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Taking care of children, elderly parents, or other family members is a big responsibility, but that doesn’t mean individuals in caregiving roles should miss out on educational opportunities. Online degree programs make higher education accessible to these types of students thanks to their flexibility and affordability.Read on for more information about why earning a degree is important for parents and caregivers and the benefits and challenges of online degree programs. Blanca Villagomez, a program counselor, and coordinator at UC Irvine, also offers tips for navigating the research and application process as a parent or caregiver.

What to Consider When Researching Online Degree Programs

For parents and caregivers pursuing online degrees, the most important thing is to find programs that support their unique needs while also providing high-quality education. To that end, there are several key things Villagomez says students should consider.

Assess your needs

First, figure out what type of program best suits your needs. If convenience is essential, as it often is for parents and caregivers, look for an asynchronous degree program. Because these types of programs don’t have regularly scheduled classes, they offer the most flexibility for students with busy schedules.

However, if you need more accountability and learn better through interaction, consider a synchronous or hybrid program. These programs combine the accessibility of virtual learning with the familiarity of a traditional interactive learning experience.

You should also consider your support needs and look for programs that offer support services for students who are parents or caregivers.

Determine your educational and career goals

“Think about what type of degree you want, what career you desire, and what skills you need to build,” Villagomez says.

Given that so many degrees are now available online, it’s likely you’ll have many options to choose from, so focus on those offered by fully accredited, reputable institutions. Having clarity on your educational and career goals will also help when evaluating a program’s faculty, networking and career development opportunities, and curriculum.

Compare detailed costs of online degree programs

Raising children costs money, and attending school is an additional financial pressure. Beyond tuition, other school-related costs, such as technical support fees, reliable hardware, internet access, and childcare, can add up. As part of your research process, Villagomez recommends carefully comparing the full price tag of various programs before choosing one and looking for online programs that offer financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships for parenting students.

Why Moms, Dads, and Caregivers Should Earn an Online Degree

While all prospective students have their own individual motivations for wanting to earn a degree, here are a few ways an online degree can be beneficial to parents and caregivers.

Increase earning potential

“The peace of mind that comes with being able to provide for your children is priceless,” says Villagomez. Considering that experts estimate raising a child in the U.S. costs roughly $310,605, increasing earning potential is a necessity for parents. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn $27,300 more annually than those with a high school diploma. Those with a master’s degree earn $39,780 more annually. Many of today’s highest-paying occupations require a college degree, including computer and information systems managers, financial managers, and nurse practitioners.

Create new career opportunities

Becoming a parent or caregiver can give clarity to career goals and priorities. A 2022 survey of working parents in the U.K. found that, following the birth of their kids, 33% of women changed careers, and 30% enrolled in education courses. Whether you want to advance in your current field or pivot to a new career, earning an online degree can help you get the knowledge and professional connections you need to create new career opportunities.

Demonstrate importance of education

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that children of college-educated parents are more likely to attend and complete college themselves compared to first-generation students. By earning an online degree, “you can be living proof that with hard work, dedication, and persistence, you can accomplish your goals,” Villagomez says. “As a result, you can share the value of education with your children and help them feel empowered in their own educational pursuits.” Kids also benefit from their parents’ experiences navigating the higher education system, which can be helpful when it’s their turn to submit college applications and apply for financial aid.

Invest in yourself

Being a parent or caregiver can profoundly affect an individual’s identity in both positive and negative ways. Taking time to focus on your education can be a way to connect with your personal passions and goals and maintain a separate identity outside of your caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, once your caregiving obligations change, having a degree will better position you for different career opportunities. Research also shows that attending college offers multiple personal benefits, including increased happiness, better health, and longer life.

How Online Degrees Benefit Moms, Dads, and Caregivers

Many aspects of online degrees make them particularly well-suited to students who have caregiving responsibilities for children or adults.

Flexibility

Traditional in-person programs require students to be in a specific location at a specific time to learn, which may be difficult or impossible for people juggling caregiving responsibilities. Online learning offers students a lot more flexibility, including virtual classes that students can log into from anywhere and asynchronous courses that allow students to learn on their own schedule. These types of programs also offer more part-time enrollment options, which can benefit students with limited time to devote to their studies.

Student support

“A student’s support system is a key factor in their success,” Villagomez says. “Feeling connected to others can be a great source of motivation and can give you the confidence to pursue your goals and overcome challenges.” While the exact types of services available varies by school, many colleges offer support specifically for parents and caregivers. This can include affinity groups for student parents and caregivers, specialized scholarships, and referrals for childcare services. Villagomez recommends contacting a school’s admissions or student life office directly to inquire about the support services they offer to moms, dads, and other caregivers.

