Shawna McCowan always wanted to work with Veterans but she wasn’t sure how. McCowen admitted that after high school, “It took me a while to get it together, and I wanted to help. I wanted to be part of the solution.”
She went back to school when her first son was 5, working full time. With a few stops and starts, it would take McCowan almost ten years to complete her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Going back to school after having kids can feel near impossible to manage. And, “Life happens,” says Debbie Poweleit, associate director of Northern Kentucky University’s Distance and Online Learning programs.
McCowan graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 2010. McCowan, along with other local moms and higher education administrators offer a few tips to help you along the way as an adult learner pursuing a degree.
START WITH A PLAN
“It’s helpful to build a plan from day one,” says Poweleit. A plan can be designed according to your schedule and preferences.
This was true for Keri Pinger, who got her associate degree from the University of Cincinnati right out of high school but didn’t finish her bachelor’s. She got a job at Proctor & Gamble and got married. Life happened. By 2007, she had four kids under age 5. Pinger wasn’t working at the time and figured, “Why not finish my degree?”
“Adults have many obstacles to their success in class, and all have very busy lives,” says Carol Gittinger, Adult Workforce Development Director at Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development. “They need to have a plan that is clearly thought out ahead of time, not when the emergency arises and they are stressed.”
Pinger says she “had no time, nor desire, to actually go to campus to take classes.” These are the kind of preferences an adult learner needs to think through and an advisor can help you. Plus, Poweleit says when you create a plan with the help of an advisor, then you’ll know where the plan can be tweaked if and when things change. The right program will help you built around the life that continues to happen.
Now Pinger is back at UC pursuing her Master’s of Health Administration to meet the credential requirement for promotion at her job.
FIND YOUR SUPPORT
Teresa Wilkins, Media and Public Relations Manager, and Brooke Bolton, Associate Director of Professional Studies and Continuing Education, of Union Institute and University says that it’s helpful to write down why obtaining this degree is important to you and your family. Share this decision with your friends and family who will support your efforts and ask them to support your decision as well. They will get you through to the end.
Amanda Woodin obtained her master’s in public administration from DeVry University after she became a mom. “Spouse support was helpful for me,” says Woodin. “My husband, Mark, held me accountable and provided me a lot of encouragement.” It was her second attempt at her master’s, her first being prior to getting married. “Mark was a huge part of my success.”
As a single mom, McCowen received support from her mom while she worked on her bachelor’s. She traveled to campus to take evening classes, going to school part time. While working on her master’s degree, McCowen had her second son. He was born with special needs. MCCowen worked full time as a case worker, traveled to campus two nights a week, and still had to fulfill the 15-20 hour internship required to graduate. McCowen’s mother was getting a little older and McCowen knew she needed skilled help for her son. She turned to respite care, and in 2014 she graduated from NKU with her Masters degree in Social Work with a 4.0 GPA.
Wilkins and Bolton say, “You have to firmly believe in your decision to complete your degree.” Woodin and McCowan did. No matter what your circumstances, seek support and talk it through with your advisors. They are there to help you find a way.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PROFESSORS
Poweleit stresses that NKU’s online and distance learning carries the same accreditation requirements as a traditional students. The classes are just taught at an accelerated rate. This makes communication with your professors vital when “life happens.”
Poweleit says, “If something comes up (your child is in a play or you have to travel for work) as long as you let them know in advance, most faculty understand that.” If you communicate your circumstance then your professor can help.
Poweleit recalls a time when a student had health issues and was placed on bed rest for three to four weeks. Her professor was willing to work with her. She attended class via Skype.
Wilkins and Bolton say to communicate often. They say to “send email updates, schedule times to conference and get to know your faculty.” The better they understand where you’re coming from the more capable they are of helping.
MAKING THE TIME
Adult learners have to work when they can, not when they feel like it.
Woodin says making progress every day was important for her. She worked 30 minutes into her lunch break and aimed for an hour or so at night. She says, “I made sure I did something for school work, had time for my other responsibilities, plus spent quality time with my family. That was huge for me.”
McCowen says, “It was hard. I thrived on four to five hours of sleep and put in a lot of long hours — almost all-nighters.”
Pinger also says, “I did my work whenever I could. Late at night, nap time, or when my husband got home.”
Making the time when other responsibilities mount can seem like too much at times.
Pinger has returned to UC to get her Masters of Health Administration. She says, “My kids are much older than they were the first time around. Now, I just tell them I have homework and they’re pretty self-sufficient.”
ASK FOR HELP
Take time to get familiar with the resources your school offers.
Betsy Price, retired director for The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas, Brownsville says, “Know the difference between an admissions and academic counselor.” The admissions counselor’s job is to get you registered. The academic counselors are there to assist you with your academic success.
Price says, “The best help are your professors. Go to their office hours and introduce yourself. They have the ability to truly tailor your studies to fit your career goals.”
Soni Hill, Interim Vice-President of Enrollment & Student Development at Cincinnati State reminds us that you’re never too old and it’s never too late to get an education. She says, “There should be no worries about fitting in. All students bring diverse backgrounds that contribute to the college’s culture regardless of age.” No matter what your circumstance, goals, or reasons, a college degree is there for you if you want one.
GOING BACK TO SCHOOL?
Many colleges have satellite campuses for a student’s convenience — take advantage of that and start your back-to-school career today!
Brown Mackie College
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
Gateway Community and Technical College
Mount St. Joseph University
Northern Kentucky University
Thomas More College
University of Cincinnati
Union Institute and University