Single Mom Pursuing 3 Careers

by Judge Josh on October 18, 2010

Mala’s a Canadian single mom going through a divorce here in the States, and in my opinion, she’s trying to do too much. What do you think?

Just like everyone else, I have a very unique situation.

I love the irony! True, though, I think.

It’s a long story too, but as you noted-detalis provide better answers.

Yes, let’s hear them!

I’m in the process of a divorce and taking care of my son while working full time and trying to finish my last few pre-req courses for 3 career choices that I’m interested in. I am a Canadian citizen with residencey in the US. I have completed pre-req courses for an AA in ultrasound tech, nursing, and PharmD. I completed these courses in California and in order to enroll in the one of those 3 programs, I moved to Las Vegas. One, I wasn’t able to find a radiology program in Cali near where I lived. Two, the nursing waiti list was about 2 years. And three, the PharmD program seemed most convenient (at the time).

single mother jobs

Gotcha.

Having recently moved here, the college that has the ultrasound program and nursing program don’t recognize me as a state resident yet. In addition to that, I started my academic course transfer progress earlier this Feb. I just found out a few weeks ago that they had lost my transcript and failed to notify me (they have all my current contact info!), so my course transfer evaluation is EXTREMELY delayed.

That sucks. Bureaucracy for ya.

I still have time to apply for one of the 2 programs, but I can’t afford the couple extra courses each program needs because my financial aid is on hold because of the delayed course transfer progress, which is the school’s fault. The deadlines are this spring and I’m hoping that I can finish my last couple of pre-req courses before then.

My other program choice, BA in pharmacy is another situation. This school requires my PCAT be submitted. I completed this test in 2009 and the school will accept those test scores, but I don’t think the scores will help me make the cut. I missed the deadline to take the test again this year before submitting my application due this Dec due to lack of finances. I’m wondering if it’s worth submitting what I do have to the school. If I can come up with the application fee.


I’m so undecided about what I want to pursue. With my personal life stressing me out, lack of financial aid and indecisiveness, I don’t know what to do.

OK, I’m gonna stop you there and say that what you need to do at this point is choose one of the programs and go with it. Three is overkill in any situation, I think, given the time and cost associated with prepping for three different careers.

But here, when you’ve got some pretty significant personal turmoil going on as well, two is also too many. It’s time to pick one and go with it.

And knowing what you’ve said here and no more, I’d say ultrasound tech would be a good choice. It pays well (something in the $20ish/hour range, I’ve read? Can anyone confirm/correct me on that?), and it sounds like the shortest route to being out of school and into a job.

And not for nothing — as an ultrasound tech, the majority of your work will be spent with people who are healthy and, more importantly, happy — happy to be having a baby. In nursing you’ll probably be working with sick people, and same with pharmacy. When you’re around happy people, you like your job (and, by extension, your life) better.

(I know, it’s an overgeneralization of nursing and pharmacy, but still…it seemed worth pointing out).

I’ve looked into joining the National Guard to help pay for school, but that also runs the risk of me deploying and leaving my son here.

It surely does, and that would terrify me, personally. I’m sure it does you, too.

His father (my ex) is not involved whatsoever. I’m scared to apply for a school loan since I’m not sure if my ex has lowered my credit score.

Don’t let the possibility that he might have lowered your credit score prevent you from applying for a loan. In fact, whether you apply for a loan or not, you should find out your credit score ASAP so you know what you’re up against (in education, but also in the outside world as well. Bad credit can screw you up all over the place, not just college).

I have an idea he might since bills for accounts that I’m listed as a secondary on are still being mailed to me.

Then get your credit report ASAP. This is the link to the government site where it’s truly free, not one of the others that tricks you into paying for a credit-monitoring service.

Idealy, I would love to apply for all 3 programs. But if I do get accepted, how would I pay for the full time programs?

I apologize if I’m misreading your intentions here, but it doesn’t make sense to me for you to pursue all three programs. You did your prereqs and kept your options open up until now — but now it’s time to decide. After all, you’re not going to be an ultrasound tech, a nurse and a pharmacist all at the same time after graduation.

Just choose one and go after it hard. Worst-case scenario? You end up hating it, and you can always return to try one of the other two later on.

But pursuing three incompatible careers for no discernible reason just doesn’t make sense to me. You’ll end up spending thousands of dollars on courses you didn’t need and hundreds of hours of your time that could’ve been using to square away your situation and get yourself some peace of mind.

Worse, what if I get rejected from all 3? I have no fall back plan from that if I do.

I would say that applying to all three IS a fallback plan. It’s one plan and two fallback plans all in one. It’s likely one will accept you.  There’s a quote from Mark Twain that’s been bastardized over the years, but it goes something like this:  “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Meaning, it’s good to have a backup plan and all, but at some point you have to ditch worry, go forward and execute your plan. If the worst happens, you’ll find a way to deal with it. But the worst probably won’t happen.

