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Understanding the Impact of Parents Going Back to School (and Advice from Those Who’ve Done It)

photo of a mom working on schoolwork on her laptop while sitting on the couch next to her son on a tablet

It’s no secret that an education can open up new worlds of opportunity. You’ve long considered heading back to expand on your schooling, but now that you have children in the picture you can’t help but wonder how returning to school could potentially affect them. Is now the right time? How will my family hold up if I have more on my plate? Is it worth it?

While every family situation has unique circumstances, there are almost certainly others like you who’ve successfully navigated this shift in life. In this article, we’ll highlight a few of the potential positives for families that take on this challenge and share the advice of others who’ve done it successfully.

3 Ways going back to school can benefit your kids

Carving out time for education in the busy schedule of a parent will take some sacrifice—so what makes that sacrifice worth it? Here are a few potential positives that can be passed on to your family.

1. Your children might be more likely to pursue higher education themselves

“Research suggests that parents who go to college have children who go to go to college, as parents are powerful role models for their children,” says Karen Gorback, a retired community college dean who began an advanced degree program with three young children and a fourth on the way. There’s certainly evidence to support this—a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that if at least one parent has a four-year college degree, there’s a 60 percent likelihood that their adult children who serve as heads of the household will also have degrees.1 That means by successfully completing your college education, you may set the bar of expectations for your family—a positive effect that can ripple through generations.

Watching a parent successfully take on the challenge of pursuing higher education demonstrates to children of any age that this is an important step—and it can be done.

“I reminded re-entry students that parents who go to college have children who go to college,” says Gorback. “We all know that actions speak louder than words. This is especially true for parents who go back to school. They are modeling the importance of lifelong learning which will remain with their children forever.”

2. Improved earning potential

It’s a pretty simple formula—more education can lead to more opportunities, and with that can come improved earning potential. Though you are making a significant investment in your education by returning to school as an adult, the potential returns should not be ignored. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2019, high school graduates report a median usual weekly earnings of $746, while those with a bachelor’s degree report a median usual weekly earnings of $1,248.2 Over time, that increase adds up and can help provide an extra degree of stability for your family.

Additionally, degree programs often offer professional development and networking opportunities outside of coursework to help graduates find the kinds of jobs they want to hold. A career with more stable income and benefits directly impacts your children.

3. You’ll serve as a guide for your children’s higher education goals

Often, children whose parents did not attend college do not complete their degrees or struggle because they lack knowledgeable support on how to navigate the sometimes complicated world of higher education. Going to college is a challenging task to navigate as a young adult, so any parental wisdom and support can be a relief.

If you have completed your degree as an adult, you have specific, topical, and often critical knowledge that can help your child succeed when they enroll in higher education. Whether you’re helping them make sense of the sometimes strange college terminology they’ll see, helping them understand the expectations of their educators or advice for how to manage priorities, the experience you’ve had can provide an excellent pillar of support.

Advice for parents going back to school

So how do you manage to continue to support your children while earning your degree? Here are a few tips for making it all work.

1. It’s a team effort

There’s no denying you’ll have a lot on your plate as you attend school. But don’t fool yourself into thinking the only way everything can be accomplished is by taking it all on yourself. In all likelihood, you’re going to need some help. Turn to your family and friends—can you depend on someone to help pick up the slack with household chores, or to provide some child care coverage for the days where you’re hitting assignment deadline crunch time? Securing their buy-in by making it clear why you’re going to school—ideally they’ll be willing to make some small sacrifices in order help keep you on track.

2. Make your children part of the process

 “Make your children part of the process,” advises Gorback. “Going back to school is tough but it's also fun. I took my young children on field trips to my university on weekends where we explored the campus and ate lunch in the student union.”

Gorback suggests involving older children directly with your learning. For example, they could help quiz you with flash cards, provide a second set of eyes before submitting a writing assignment or serve as a test audience for a class presentation. This mutual investment into your education can be a lift for both you and your children.

“Children who feel part of the process will celebrate the parent's success,” Gorback says. “Children who become lifelong learners, like their parents, will find greater success in all professional and personal pursuits.”

3. Your children might become your biggest supporters

Watching a parent take on the challenge of attaining a degree as an adult will evolve the relationship you have with your children. Through the most challenging moments you may find support in the most fulfilling and unexpected places.

“The first time my children said they were proud of me brought tears to my eyes,” says Robyn Flint, mother and master’s degree graduate. “That one thing made it all worth it.”

4. Be upfront with your employer

Attending college is too big of a commitment to keep under wraps from your employer, so be candid about your plans.

“I strongly recommended that students share their educational plans with employers,” Gorback says. “Most employers will support workers who continue their education and may even provide support in terms of flex time or education assistance.” 

Even if your employer doesn’t offer support or seems indifferent to your plans, the honesty is likely to be appreciated and could potentially buy you some leeway. Let’s say you have a rough stretch at work—you’d likely rather have your boss assume it was because you were up late taking on college coursework than most not-so-flattering alternatives.

Are you ready to make a change?

As a parent, going back to school means you’ll definitely have a few challenges to overcome—but with those challenges also comes the potential for some substantial rewards. If you’re ready to take the next step and make a change in your life, request more information now to get into contact with a Rasmussen College Admissions Advisor.

If you’re not quite ready and would still like to weigh your options, our article, “6 Things Adult Learners Should Look for in a College Program”, can provide some helpful food for thought.

1Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, In the Balance: Children of College Graduates Earn More and Are Richer [accessed July, 2020] https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/in-the-balance/2019/children-of-college-graduates

2Bureau of Labor Statistics, Data on Display: Learn More, Earn More: Education Leads to Higher Wagers, Lower Unemployment [accessed July 2020] https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/data-on-display/education-pays.htm

Anjali Stenquist

Anjali Stenquist is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about helping students of all backgrounds navigate higher education.

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