Finding Programs Suited to Your Lifestyle
Finding Programs Suited to Your Lifestyle
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Your lifestyle consists of many things, all of which will affect school in different ways: finances, children, work, and maintaining a home, to name a few. Trying to take care of your children and hold a part-time job may mean that you can only attend school in the evenings. Needing to be at home with particularly young children may mean that you want to enroll only in online classes. There are many postsecondary programs that will fit your schedule, despite having a busy adult lifestyle.

Find a program you can afford.

Finding the right academic fit is great, but finding a good financial fit is arguably more important. An academic fit doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford to attend the program. Create a family budget to get an idea about what you can spend on your education. Look for programs that fall into a similar cost range. Schools are obligated to publish their tuition and fees, so search your prospective schools’ websites to see what they’re charging. If you know that you won’t be living on campus, go ahead and disregard the cost of room and board. If you’re only going to register for a few credits each semester, you can calculate your costs based on the number of credits. Always be sure to factor in a little bit extra for books and supplies as well as the cost of transportation (parking on many campuses is generally expensive).

You can also ballpark how much money you qualify for in federal student aid by using the FAFSA4Caster. It requires basic information about your family situation and your finances. In return, it will let you know if you are likely to qualify for grants, work-study, or loans. You can use this information to calculate the amount you may receive in federal aid when determining which programs you can afford. Consider also financial aid that comes directly from the institution and any scholarships for which you might be eligible (and then apply for them). Calculate how much you'll be required to pay out-of-pocket at your prospective schools and learn more about finding a good financial fit here.

Find a program that fits your schedule.

Are you going to be working while continuing your education? Do you have a family that needs you to be available around the clock? There are many different educational options for adults who need a flexible schedule: online programs, night classes, part-time work, and summer classes. Different schools may offer different class options, some of which could work better with a busy adult schedule. If you’ve narrowed down your options to a few different schools, see what scheduling is like. One may offer night classes that would allow you to work close to full-time during the day. Another may offer a multitude of online courses that you could complete on your own time. Don’t commit yourself to a program that limits your ability to complete your other obligations.

Find a program with a multitude of resources.

As an adult student, you may have different needs than younger students. You’re probably less interested in joining a sorority and more interested in whether or not your college offers day care facilities or adult-specific student groups or career services.

Most colleges have a tutoring center if you need help in one of your classes, but these are often staffed by students. There’s nothing wrong with a younger person being your tutor, but you may find it awkward or uncomfortable. Check with your school to see if there are adult tutoring services, or you might consider forming a study group with other adult students once you arrive.

The career center may be the same way, though career advisors are often adults. Your school is unlikely to have a separate center for adult students, but you may find that career advisors will be able to put you in touch with employers who are specifically looking for older students.

What may be more important, particularly if you are a parent, are day care facilities or breastfeeding rooms. These colleges rank as the best options for students with children: They provide on-campus day care, housing for married students or students with children, a babysitter network, at-home care for sick children, and/or breastfeeding facilities. The Department of Labor requires that employers provide a room that can be used for breastfeeding for employees with infants, but you may be able to gain access as a student as well. Additionally, all 50 states and Washington D.C. allow women to breastfeed anywhere, and 30 states and Washington D.C. do not consider breastfeeding public indecency. It’s important to know your rights. Talk to an admissions counselor or someone from student services to learn more about day care options or breastfeeding facilities.

Find a housing situation that works for you and your family.

Where are you going to live while you complete your degree or certificate program? If you’re attending a community college or going to classes part-time in the town where you already live, great! You can stay where you are without too much trouble, particularly if you already own a house or are currently renting, provided you can afford your housing payments while also paying for school. If you’re considering moving across town or to a new town, check with the school you are hoping to attend to see if it provides on-campus housing for adult students. If you’re married or have a child, your school may provide housing specifically for families. Be sure to factor the cost of living on campus into your budgeting calculations.

Find a program that is parent-friendly (if necessary).

Over 25% of college students have children of their own. Over 70% of these students are women, and 43% overall are single mothers. Single fathers make up 11% of the undergraduate students with children. The statistics, unfortunately, are not on their side. Only one in three students with children earns a degree or certificate within six years of enrolling, mainly because they dedicate a large portion of their time to childcare and worry about money.

