Making the transition from mom to student and from housework or office work to homework can seem like an impossible scenario. But you probably already spend your life doing things like solving problems, juggling projects, and organizing schedules, which are the exact same skills you'll need to become the perfect student. Check out these online or mom-friendly part-time options to help fit school in your busy mom schedule.
Try online courses. E-learning lets you log on for lectures at any hour of the day, not necessarily at the same time as instructors and classmates. Most class interaction takes place in a weekly discussion-board format, or through "office hours," when professors will text-chat or video-conference with students to answer questions. Depending on how heavily you stack your courses, you can complete a part-time online undergrad degree in six to eight years on average, a master's degree in two to three years, or a doctorate in three to four.
Be realistic about expectations. Online learners need to be extremely self-motivated, comfortable using a computer and the Internet, and have excellent time-management skills. For any degree program, you'll still have to submit an application with standardized test scores (like the SAT or GRE), school transcripts, essays, and more. Plus, most accredited online courses cost either the same or slightly more than standard ones, since some schools will tack on additional costs for extra IT support, technical training for faculty members, and course redesign. When checking out your options, look for regional accreditation, which is the gold standard in higher education and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education's Council for Higher Education Accreditation (visit chea.org to see which institutions offer accredited programs).
Try night or weekend classes. Most colleges, universities, and technical schools offer classes in the evening, or intensive courses on the weekend. Some schools also offer accelerated courses that meet more often during the summer. With on-campus learning, you get to take full advantage of the student community, which can be helpful if you haven't set foot in a classroom for years. You may also get hands-on experience that can be important for some careers -- like public speaking, or lab classes that you'll need for a science degree.
You'll have to factor in the time away from your family, the time it takes to get to class, and any child-care costs. If you're going back to school to get your bachelor's degree, you can save time and money by looking for programs that offer "life experience" learning credit for knowledge you've gained out of school -- which includes anything from child-rearing to volunteer experience.
Try continuing education classes. Many universities and community colleges offer courses (for students both with and without a bachelor's degree) through which you can earn a "professional certificate" in anything from public relations to financial planning to IT training if you take an average of four to six classes. These certificates allow you to expand your expertise in an area when you can't make the commitment to complete a standard degree program.
Assess your current skills and look for classes to improve your job marketability. For many jobs, a professional certificate will suffice instead of a full master's degree. For example, if you're interested in becoming a paralegal, it may make sense to focus on a certificate in a paralegal-studies program rather than a graduate degree in paralegal studies.
You might already use Skype to talk to out-of-town contacts, but private tutors are now using the free video Web application to teach everything from languages to introductory accounting. Just find a tutor (check out mytutorcloud.com), pick a time, and log on every week.
As with any online shopping, make sure you book your tutor through a secure site (check for https browsers), don't pay high fees up front, and ask if you can virtually meet your tutor, or test out the system, before you pay for a block of classes.
Whether you want a degree, or just want to take a few courses, you may be worried about how to pay for the tuition and related costs. Here are a few good resources:
Grants: Available for undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or professional degree. More than 6,000 schools, including online universities, participate in federal financial aid programs.
Loans: The Direct Loan Program offers government-subsidized and unsubsidized low-interest student loans (both for graduate and undergraduate students at either online or brick-and-mortar schools).
Scholarships: Parents can find funding opportunities everywhere: Both online and offline schools often offer scholarships, as do local churches, charities, or even employers.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.