7 Transferable Skills Parents in College Didn't Know They Already Had

photo of a mom sitting with her daugher while using a laptop

If you’re a parent considering returning to college, you might be excited to start a new chapter but also hesitant to add another big responsibility to your plate. Whether you’re a co-parent or the single head of a family, you’ve undoubtedly developed traits that are directly transferable skills in college—and the professional world! 

Being a parent means you have all the motivation in the world waiting at home, pulling for you to succeed. That alone can provide a lift—in fact, according the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, students who are parents tend to have higher GPAs than students who are not parents.1 In part, this is because parents are highly motivated to lead by example and take their studies seriously.

That said, going back to school can be intimidating for anyone. The good news is you are not alone, and your lived experience as a parent can be an asset.

7 Ways being a parent has prepared you for college success

Read on to discover how common skills you’ve developed as a parent can help you thrive in college and beyond.

1. Organization 

Try writing down a list of all your parent duties for a week. You might be surprised at how many details and moving pieces you hold in your mind. If you can plan and pack for events and vacations, make a weekly grocery list, memorize multiple schedules—and only forget to pay the school lunch bill occasionally—you’ve got what it takes to stay on track.

Students who are parents are typically juggling a job and raising a family, in addition to their academic obligations and finding time to rest. You will find you have little choice other than finding an organization method that works for you.

The good news? There aren’t a lot of unexpected curveballs being thrown your way as a student. You’ll know in advance when assignments are due and what needs to be read ahead of time. With that being perfectly clear, you can put your fine-tuned organization and planning skills to work as you plot how to get it all done.

2. Empathy and communication 

If you’ve ever kept your cool while watching a frustrated toddler have a meltdown, you can do the same for an overstressed group member or coworker. Becoming the guardian of a tiny human with limited speech abilities is a crash course in empathy. Recognizing and responding to other people’s emotions is at the very top of an “essential parenting skills” list, along with being an active listener and communicator.

“Soft skills,” like empathy and communication, are sometimes miscategorized as less important than more technical skills. In reality, soft skills are the building blocks for successful students, effective leaders and strong team players.

3. Adaptability 

Remember all those ideas you had about what kind of parent you would be before you had kids? It’s likely that you had to ditch a lot of those notions and learn how to pivot and adapt to the reality of raising children. As a parent, you’re probably adept at changing plans on the fly to accommodate an unforeseen challenge (i.e., a toddler meltdown or misplaced set of keys).

Adaptability is beneficial in all areas of life, including academia. You can’t control having a group project member who doesn’t pull their weight—but you can control how you react to and reassess the problem. Being able to roll with the punches and not lose your cool when things don’t go perfectly makes for a resilient student. 

4. Collaboration 

Most people have heard the time-tested adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.” What goes unsaid is that parents are usually responsible for collaborating with the many members of their “village.” Constantly coordinating with teachers, babysitters, doctors, grandparents, childcare providers, friends and extended family means you know how to work with others to reach your goals.

Well-developed collaboration abilities will make you a highly valued and effective member of any group project or work team. These skills will also help set you up for success in networking and when it’s time to look for an internship or job.

5. Task prioritization and time management 

Science tells us that the best way to finish a large project is to set aside lengthy blocks of focused work hours. However, real life for busy people often doesn’t include large chunks of uninterrupted time—especially for moms and dads. Parents are often expert multitaskers, constantly assessing and prioritizing tasks and deadlines throughout the day.

Being able to assess what needs to be done immediately and what can wait until later will help you stay mentally healthy and prevent burnout. It is also a desirable skill in the workplace, especially high-pressure environments.

6. Research and critical thinking 

While everyone prepares for parenthood in their own way, it’s safe to assume many moms and dads spend time reading and seeking out information about raising kids before (and after) birth. Making important decisions on behalf of another living being requires plenty of critical thinking and a willingness to assess problems from different points of view.

Research and critical thinking are foundational skills for students of any subject. Those talents, plus curiosity and the ability to recognize and obtain information from credible sources, make for an excellent scholar.

7. Knowing when to ask for help 

It may seem counterintuitive, but the ability to ask for help is an essential yet underrated skill. Parenting is widely known to be one of the most stressful and difficult (and yes, enriching) endeavors in life. It is a ruthlessly rewarding experience that proves we all need each other to thrive. No one truly accomplishes anything alone.

If you’re struggling to understand a concept, complete a task or meet a deadline, or you feel completely overwhelmed, only you can make the decision to reach out. It is not a sign of failure, rather a demonstration of self-awareness and a genuine desire to succeed.

Apply your parenting skills to the classroom

If you read through this list and recognized yourself in the words, it might be time to think about next steps to getting back in the classroom. If you’re ready to get started, request more information to hear from a Rasmussen University admissions advisor—they can help walk you through any questions or concerns you might have about the process.

Not quite ready for that? Our article “6 Things Adult Learners Should Look for in a College Program” can help give you a starting point for researching your education options.

1Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Parents in College By The Numbers [accessed March 2021] https://iwpr.org/iwpr-issues/student-parent-success-initiative/parents-in-college-by-the-numbers/

Kelly Petersen

Kelly is a content specialist at Collegis Education, where she researches and writes about a variety of topics on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about education and previously worked as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Spain and as a higher education communications specialist in Costa Rica.

Kelly Petersen

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