How to Balance Online School, Work and Life

In 2006, I started college. I went with no real plan and ended up dropping out. I kept trying to go back over the years but something always fell through at the last minute. When my 5 year old was born, we decided we were done and I promised myself that once she started school full time (Kindergarten) I would head back myself. She started back last year, so did I. I now have a whole year behind me of work, a full time course load and life behind me. Despite being the primary caretaker of the kids while also working, I have managed to hit every deadline for school as well as everything else while pulling my GPA up above what I need to graduate (after messing up and starting last year with a 1.7 GPA) and passing all my classes. It hasn’t been easy, but after three semesters, I have this down.

Here are a few tips for doing online school, work while having kids.

  1. Determine how you will go back– there are options ranging from technical or trade schools, online programs or in person four year colleges. Going back in person is more difficult but many four year colleges offer programs online, especially after Covid. I found the program I wanted to take offered online (the online program actually first rolled out the semester I went back ) and I am going back to the college I started in person in 2006.
  2. Sign up for financial aid– this is important when you have kids, work and are running a house. Make sure to file your FAFSA on time and sign up for anything you can get. You may find that with the costs of online education vs in person, you can get by with grants without taking out loans, but the loans are there if you get hit with an emergency bill and need the extra cash.
  3. Determine your deadlines– they will come up with a syllabus at the beginning of the school year. The syllabus will typically let you know when everything is due, some will give a week-by-week break down of everything and they will tell you due dates of important papers and tests. With this, you can see when everything is due and what days the weekly course load will end.
    I’m taking five classes this semester, a few are more reading intense and one is writing intense. I have found over the past year and a half that I always have at least one class where I can get ahead of the work then focus on the other class(es) that require more attention. Don’t let yourself fall behind in one class, though, that can lead to near failing or lower grades if you can’t catch up.
  4. Enlist help– If you’re married or in a live-in relationship, your spouse can help a lot. Mine pulls part of my slack during finals week or any week I have a big project or paper due. He’ll help around the house, with the kids or any other time I need help. If you have parents who are in your kids’ lives, they can also help during finals week if you’re single or don’t have other help- see if your kids can visit grands during the times you have to take finals.
  5. Wake up before the kids– if you’re like me and most productive in the morning, it might help to wake up about an hour before your kids have to be up. My kids are also early risers but I found waking up in the morning around five helps me get a paper finished, started or some reading finished. (It also makes getting the girls ready for school faster and less stressful)
  6. Finish things after bedtime– Once the kids are in bed, you can unwind with a text book or settle down to finish a discussion you need to get done.
  7. Use stretch breaks to get household things done– When I get tired of sitting and don’t have the kids at home with me, I get up and move by putting in some laundry, loading and starting the dishwasher, scooping the litterbox or sweeping the house. It helps clean the house but also gives me the chance to get up and move. Those are the days I’m off and the kids are in school. I do not work full time and I work random hours- sometimes off on weekends and sometimes off during the school days. If you have a regular M-F job and work regular hours, you will be able to sit down and write out a schedule and if you work like I do, you will likely have more time during the school days while the kids are in school to work on things. It can be done with a full time job, time management is the number one thing to keep in mind.
  8. Do make time to have fun– Doing things like parties, making time to watch games or partake in hobbies you love makes life a lot more enjoyable. Don’t let yourself fall into the rut of work/school/responsibilities and leave out all fun. Just because you’re adding a full courseload to your plate doesn’t mean to stop enjoying things you enjoy doing. You can take time to watch a game on TV while working on homework. You can pencil time in your schedule to take your kids to a birthday party or take your kids out to do something outside the house. Those things only take two or three hours and can be your way of celebrating finishing your homework.

Think of the time you spend scrolling on social media. How much time do you spend mindlessly scrolling? If you are one of the people who sits down to check TikTok or Instagram then before you know it, you just scrolled for two hours; you have time to work on school work. It will be difficult, but think about your reason for doing it. You may be ready for a change of pace or a new career or you could be looking for full time work with benefits and unable to find one currently. Remember to keep your reason in mind. If you need to, write it down. You won’t be as able to motivate yourself if you don’t have a reason.

Remember, don’t go on a whim with no idea why you’re wanting to go. Don’t just pick a random major and run with it. Make sure there will be jobs available and there will be some demand. Make sure you have a use for the major (IE you’re studying writing and you’re an aspiring or current author/writer/journalist, you’re studying in the sciences and you can list several jobs you’ll be able to walk into or you can easily handle a higher degree at this time- you don’t want to end up taking courses in something that will burn you out or will put you in debt for a minimum wage job (or an unskilled job due to that career path being a total dead end). If you have a passion hobby or project (like me with writing), you will need a fall back- something to support you while you’re working on your project.

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