The decision to return to college is a momentous one. Higher education requires careful planning and thoughtfulness, and calls for sustained effort and dedication.
You may feel confident enough to manage the process without any assistance. However, most of us have responsibilities at home, jobs, and families, and forging ahead without help isn’t realistic. Enlisting support from friends and family may be an element of success you haven’t thought much about. But you should.
Even though you’ll be the one putting in the time taking classes, studying and writing papers, your family will be along for the ride too. Having support from people you care about will help you work through stressful times. On the practical side, renegotiating parenting and household responsibilities will open additional time for studying.
Maybe your loved ones have been in the loop as you went through the process of choosing and applying to schools, or maybe anxiety and uncertainty led you to be quiet about your plans. It doesn’t matter now; once you’ve committed to a school and a program of study, you need to share your plans with them. If the idea of breaking the news to your family and friends makes you nervous, here are some tips to review before you share your commitment and goals with them:
Choose the right time. Even if your family has been aware of your plans, you should still think carefully about how you’re going to tell them your dreams have shifted into reality. Don’t just blurt out your news as everyone’s running out the door to work and school. A little advance planning may be warranted. If you’re the first person in your family to pursue higher education, understand that you’re altering the family culture by setting an example for other relatives to aspire to. You may also inadvertently cause some of your relatives to examine their own unpursued goals, which may generate resentment.
Talk about the benefits. Sharing the advantages of earning a college degree may help you get skeptical relatives on your side. Everyone in your home may benefit from your accomplishment, even if they aren’t ready to acknowledge it.
The potential for increased income is the most obvious benefit and a good one with which to start your discussion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a bachelor’s degree earn 68% more on average per week than those with a high school diploma alone.1
Communicate your needs. You’ve shared your news, gauged the reactions of the people affected by it, and responded accordingly. Now you need to tell them how they can best assist you. If you felt you got a lackluster reaction, remember that your loved ones really might want to help, but may not know how to. Think about the specifics of what you’ll need to be successful, but don’t keep them to yourself. Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances, and will have a range of needs as a result. It’s not unusual for adult students to continue working while earning their degree, which calls for additional planning.
There are numerous ways for the people in your household to help. Maybe your spouse or partner can cook dinner when you have coursework to do. If you have younger children, ask a friend or relative to provide childcare periodically. Older children of driving age may be able to help with errands and shopping. And even younger children can help the household run smoothly by completing age- appropriate chores. Regardless of age, children can thrive and benefit from having additional responsibilities.2
If your friends are concerned that you’ll be buried under books and papers and unable to spend time with them, you can reassure them by setting up a standing date once or twice a month. You’ll sustain your important friendships, and you’ll benefit from having a few opportunities to socialize and get a break from studying.
Enlist outside support. Ideally, the people who play important roles in your daily life will be present for you as cheerleaders who also provide practical, useful help with day-to-day tasks. But even if you are fortunate enough to have a supportive group, you may also want to look to AIU’s resources as well, especially if your challenges are more academic in nature.
AIU provides a wide range of online learning support options to address student needs, from 24/7 technical support by phone or email to on-demand tutoring via Smarthinking. Every student has a dedicated advisor, and the Virtual Campus includes a forum for connecting with fellow students. AIU’s social media communities provide a great option for networking and finding tips, advice and resources as well.
Set expectations. Your educational aspirations don’t just impact you, and you may find yourself stretched thin during the academic quarter. Studying at an online university saves travel time, but it also creates its own set of special challenges. Your family will need to accept that your physical presence doesn’t mean you’re available. Even if you’re not able to get the level of enthusiastic support you hoped for, you’ll still need to clarify the conditions you need to successfully complete your coursework. Just remember that in the end, the sacrifices you and your family make can pay off with the accomplishment of completing your degree.
How did you announce your decision to return to school to your family and friends? Share it with us in the comments, then find more school and study tips on our College Success blog.
1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Projections,” on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm Based on median weekly earnings. These are national projections covering all levels of experience; conditions in your area may be different. (Visited 10/30/2016)
2. The Washington Times, July 12, 2015, “Study Finds Having Kids do Chores is a Good Thing,” on the Internet at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/12/study-finds-having-kids-do-chores-is-a-good-thing/ (Visited 10/28/16)