Almost four years ago, my wife announced that she was considering going back to school to get a post-baccalaureate teaching degree. She had completed her bachelors just five years earlier in Humanities and had played the role of stay-at-home mom, chef, and custodian since. I knew her decision could mean a huge disruption in life of our small family. But it could also be great.

Today, my wife is in her third year of teaching fifth grade and she is as happy as I have ever seen her. She keeps talking about going back to get a masters, and I am getting that nervous feeling all over again.

Now, this may not be the path for every mom out there considering getting a degree. The changes and stress that come with a college student’s schedule affect the student’s family as well. This makes it a decision that families need to make together. If you’re thinking of going back, honestly consider these five things:

mom going back to school1. Does this change make cents?

With young, single, untethered college students, we advise them to just go after what they’re passionate about. As a mom, however, while your preferences should definitely be considered, you now have to factor in the financial well-being of your family. College costs a lot of money, so this move has to be viewed like any investment. Will the money you spend getting that degree make a return for you and your kids? Or will it be a sunk cost?

When my wife and I were trying to decide, we calculated that with some financial aid and student loans, her job as a teacher would pay off the college expenses after five years. Everything after that would be additional cash flow for our family. We knew that a teaching degree would be a good investment for us.

2. Can we support this financially?

This is where aspirations often run smack into reality. Before you have that degree in hand, you’ll need to make sure you have the financial resources to get through it. Going back to school may mean paying for child care or extra gas. You may have to pay out of pocket for textbooks or tuition. Your family should look at your annual budget and decide if you can realistically handle those extra expenses.

3. Can we support this time-wise?

Time is your most limited resource of all. Attending classes, doing homework, and any travel will have to be taken from your family’s temporal account. If you already work, volunteer at the food bank, shuttle kids to soccer practice, and sing in the church choir, something is going to have to go to make room for your education. You will need to decide what you’re willing to give up and what you won’t. Also, is your family willing to give up that time with you?

4. Can we support this emotionally?

The stress of college brings with it an emotional roller coaster. Largely, your family will be your pit crew, suffering when you suffer and celebrating when you succeed. Because of this, they need to agree to be a part of that experience. For families that are already emotionally stretched by other circumstances might break under the pressure of college. That’s not to say you can pull off some amazing things together. It just means you all have to agree from the onset to pull together when things get rough.

5. How will this affect our family five years from now?

Often, asking these types of questions brings out our inner pessimist. After a few minutes, we feel stupid for even considering taking on something as daunting as a college degree. What were we thinking? But the purpose of this post isn’t to discourage or limit the potential of our readers. It’s rather the opposite. And one simple exercise can help you step back and see this decision from a long-term perspective.

Imagine that you go back to school and then what happen afterwards, after all the papers and exams, after you’ve landed that job. How does it change your family? How does it benefit you financially? How does it improve you as a person? How does it benefit your children? If the picture you see in your head makes you feel excited and happy, then whatever challenges you will pass through will be worth it.
Going back to school is certainly a difficult one to make, especially for moms. What questions have you had in trying to decide to go back to school? Tell us in the comments below!

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