Besides having children, many of these students also work, and they work more (averaging 29.2 hours weekly) than students without children (who work 21.6 hours each week). When you combine working more than half time and caring for children (which in and of itself can be a full-time job), it can be hard to figure out how school is going to fit into that schedule.

Do colleges offer child care as a benefit to students?

Campus-based child-care services have declined over time, with only 49% of public, four-year schools and 44% of community colleges offering services for student-parents. Campus child-care centers fill up quickly due to the number of student-parents at each institution, and often have waiting lists. Unfortunately, a waiting list doesn’t do a student-parent much good. Fortunately, though, the U.S. Department of Education has a program called Child Care Access Means Parents in School. Postsecondary schools can apply for funds to create child-care centers on their campuses as a way to encourage low-income parents to return to college. Ongoing funding will ensure the maintenance of preexisting programs.

Is it in my family’s best interest for me to return to school?

While being a full-time student can mean that you finish your degree faster, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your responsibilities. Enrolling part-time may mean that you’re more likely to succeed, since you won’t be spread so thin between your school, work, and home life. Do some quick thinking to determine how much time you can set aside for studying after you’ve completed your familial and work responsibilities. The rule of thumb is that each class requires at least twice as much time outside of the classroom as you spend in the classroom. (Assuming each class meets twice a week for one hour, you need at least four extra hours weekly to spend on homework for each class.) If you can guarantee that you’ll have eight hours to spend on school outside of the classroom, go ahead and sign up for two classes each semester.

It is likely that you’ll end up making some sacrifices while you’re enrolled in classes, but the fact of the matter is this: Graduating college will open more doors for you and your family. Employers are more likely to hire individuals with more education, and with education comes a pay raise. Not only that, but if an employer knows that you are a parent and sees that you also did well in school, it may boost your résumé to the top of the pile. Determination is an asset in business. Spending a couple of years completing your degree will probably pay off in the long run.

Where do I begin if I am a parent who would like to return to school?

  • Narrow down your university options to campuses located near your home. If there’s an emergency or delay, a long commute can ruin your attendance.
  • After choosing your favorite schools, visit their campuses and meet with admissions or financial aid officers. Search for programs with flexible scheduling and scholarships that apply to your situation. Ask if the schools offer services for parents, such as campus-run day care centers.
  • Don’t think of scholarships as just for school. You’ve received money to be applied to tuition, but this also means that you’re not spending your own money, and you can save it for a rainy day. A few hundred may seem useless against a year’s tuition, but look at it as money you have to pay the babysitter or order take-out on nights that you have class.
  • Build your class schedule around the schedule that you and your family have created together. If you work in the morning and take care of the kids in the afternoon, try to schedule evening classes once or twice a week, or consider your online options.
  • Get to know a couple of babysitters just in case. If you’re lucky, this person won’t mind staying late or arriving early. Be sure to print out a copy of your schedule and emergency contact information. Websites like and can help you connect with potential babysitters if you can't find any options on your own.
  • Let your professors know that you have children so that if there is ever an emergency, or you need to take a call during class, they may be more understanding.

Having children while also trying to attend classes can make things a bit messy, but with a little perseverance, you should be able to work out a schedule that works for both you and the rest of your family. Your quality of life will improve in the long run.

Find a program that will reward your military past and accept your educational benefits (if applicable).

If you enlisted in the military the second you turned 18 and received your high school diploma, thank you! Your service to the United States is important. Regardless of whether you plan on making the military your career, there are options for you to continue your education. The same is true for officers who have already finished one college degree but would like to pursue another or take classes on the side. The military provides many educational benefits to its service members, both those on active duty and those in the reserves. There is plenty of money available to help fund your postsecondary educational dreams.

Programs like the Montgomery GI Bill require service members to enroll and pay into them at the beginning of their service to be eligible for benefits later on, but others require nothing more than a high school diploma or service at a particular location. Benefits can typically be used while service members are still actively serving in the military, but the GI Bills in particular must be used within a specific number of years after leaving the service. Most programs offer money to help pay for tuition for a degree or certificate program, while others provide discounted tuition, loan repayment, or free college entrance exam or credit-by-exam testing. For more information on the benefits available to all service members, read more about benefits for all branches. For educational benefits specific to a particular branch of the military, click on one of the links below.

Page last updated: 12/2018