I suppose you can say that I was a non-traditional “college” student. I was born in the USA and lived there until I was 18 years old. When I graduated high school with an outstanding GPA, I had received several scholarships to both local colleges and 3 prestigious universities across the country. Of course they came at a time when I was a lovestruck teenager. You see, I had been in love since I was 16 years old, and now that I was 18, it was time for me to pack my bags and move to the UK to marry my online boyfriend. My father was furious, of course, but I think he hung onto those scholarship letters.
At any rate, I moved here, got married, and started a family. During this time, I knew I wanted to return to college or university, but until I had lived in the UK for 5 years, I would have to pay extortionate foreign student fees. I decided that it would be okay to wait until then, before eventually going back to school after nearly 10 years.
At this time not only would I be facing going back to college or university at nearly 30, but I was also a mother to an 18 month old daughter and had another on the way. Many people saw this as a complication, but I determined that if I went back to school online, I would finish just as they were both starting school. This allowed me to stay at home with my children and be their primary caregiver, but also work toward obtaining a degree from home.
Going to a brick and mortar university was out of the question unless I wanted to sort out childcare and all sorts of other complicated things. In the end, I decided to go back to school online and signed up with The Open University, which is a prestigious remote learning university in the UK.
My fears about going back to school
Of course going “back to school” at 30 comes with its own pitfalls, mainly the fear that I had forgotten everything I learned in high school. Sure, I had amazing grades back then, but that was an American school, and this was a British university. What if my skills didn’t transfer, or I had forgotten half of the information I need to know…What about the differences in spelling?!
What was I thinking, trying to go back to school as an adult, doing university courses online at night, after chasing toddlers all day? What if I show up to the class talks and I am one of the oldest people there? All these fears and more flooded my brain, but I knew that it was important to keep going, so I did.
The excitement and exhaustion of learning again
But even as a mother who loves her children and wanting to take care of them on a day to day basis, I felt like my brain cells were dying. Perhaps it makes me a bit of a nerd, but I really enjoyed school and learning. I missed having discussions with grown people, about topics other than the best baby foods and proper color/colour of poop in diapers/nappies (yes, I finally learned the Queen’s English!). I couldn’t remember the last time I had really truly learned something, or the last time I had a discussion that actually made me want to know more. So when I finally signed up, I was super nervous, but also very excited about this new adventure.
Courses always seemed to start around October time, and each year when a new course (or module) was coming, I would be super excited. This was followed by a few months of excitement of learning the ins and outs of the new topic, but swiftly followed by exhaustion. Generally, by around February, there were times after chasing the kids all day that all I wanted to do was go to bed or curl up on the couch.
Sometimes things were happening in life that made studying get “put off tonight,” for days and days in a row. Many weekends the kids were at their granny’s while I crouched over study books catching up with things I was behind on. I was studying part-time and still barely seemed to have enough time to keep up.
As it rolled around to the end of the semester, I would get a sort of second wind because I could see the end of the tunnel. When the final assignment or exam was complete, I would feel like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. I always enjoyed the first few months of summer and being “free” to do what I wanted in the evenings, but then after a few months that creeping boredom would come back.
Education offers a safety net no matter what life throws at you
In the end, it took me nearly 7 years to get my degree, including one year that had to get postponed. Along the way, I suffered the death of a parent, the birth of my 3rd child, loss of a dear friend, abandonment by my spouse, and topped it off with a pandemic. It was probably the hardest journey I have ever faced, but nothing can surpass the feeling of pride I had when I saw the offer of a “Bachelor’s Degree with Honours.”
It turns out there are other benefits to having completed my degree during this time. It is timed perfectly to coincide with my youngest now entering school, so I have a degree to start my new career. Obviously due to my separation, I am not in the same place I was 7 years ago, as I now find myself an unexpectedly single mother of 3 in a country without any family support.
You may be comfortable with your life and think the same could never happen to you, but all of us need to be ready for the reality of how quickly our lives can change due to circumstances out of our control. I see my degree as a sort of insurance policy now, as I will be able to go on and support me and my children with a successful career. If the same events had happened and I had not studied, then I would not be so lucky.
I also hope that my determination and love for study will pass on to my children. Hopefully, they see how important it is to never give up, no matter how hard it gets. Maybe my love of learning and ambitions will rub off on them in some way that will be helpful in their own lives.
Still not convinced you should and can go back to school?
So if you are wondering, “What should I go back to school for?” my advice would be:
- Do it for you.
- Do it to expand your mind and talk about something else besides baby vomit and teething rings.
- Do it to protect yourself if you end up divorced or widowed.
- Do it to teach your kids how important an education and determination are.
If you want to go back to school, but don’t know where to start, try your local college, university, or online universities. Many offer night courses, weekend courses, or online courses that you can fit around your responsibilities as a parent. Yes it is going to be tough, it is going to be exhausting, you are going to curse, and ask “Why did I bother?” I promise you, at the end it will be worth it.
5 tips for going back to school as an adult
If you decide to make the journey and go back to school as a parent here are some tips I can give you from my own personal experience:
- There are going to be days you are physically or emotionally too exhausted to study, so plan “free days” in your schedule. Oftentimes, if you plan a free day on Wednesday and Friday, you will end up needing it on Monday. That’s okay, just swap your study load over. Studying as a parent from home requires a little bit of flexibility.
- My kids often seemed to get sick right before a major assignment or paper was due. It is not recommended to leave everything to the last minute. In fact, I would go so far as to say you should probably get a head start more often than not.
- Studying at university as an adult is completely different from doing it as a teenager. Don’t try to cram the night before a big exam to remember every phrase, definition, or diagram. If you don’t have the information in your brain by the night before, you don’t have it. I can’t tell you how many times I stressed myself out trying to review like I did in high school, when the stress and lack of sleep were more disastrous than the actual exam.
- You might not be able to focus on study, if you find yourself unlucky enough to go through extremely emotional times. Speak to your professor, tutor or lecturer and just explain your situation. At this stage when you are an adult approaching them you don’t need to ask for permission, you are seen as an equal and they are always very understanding. In extreme circumstances you can always put your studies on hold until everything calms down.
- Lastly, it is always important to remember your why. Remind yourself on those days you feel too exhausted get up off the couch. Remind yourself on those days when people tell you that you can’t do it or that it is impossible. You can do it and nothing is impossible.