My mom has a quote by someone (I think the Dalai Lama) taped on her fridge. It says something like, “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorry; it saps today of it’s strength.”  Also true.  (The sentiment, anyway — whether he actually said this, I have no clue.)

I have an AA in Liberal Arts already, but what can I do what that? Should I continue on to get a BA in Liberal Arts (if such even exists?).

Worst case, you can hustle and waitress and bartend or barista or whatever it is that thousands of single moms are doing right now to keep themselves and their children afloat. You’ll do it. It’ll be OK. I know that other single moms will tell you so in the comments section, so pay even more attention to them! :)

My passion is to stay in the medical field, but now my priority is to sacrifice time with my son for the short term so that I will be able to provide for him in the long run. Even if it isn’t in the career field that I want.

I see no reason for you to leave the medical field. People will keep having babies forever and ever, so they’re going to need ultrasound techs. And saying goodbye to the other two programs will free up time to be with your son.

It’s so disheartening to think that I put so much time, energy and effort in my science classes that they’ve gone to waste all because of my failed marriage and trying to get back up on my feet.

They haven’t all gone to waste, and they won’t go to waste — unless you let them. Overall, it seems to me that your head is swimming because you’re asking too much of yourself with the three programs. Cut those other two, and I bet you get a lot of your brain space and psychological well-being back!

And trust me, things will get better than they are now. I, too, went through a divorce, smack in the middle of grad school. It sucks, don’t get me wrong, but once it’s over and done, you’ll eventually hit the road to recovery and begin building a new life with your son! This will happen, I promise.

— Anyone else got tips for Mala? Divorce, single motherhood, medical careers, being a Canadian in America, etc.? :) Let us know in the comments below!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane October 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I agree with Josh – you need to pick something and stick with it. Parents (especially single parents) don’t have the same luxury as young single students to mess around in school racking up debt for years without a real game plan. If ultrasound tech is the shortest program, I would recommend going for that one – hurry and finish up school so you can better support yourself and your son.

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Marilyn October 18, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Pick one career path, preferably the quickest route to getting a job. You can ALWAYS go back and change careers. I would say the Ultrasound is a wise choice. It’s pretty focused and it’s pretty quick. I’m a single parent in nursing school and boy do we struggle but I know it’s worth it in the end. You’ve got way too much going and nothing to prove to anybody, so simplify your life right now and DO NOT SECOND GUESS yourself once you’ve made your decision. You’re going to succeed.

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Bridget October 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Mala,
Definitely don’t continue with the liberal arts degree. It sounds like you are already on the right track with sticking with the medical field. I am not familiar with that field but I do hear that the working conditions all around for nurses basically sucks. Talk to some actual nurses and ultrasound techs to see how they like their jobs and if they regret their choice of occupation. Ask them if they would have done anything differently. You will feel much better going to school if you feel like you chose the right program.

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Shelley October 18, 2010 at 4:49 pm

1. Pick a major,focus and stick with it.
2. Get a drivers license and plates for your car to establish residency where you plan to go to school. States want you to be well employed and not dependent on the state for as long as you have a child. They want to give you a hand up for education if they have the finances to do it, so get your residency established. Why Las Vegas? Are there other states that offer these same courses that could offer you more education assistance as a single parent. States that aren’t in financial crisis to the extent Nevada is. Look to larger metropolitan cities in the wetern part of the US like WA, CO etc.
3. Do the divorce papers specify who is responsible for the joint debt. If it is the ex, contact the creditors one time. Mail the divorce decree showing the top of the page and only the portion that applies to the debts, NO other info, it is none of their business, send the address of the ex to them. Document this contact, who you spoke with, etc. Save this info for ten years, they will sell it and others will try to collect on a debt they bought and new harassers will pop up.. Notify all the credit agencies send them this info from the divorce decree that shows this is no longer your debt, it is his. If the decree is silent, you may want to contact the divorce attorney and return to court to get that part amended and clarified who is responsible. It will be worth it in the long run as the creditors will hassle you forever. This ongoing debt will impact who rents to you, etc. The last option is to file bankruptcy.
4. Fill out the FAFSA paperwork online so you can see what is ahead of you for aid.
5. Last, spend quality time with your son every day and do not deviate from that. This has been traumatic for him too and he had no say in the matter.

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Nicole October 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I hate to be a pain, Josh, but I want to point something out about your statement that as an ultrasound tech you will be doing the majority of your work “with people who are happy to be having babies”. I currently work in the ER of a smallish hospital, and though we may be the exception (and since it’s the ER after all); hardly any of the ultrasounds I transport patients for are for people happy to have a baby. Often they are used as more of a diagnostic tool for people in severe abdominal pain, looking for cysts, etc. Just a note that it’s not all cutesy babies and happiness!

