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4 Challenges Moms Going Back to College Face & How to Navigate Them

Whether to get a better job, to change careers or just to learn, the reasons to get a college degree can appeal to single moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms and married moms alike. But despite knowing that a degree could benefit them, mothers who want to go back to college don't always know whether it's possible to balance raising a kid and being a student. However, while it might not be easy, there are many resources out there that can help student-parents, and many moms have successfully shown that it can be done. Here are four challenges mothers going back to college might face and how to navigate them:

1. Paying for college

Paying for school, amid the costs of raising a child, might not seem realistic, especially for single mothers. But there are actually plenty of resources out there to help cover the costs.

One of the first steps for going back to college is often finding financial aid. If you start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can see whether might qualify for a number of federal grants, such as:

  • The Federal Pell Grant, which has a maximum value for the 2014-15 school year of $5,730
  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which is targeted to low-income undergraduate students and is valued between $100 and $4,000 per year

And don't discount federal student loans, which can come with much lower interest rates than their private equivalents. There are also a number of scholarships and non-federal education grants targeted specifically to mothers, many of which you can find online, on websites such as Scholarships.com and Working Mother.

2. Finding time for schoolwork

If anyone understands the struggle of finding time for school while raising a child, it's Cassandra Bonilla. She works full time, raises a 5-year-old son with her husband and is working on her second bachelor's degree. She's found a way to navigate it all.

"I've had to divide and conquer all of my tasks," said Bonilla, a 27-year-old who earned a bachelor's degree and is now studying at the University of Arizona. "I've made sure to identify gaps in my schedule, like lunchtime or the weekends, to read or catch up on schoolwork."

For moms trying to navigate a potentially overwhelming amount of work, both for school and family, keeping a few scheduling tricks in mind can make a huge difference. According to a Fox Business article with advice for moms going back to school, "Mothers should pick their class schedules to overlap during times their children are already busy (say in school, or in an extracurricular activity) and prepare for off-hour study times that may include either the wee hours of the morning or at night when the little ones are asleep."

3. Finding a babysitter

For times when you need to go to campus or can't finish all your schoolwork while your kid's asleep, a babysitter can seem like a godsend. But unless you have a supportive partner or local family, it might not always be easy to find one.

One place you might not have thought of checking is your college. A number of community colleges across the country and many four-year colleges offer child care for their students. Find out if your school does. You may also consider day care, but this isn't always a realistic option for families, price-wise. As the Washington Post recently reported, day cares in some states cost more than college itself. So find an affordable one if you take this option. If your school doesn't offer on-site child care, you can also look for student-parent groups that can help care for one another's children if necessary.

It's also difficult to know when you'll need a babysitter, and having someone on hand that you can call in an emergency can be hugely helpful. Bonilla remembers the afternoon she had an accounting paper due the next day and her son was blasting the Xbox. After he wouldn't turn it down, she had him turn it off, so she could concentrate. He began to lash out, which she says isn't typical.

"He was attempting to break things and doing a falling-on-the-floor type of fit," Bonilla said. "I had a mental collapse."

So Bonilla called her mom, who was able to take her grandson over to her house, so Bonilla could finish her homework. Sometimes you can't always predict when you'll need a babysitter, so having trustworthy friends and family around and not being afraid to ask for help can make all the difference.

4. Getting rest and sleep

Anyone with kids will tell you that parenting is a full-time job. So adding a full- or even part-time college course load on top of that means most of your time is filled up. If the only time you can do schoolwork is when your child's asleep, then when do you sleep?

"There were many nights where I had procrastinated on homework, so that I could get a moment of rest," Bonilla said.

Being a student-parent can be exhausting, but there is something between not sleeping and falling behind on school: setting realistic expectations and planning ahead of time. This may be where a school counselor comes in. An AOL article with tips for mothers going back to college reminds moms to use the resources they have on campus: "Seek academic support/student advisers who can help you determine the best way to complete assignments and carve out time to study. Their job is to help you succeed!"

No one says it's easy for mothers going back to college, but with a good plan, it can be done.

Sources:

"Child Care on Campus: A Must for Mothers in College," American Association of University Women, May 6, 2014,
http://www.aauw.org/2014/05/06/child-care-on-cc-campus/

"What Moms Need to Know About Going Back to School," Emily Driscoll, Fox Business, Nov. 9, 2011,
http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2011/11/09/what-moms-needs-to-know-about-going-back-to-school/

"Child-Friendly College Programs for Parents," Katy Hopkins, U.S. News & World Report, March 23, 2011,
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/03/23/child-friendly-college-programs-for-parents

"Start saving now: Day care costs more than college in 31 states," Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, April 9, 2014,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/04/09/start-saving-now-day-care-costs-more-than-college-in-31-states/

"Going Back to School as a Mom: 10 Tweet-Style Tips That Can Help You Succeed," Lori Johnston, CollegeBound Network for AOL Jobs, March 16, 2011,
http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2011/03/16/going-back-to-school-as-a-mom-10-tweet-style-tips-that-can-help/

Scholarships for Moms, Scholarships.com,
https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-type/scholarships-for-moms/

Federal Pell Grants, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/pell

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
http://www2.ed.gov/programs/fseog/index.html

Loans, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans

Financial Aid Resources for Working Moms, Working Mother,
http://www.workingmother.com/money-talks/financial-aid-resources-working-moms