The idea of having a family, a job, and going back to school may seem like a pipe dream. After all, there are only so many hours in a day — and aren’t you already exhausted at the end of it? It may surprise you to know that you really can have it all.
If the idea of fitting in college coursework feels overwhelming, don’t give up just yet. A few life hacks could help you go from thinking about your dream to living it. If getting an education or continuing one is something you want to do, here are some ways to make it a reality while maintaining a job, a busy life, and/or a family.
Schedule a Family Meeting
Before you balk at the idea, hear me out. If you’re seriously considering an education but aren’t sure how to make it work, schedule a family meeting to discuss the possibility. Let your partner and/or children know you want to pursue an education, but you need help figuring out how it will work with everyone else’s schedule and extracurricular activities.
Talk about your dreams and your expectations for the family while you’re in school. Tell your loved ones why it matters so much to you, and ask for their help making your dreams come true. Maybe other family members need to pick up more responsibility around the house or learn to respect study time without interruptions.
This isn’t about asking for permission; this is about involving them in the process. Talk about what it might look like and how everyone can take part. Getting the family involved in the early stages could help them be more supportive of your success later.
For those who don’t have a family but do have a job, consider discussing your intentions to study for a degree with your employer. Of course, doing so is optional. If you’re able to maintain your work responsibility without any need for changes, you may choose not to share your studies. If it will benefit you in your job, or if you need accommodations in your schedule, it’s smart to consider having a talk in advance about how you can maintain your job and still obtain an education.
Consider Online Courses
For people who are strapped for time (and money), online courses offer flexibility and variety — and they may even be the more affordable option. You can complete many online classes at your own pace, and you can choose how heavy or light a course load you want at any given time.
This may be the perfect option for the busy working parent to return to school for a degree. You won’t have to worry about commuting to a college campus, paying parking or other on-campus student fees, or even fitting in with other, potentially younger learners. Instead, you can pace your coursework around your schedule and connect with professors and classmates online.
Set Realistic Expectations
If your home and work schedule is demanding, a full course load may be a terrible idea, leaving you stressed, stretched, and overwhelmed. But you may be able to easily carry a course or two without feeling overloaded. Consider your expectations — and make sure they are realistic for the commitments you have already.
Make sure your expectations are also realistic for your budget. While scholarships, grants, and employer contributions can help with the costs, decide how much you can afford and whether you’ll take out loans now or pay as you go.
By being realistic about the financial aspect of your education, you’ll be better prepared to shoulder the costs. Consider if there are household expenses you can eliminate to make college more affordable.
Use Your Time Effectively
Because online courses can provide that added flexibility, you can study on the go. Consider using “extra” time to complete assignments or study for exams. For instance, waiting rooms in doctor’s offices may accommodate a quick study session, or sitting on the sidelines at a sporting practice for a child could mean squeezing in a little classwork.
Do you really need to binge all the seasons of the latest show you’re watching — or could you use one of those hours to focus on your courses?
Of course, part of using your time effectively means taking regular breaks. Not only will this help keep you motivated, but it can also help you be more creative and productive when you get back to your work. Make effective use of your time by mapping out your breaks before you become burned out.
You don’t have to quit your job or check out of your family to get a college degree. You may just need to consider the benefits of online coursework and commit to following your dreams despite the challenges. And there will be challenges. But there will also be rewards — including the smile on your face when you complete your degree and know that you stopped dreaming your dreams and started living them instead.