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Birdie October 18, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I’m a mother as well and pursuing several different options, several of which require a Masters degree. However, you need to choose one right now. Once you’ve finished with the first and have a job in the field, you can always go for another of the degrees that interest you. Remember, you’re grades and the classes that you’ve taken don’t go away – they’ll still be relevant in a few years. By then, hopefully, you’ll have your finances settled, your son and yourself on a regular schedule and you’ll be able to decide what to do next.

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Birdie October 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm

P.S. You might also look into the Coast Guard for help with school. It’s much more local than the National Guard. However, it would require you to move to a coastal state. Just a thought for the future.

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Jane October 18, 2010 at 6:39 pm

My family has been in similar crossroad situations before, not including the divorce; but the choices could have made one of my parents a geographic single parent if the wrong path was chosen (military familys are a pain sometimes). Here is what we always did, and yes I know it is unorthodox:

First, apply to all 3 programs. When you send the applications off say this simple little prayer to whomever you like: “please show me where I need to be”.

While you are waiting for the results, get a job to support yourself and your son, and establish residency. Also, take care of all of that bureaucratic bull crap you have to deal with (and maybe consider dual citizenship? could be helpful later and you have time while you wait).

When your acceptance letters come in, be prepared to chose ONE course of action. Most of the time the course you should take is pretty clear. For example, you may only get accepted into one program; or you may get accepted to all three but get some scholarship money in one, or have one that is significantly shorter than the others. Whatever the sign is that says “go that way”, follow it and you wont go wrong.

I know it is nerve wracking, but it works every time for anything (we’ve used it for everything from car and house buying decisions and carrier choices). Keep at it, and good luck to you. You and your son will make it.

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Dawn October 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

From one survivor to another – How will you ever know how to get there if you have no idea where you are going? I agree with Judge Josh. Pick a path and pave it hard… create a plan of attack and go at it with all your heart… you will find that it takes less time and effort than you think it will… especially when you start ticking things off the list.

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pam g October 18, 2010 at 8:02 pm

ultrasound techs don’t just do prenatal ultrasounds. they do scans of bladders, livers, kidneys, pancreases, hearts, etc etc etc.

She can become an RN in two years and make twice as much as an us tech, then continue on to get her BSN (bachelors in nursing) while working as an RN (and possibly have her tuition paid for if she works for a hospital).

I would advise against a BA in liberal arts.

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Tonya October 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm

I am in your shoes right now. My divorce will be final next week. I am also working towards my nusring degree. Be prepared to spend alot of time at clinicals away from your child in the nursing program. Alot of homework and studying as well.

You need to decide which career speaks to your HEART. Don’t do something simply cause it makes more money, you’ll go to work and be miserable everyday. Why waste valuable time to get a job you hate? West coast states tend to have much higher pay than most east coast locations. I’m currently in Georgia and I am planning a move to Washington State at the first of the year. I applied and was accepeted into two nursing programs with no extra pre-req’s required from what I’ve already gotten (I”m 14 hours shy of a LPN).

Medical is a great field to go into and has many benefits. Alot of locations will pay your tuition if you sign a work contract. As for the student loans, if you get a Federal Student Loan they dont even look at your credit score, but that is something that you should check out and get the debt away from you if its not your responsibilty.

Good Luck in which ever path you choose!

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Sam Kelley October 18, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Hey Josh, long time no reply. Mostly because, like Mala, I am trying to bite off more than I can chew. I guess it comes to too main paths:

1. If you are attending college just to learn, and could care less how much money you make, take on all three at once. Your grades will be no where near as good, but you will learn more. You will have spent a lot of money on information you will not use in your career.

2. If you are attending college to make a better future for yourself, which seems to be what Mala is doing, pick something and stick to it. Dedicating yourself to one subject will allow you to become an expert at the craft.

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Sam Kelley October 18, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I should have proofread that post beforehand…..and I say I write for a living. :shakes head:

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Leeja October 19, 2010 at 5:55 am

Take what path your passion is in. That’s something to think about honestly before you pick one and stick to it. There’s nothing that says you can do more than one of those though. I’m with Josh, take the fastest road to a job, then if you want to pursue a second option, you’re on the right track financially.

In the meantime, get that credit report and look at every single line with a fine tooth comb. I don’t know the laws of the state you divorced in, but in some states if it says in the divorce degree that your ex is legally responsible for the bill, the creditors have to take you off (worked for me when my ex refused to close the joint account because they told him he had to reapply for a new one and he knew he couldn’t get it). In the process, any good credit you’ve established with them will go also though. Take the time to get it all straight, contact them all and tell them the situation and see what they will do to work with you.

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Jennifer October 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

I would get the quickest degree and definately stay in the medical field. In this economy you will always have work. Many employers will either pay for or reimburse your classes so keep that in mind. You may be able to finish your next degree for free while working in the medical field.