Faster completion time

If time is of the essence in completing your degree, an online program can be an ideal choice. Many schools offer accelerated online degree programs. These types of programs may allow students who previously attended college to transfer in a maximum number of credits, decreasing the amount of time it’ll take to complete their degree. Other accelerated programs include all the credits a student needs to graduate but compresses courses into a shorter time frame, allowing for faster completion.

Challenges Moms, Dads, and Caregivers Face in Online Degree Programs

School and work-life balance

Even for parents and caregivers who aren’t students, finding enough hours in the day to fulfill all responsibilities can be difficult. Adding in classes and study time requires honest conversations with yourself and others to make it all work.

“Whether it’s scheduling drop-offs or pick-ups, cooking dinner, or studying full-time, you’ll need to build a system that allows you to manage your time effectively,” Villagomez says. “I encourage you to have an honest conversation with your family about the changes ahead and how setting healthy boundaries can help you.”

That also means setting boundaries with yourself. To avoid burnout and fatigue, “reflect on what aspects of your wellness are a priority and commit to taking care of yourself, even if it’s in small ways,” Villagomez says.

Distractions

One benefit of in-person learning that online students may lack is dedicated, distraction-free space and time to study and complete assignments. As a parent or caregiver, you may be accustomed to attending to the needs of others, but when you’re in student mode, you need to be able to put yourself first. It’s essential to set boundaries with your household and arrange for others to help with caregiving responsibilities so you can focus on schoolwork.

You may also need to adapt how you use your time to create a distraction-free environment. “One parenting student I worked with would take advantage of nap time to complete her assignments,” Villagomez says. “Another would study after 10 pm once his kids were put to bed.”

Finances

“There’s no denying that a college education is expensive,” Villagomez says. Students who are parents or caregivers have the added stress of balancing the cost of school with their family’s basic needs and living expenses. The effects of financial anxiety can be seen in a variety of ways, from keeping you away from your schoolwork to forcing you to withdraw from your program entirely.

To help ease these financial pressures, Villagomez recommends seeking out programs that offer financial support, as well as applying for external scholarships and aid. “Find out if your college has resources that can help you offload some childcare expenses or referrals to state programs that reduce groceries, diapers, and other crucial items off your shopping list,” she says.

Applying to an Online Degree Program as a Mom, Dad, or Caregiver

In general, applying to an online degree program is the same whether you’re a parent, a caregiver, or a traditional student. Students should select the area of study or type of program they seek, research schools and programs based on that selection, prepare and submit their applications according to the schools’ admissions procedures, and determine how they’ll pay for their degree.

However, there are a few things parents and caregivers can keep in mind when applying for an online degree program.

First, as mentioned above, student parents and caregivers should evaluate schools based on the support they offer students like them, as well as more general factors like program quality, faculty, and cost. Support can come in from financial resources, childcare referrals or discounts, affinity groups, and more. Students can gather this information by contacting the school’s admissions or student services departments.

Students who have already completed some credits towards a college degree should also evaluate potential programs based on their transfer credit policies. The ability to transfer previously earned credits to a new degree program can significantly lower a student’s cost and time commitment, a key consideration for many student parents and caregivers. Says Villagomez, “If you’re transferring to a new school, it’s important to understand the college’s transfer policies to ensure that your credits will be accepted.”

When it comes to paying for their online degree, moms, dads, and caregivers should consider all the traditional funding avenues, including student loans, employer tuition benefits, scholarships, and grants. However, they can seek out aid that is designated specifically for student parents or caregivers. For example, the scholarship database FastWeb allows students to search for scholarships with filters like “single parents” and “non-traditional, adult, and returning students.”

Best Online Degrees for Moms, Dads, and Caregivers – Top Picks

Best Online Degrees for Moms, Dads, and Caregivers
01

Eastern Kentucky University
01

Front Range Community College
01

Metropolitan Community College
01

SUNY-Broome Community College
01

Texas Woman’s University
01

Gateway Technical College
01

Kent State University
01

University of Louisville
01

Santa Barbara City College
01

Oklahoma City Community College
01

College of Western Idaho
01

The University of New Mexico
01

Ozarks Technical Community College
01

Niagara County Community College
01

Charter Oak State College
01

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College
01

Jamestown Community College
01

Excelsior College
01

Kapiolani Community College
01

Thomas Edison State University
01

College of Southern Idaho
01

North Central University
01

Durham Technical Community College
01

Pierce College
01

Rose State College
01

Idaho State University
01

Davenport University
01

Saint Cloud State University
01

Indiana Institute Of Technology
01

Northwestern Oklahoma State University
01

Liberty University
01

Salt Lake Community College
01

Rogers State University

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