the student organization that’s right for you! The Center for Student Involvement is your link to information about all registered student organizations at Kent State University. See our full list of more than 400 student organizations for involvement opportunities.
If you’re willing to be proactive, there are many scholarships, grants, and tuition reimbursement programs for moms pursuing graduate degrees. Fortunately, many organizations recognize the importance and value of encouraging women and mothers to pursue higher degrees and want to help you make grad school a financial possibility.
Here’s a list of options you can look into:
Many women and mothers have tackled the challenge of grad school and written about their experiences. If you’re still feeling like you need some inspiration, check out these stories from around the web of women who know what you’re going through and who can tell you how they made grad school work for them and their families. (Kent State does not necessarily endorse these sites or articles in their entirety.)
Here at Kent State University, we are committed to empowering women and mothers to thrive and succeed in their graduate studies. We recognize the challenges that women face and the ever present need to promote dialogue and inclusiveness in our community life and our academic programs. Kent State University is home to many resources and support centers focused on empowering women.
The Women’s Center “is here to support you, whether you’re a student, faculty member, and staff member through advocacy and education about women, gender, and diversity. The Center offers resources that address matters of particular concern to you by providing education, information and referral programs, and services.
Through the promotion of dialogue and interaction with campus and the surrounding community, we pursue equality, collaborative outreach, and support services to women in Kent’s community.”
As a student, you may have a moment when you recognize that you can use some extra assistance in completing or planning academic work or finding new ways to take a class. Kent State University offers many resources and services to help you along the path to completing your degree.
The mission of Career Exploration and Development is to support students in achieving their academic and career goals by assisting them in developing self-awareness, making informed decisions, acquiring experience, and obtaining meaningful employment.
Our vision is to empower student success through personalized services and resources, forging valued partnerships through effective communication and collaboration, and embracing innovation and technology for continuous quality improvement.