Moms Returning to College

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Are you a mom who's been thinking about returning to college for your degree or career certification? It's a smart move. The time and effort you put into earning a college degree are worthwhile investments in your future, especially for moms still raising kids. Achieving your degree can open the door to a range of advantages — financial, practical, and personal — that can help you build the life you want, for yourself and your family.

The practical pay-off for working moms returning to college

A lot of research has been done on the ways people benefit from completing higher education, and all the studies say the same thing: a college degree increases your earning potential, your job opportunities, and your eligibility for important workplace benefits such as health insurance. The College Board notes that acquiring a college degree dramatically decreases a single mom's risk of either unemployment or poverty, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics documented that in 2007, women college graduates age 25 and older earned 82% more than women with only a high school diploma — almost double the pay.

The personal power of a college degree

Beyond all the economical benefits of higher education, however, there's a lot to be said for the self-esteem and self-confidence that achieving a college degree can bring. We all know that moms spend a lot of their time giving to their families, doing the lion's share of the tasks of everyday life that make a family's routine run smoothly and creating an environment in which everyone else can excel, achieve, and play. But this often means that moms put aside their own goals and dreams for their families for a long time.

For many mothers, going back to college is one satisfying way to restore the balance, allowing them to excel and achieve, too. In fact, gaining a personal sense of accomplishment is the number one reason surveyed adult students gave researchers for returning to school. (Earning a higher income was third on the list.) Sticking with school while also working and taking care of a family is no easy task; to be awarded that college diploma at last is like a gift a mom has given herself. And it's a pretty thrilling feeling to know that your kids are as proud of you as you have always been of them.

5 Reasons why moms and online degree programs are a good match

With women over age 30 becoming the fastest-growing student group, online programs have become a great fit for moms returning to college. Some advantages are obvious: you can study and work on your assignments while the laundry's in the dryer and the kids are at school. But there are other reasons why online programs appeal to mothers returning to school after years away from the classroom:

1) No need to worry about age difference, or any other differences, between yourself and other students. When you're all interacting with each other and the instructor via computer, a lot of self-consciousness goes away.

2) Schedule flexibility. In most online courses, there are assignments you'll complete at your own pace, which means you can pick the best work-time for you, or reschedule around family things that come up.

3) No transportation time or cost. You'll get increased productivity out of not having to spend time getting to a campus, whether you'd have to spend gas-money and time to drive there or rely on public transportation. You'll have more time for the classwork itself if you don't have to go any further than your kitchen table.

4) You'll meet fellow students from all walks of life. Your class could have students from across the country and even across the world, considering students who may be participating from American military bases.

5) Teachers may have more time to spend with you. You may find it easier to get hold of your teacher via email, Twitter, instant messaging, or conversation in a forum than you might have during limited office hours on campus. Increased access to teachers has turned out to be an unexpected bonus of online learning.

Make sure your education program is accredited

When it comes to online education, here's the "Buyer Beware" for moms returning to college: make sure the school and program you enroll in are legitimately accredited by a higher education accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation is essential for credit transfer, as well as for your degree to be recognized and respected by future employers, and for federal financial aid eligibility. Regional accreditation is best (especially if you think you may want transfer your credits to additional schools), but online programs accredited by the long-standing Distance Education & Training Council (DETC) are generally respected.

Paying for your college degree

Begin your financial aid planning with the U.S. Education Department's student aid program. There is more federal funding available than you might think because many students never even apply for it. This leaves thousands of student aid dollars available every year.

Federal financial aid is offered through grant programs, loan programs, and the work-study program. Don't make any assumptions about whether you'll qualify; approximately 66% of subsidized Stafford loans are awarded to students with a family adjusted gross income (AGI) of under $50,000 and about 25% go to students with a family AGI of $50,000 to $100,000. Learn more about federal financial aid (and other sources of college funding) from our Financial Aid Resources section.

You must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for the Department of Education programs, and the FAFSA is also frequently used to determine your eligibility for funding from your state or school. For each calendar year, the FAFSA application window is from January 2nd to late June. Learn more about the FAFSA from our FAFSA 1-2-3 section.

Private scholarships and grants are additional sources of funding for moms going back to college. For example, the Business and Professional Women's Foundation offers scholarships to women seeking to enter the workforce or to advance in their current careers. To be eligible for this scholarship, you need to be at least 25 years old and able to prove financial need as it is defined by the terms of scholarship.

In addition to cutting down on tuition costs, you may be able to cut down on the time it takes you to attain your degree if you have prior credits or other training. The American Council on Education provides a service to adult learners, the College Credit Recommendation Service, that can help you determine if any of your prior education can be applied to a future degree program.

Moms going back to college are moms who believe in the power of education

Moms who decide to go back to college are powerful role models for their kids, no matter how old those children may be; a large majority of working professionals who return to school as adult students claim their mother as their greatest influence. So, even mothers who return to school to accomplish their own goals help their children at the same time, demonstrating by example their belief in the power and achievement of a college degree.

1) "Education Pays, 2007," College Board
2) Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 11/29/2006
3) "Degrees of Opportunity: Adults' views on the value and feasibility of returning to school," Dr.Lyungai Mbilinyi, August 2006
4) Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 12/8/2006