Going back to school wasn’t really a choice for me; it was a necessity. Sure, it was a huge decision. But the choice was made when I realized I needed an advanced degree in order to support my growing family and ensure that my husband and I could retire someday with a secure financial nest egg.

I first tried returning to school nearly 20 years ago when my children were young. However, it did not seem to work. My husband Jim is a Maryland state trooper with a busy schedule and unreliable shift changes. As an added stress, most of my classes were held during the day or in the early evening, which made it virtually impossible for me to care for my children, juggle my husband’s work schedule and attend class at a traditional brick-and-mortar institution.

Unfortunately, I was forced to abandon my studies while my husband and I struggled to balance our full-time jobs and family life. Despite the challenges though, I never lost my desire to earn an advanced degree. I explored several options before my husband, in his own efforts to return to school, discovered American Public University (www.apu.apus.edu) and its variety of online degree programs.

My husband’s drive to attain higher education ultimately inspired me to go back to school, as well. I began my studies at APU in 2008, focusing first on healthcare and then on hospitality management. I kept my full-time job at an insurance company while maintaining my most important responsibility of being a full-time mom to my three children.

Time management and flexibility have been critical to my success, and I have developed a schedule that does not interfere with my work or parenting responsibilities. Typically, I set aside two nights a week (usually Monday and Tuesday) to study and complete any assignments. If I have a term paper or a large project due, I will work on that assignment on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, reserving the weekends for family time. Whatever pops up for school, I am committed to being there for my kids on Saturdays and Sundays. Pursuing online education enables me to do this. For example, one weekend a few months ago, I traveled to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to attend my son’s college hockey games. In between games, I retreated to my hotel room to take a final exam on my laptop, something I would never be able to do at a traditional institution.

Online education gives me something that no other institution could—­­ an advanced degree at an affordable price that has granted me the flexibility to remain an involved parent and wife. My husband was also able to receive additional training in APU’s Intelligence Studies program, helping him further his career.

Attending an online college has also offered me more than just mobility; it has provided access to online resources and professors day and night. I can complete my assignments and correspond with my professor and other students at my convenience. Yet, while digital communication is integral to my online education, my interactions with professors are meaningful and personal. As such, I was able to postpone a final exam a few semesters back due to a family emergency. This would have been a big obstacle at a traditional institution. Thanks to the technology that gave me 24-hour access to my professor, along with APU’s insistence on flexibility and student interaction, I could take my exams a few weeks late and complete my semester with full credit.

As a mother, I know returning to school can be a tough decision. Keep in mind that online schools like APU make it relatively easy for busy moms to get the education they need while still having the time to care for their families.

Tips for Moms Pursuing Higher Education Online

  • Before choosing an online university to attend, confirm that the institution is regionally or nationally accredited.
  • Request an outline of the curriculum and school policies, as well as a graduation timeline.
  • Be realistic about balancing your work and family commitments with your school obligations.
  • Develop strategies for taking notes and staying organized. This helps when reviewing your notes throughout the semester.
  • Connect with the online academic community, such as through chat rooms, networking and study groups. If there are other students who live in your area, arrange to meet for coffee or lunch.
  • Take advantage of your school’s advisement and career programs.
  • Remember that your dedication to your studies will pay off by granting you new career opportunities.
  • Utilize online research libraries, in-person tutoring services and Web resources such as www.onlinelearningtips.com to help you make the grade.
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