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Friday, September 05, 2008

Moms Going Back To College

By Stacy DeBroff

According to a Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, the greatest percentage rise in college attendance was by women 30 and over. It seems apparent that moms are going back to college and graduating in record numbers. In the report it states that there are now 2.3 million women 30 or older attending college. As a former student at Harvard Law School, I ran the Public Interest Advising Office, saw moms seeking a law degree while raising kids or after kids had grown. This experience gave me helpful insight on moms choices to resume their careers or reinvent their professional selves.


The current trend is due to women’s need for an intellectual passion. Going back to school serves as an exciting springboard to re-invent yourself. Stay at home moms often feel that their minds and talents are being underutilized (changing toilet paper rolls is not on the top of the list and twenty minutes reading a magazine just does suffice!), and working moms often feel that they are treading water career-wise to keep up with their family’s needs. Classes that are intellectually stimulating provide an exciting opportunity for personal growth and finding fulfilling work.

Going back to school also doesn’t hurt the bank account. Financial independence for women is key in modern times. Women are much more likely than men to live alone later in life, and with the high divorce rate, ending up a single mom is a major concern. There are also always those college and retirement savings causing a concern for most families. The motivation is that those with college educations and advanced degrees can command higher salaries and more exciting work opportunities in today's economy.

Going back to college for women can also be caused by need for a career change up. Often women's first career does not mesh with having a family; Moms usually come back to school because they have had kids before completing their education, or they opted out of a very structured or unfulfilling job.
Many Moms want to make a career shift where they have more control over their time and the flexibility to accommodate everything from a sick child to cheering on the soccer sidelines.
Going back to school is the ideal way Jumpstart a new, more fulfilling career path for ourselves.

Moms may be asking themselves, when do I have time to go to school? But, when kids first enter elementary school, it suddenly frees up time for moms to pursue their own interests. Instead of taking care of their kids 24/7, Moms can take morning or early afternoon classes and still be there for pick-ups and after-school activities. Moms can pursue college or graduate degrees without feeling like they are missing out on family life.

Schools are also making higher education more available to moms. Colleges and graduate programs are enthusiastically throwing opening their doors to Moms. Many have developed programs especially designed for women with children at home, with classes clustered from 9-3, ending just in time to zip back to greet the school bus.

The star-up trend seems due to an intellectual Mom Renaissance of sorts - many moms put their careers on hold and want to get back to it. Women age 30 and older seeking the degrees they dreamed of but never had a chance to pursue as raising kids took priority for a number of years. Its a different time now…Most of us grew up with a stay-at-home mom who was like June Cleaver and while we may aspire to that level of nurturing to our kids...but we've also had more work opportunities than any other generation of women. What has emerged is a trend I think of as "sequencing" or taking life in chapters such as taking 8 years to focus primarily on one’s kids and then moving to the next chapter of balancing raising kids with time focused on our career achievement and personal growth.

Moms also make great students and hires after graduation. And there are many reasons for this. For one, we Moms make very focused, highly productive and self-motivated students. We are better able to focus and get things done efficiently, all that superb training from our years of being a parent and having life experiences under our belt. Employers are now stepping up efforts to lure stay-at-home moms back to work. I’ve seen this for myself. Before becoming a Mom Expert, I worked Harvard Law School where as a lawyer I ran the Public Interest Advising Office. I saw moms who getting law degrees while raising toddlers or after kids had grown, and they usually the top students. For these reasons and amid increasing competition for talent, Employers are now stepping up efforts to lure stay-at-home moms back to work.

My advice for moms starting out is not to procrastinate. The hardest part of returning to school may be getting started. Many Moms will say they've been thinking about it for five years. Often it just takes summoning up the courage to actually set foot back on campus. Go for it and try it in small chunks at first. Move this off the back burner as an important thing you do for yourself! And remember, you will make a great role model to your kids! Moms who go back to school have a great opportunity to be a role model for their school-aged kids. Kids who see their mothers hitting the books get inspired to work harder themselves, and they also have living proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Moms are thrilled to discover that their children are their biggest cheerleaders, and cheer wildly as Mom gets her diploma: WAY TO GO MOM!

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