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Sharon October 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

I agree w/Pam G 100%.

I am a psych major (minor anthropology) and wish I had followed my 1st mind to go into nursing. Even an AAS RN is likely start out making a nice salary compared to a BA in Psych and had I gone AAS RN, I’d be financially better off already & less than a year away from my BSN. But nooo, I have to at least go MA or higher to reap the financial rewards in psych. I like psych (love anthro) which is why I’ve stuck it out but if living your life with your kid and having decent finances as soon and as painlessly as you can are the ends you are seeking, then go nursing.

I’m also a single mom (21, 19, and 5yr old twins) and started college when the little ones were 13mths old and I was fresh out of a divorce. I never get to see the little ones (my courses are in the a.m. when they’re in school and work 3p-11:30p) but I keep reminding myself that this time away is an investment in our future so I won’t have to always work 2nd and 3rd shift jobs making little $ and never living.

In the meantime, like Josh said, work these little BS jobs we need to work to support ourselves and our kids. Either way never lose sight of the fact that you’ll get where you need to be in due time.

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Grey_GirlPTK October 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Mala–big hugs to you and your son:)

My mother was a single parent with two kids and went into medical field. So I grew up with a mom doing what you are doing and have tremendous respect for you hard work to this point, and the work to come.

I am also now my mother’s full time care giver, she has late stage MS, and attend college full time. So I can relate to trying to juggle bills, study, life, and family care.

I say send out applications to all three and see where you get accepted and what the finacnial aid packages look like. These things will help you decide which is the best choice for you right now. Things like time till graduatition, debt, cost of living, etc will give you a clearer idea of which one fits your needs right now. If you get a job in one of them and wish you had gone another road you can always go back.

Often getting your job to pay for the classes, and you will have one degree so won’t have to take every single class to update/add to your skill set. You will also be employed while taking the other courses so meeting your living needs will be easier.

If the medical field is your passion stay with it. Just take some time to decide what road you want to follow right now. In time you will evolve, learn, and find what works later. It happens to all of us.

I started out a business major. I have an AA in Business Information Technology, and started my BA in Business Administration. But realized that corporate work was not going to make me real happy–miserable more like it. So I changed to History major. I can use my past and current studies to get work in business, or teach, or go into law, etc… So I am faced with a similar attack of which road to take, but for when I graduate.

I do get paid for being mom’s care giver, but the lovely state of Washington pays me half what they would pay a non-family member for doing my job. ($10.67 hr vs. $23 hr) I gave up the second job in order to pursue my education–so student loans. But I know when I’m done I’ll be in a better place going forward.

So hang in there. You will get through all this stress. Just take a breath and work what job(s) you can until you finish which ever program. Your son will thank you for putting in the work. You will feel so happy when finish, have a job in the medical field, and can start going forward in a positive way with the rest of your life.

I know right now it is exhausting trying to do it all. But break it into little steps and just keep ticking off the list. Already you’ve assessed that being where you were wasn’t working. So you relocated, have gone through with the divorce, and are applying to programs that offer better job opportunities. So you have done a lot. It just doesn’t always seem like it while you’re doing it. So don’t look at you “To Do” list in one piece. Tunr it into sections. The next section is getting into a program and setting your schedule for child-care, and stuff. Then keeping ghood grades and graduating… Then finding a job in medical field…etc… If you try and see the whole list you get overwhelmed and feel like it is a loosing battle–I’ve been there.

So breath and know the stress is temporary. There is an end in sight, if only around the next turn out of your line of sight at the moment. You can do this, after all you’ve made it this far:)

Best blessings, and great success to you.

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Deanna October 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I too am a single mom and was pursuing a PharmD (1st career choice) when I didn’t get in I choose nursing since many pre-reqs are the same. If you want the best financial future and you can get into PharmD program and it is a career you want go for that! In my area they start at 48 an hour fresh out of school. Nurses start at 20 and go to school half as long. Ultrasound techs are around 10 an hour but get out of school faster. Not all ultrasound techs work with healthy people and not all nurses work with only sick people. You need to follow your heart and your dreams and not allow anything to stand in the way. Good Luck!

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Lisa December 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Hi Mala,
I was where you are a few years ago. I was older than most when I found myself getting a divorce. I was thirty-three with children who were six, seven and almost ten. I was in a job that I didn’t want anymore and had credit was in the toilet.
So my suggestion is different the the above replies. I say take a minute to breathe. I know that finances are important but if you don’t take the time to settle yourself you will make a wrong choice. I say take a minute to understand your situation. You have to either celebrate your divorce or mourn your marriage. Then you need to measure where your son is in the situation. He should be allowed to find his needs in the situation too. Make sure he is relatively happy and mentally adjusted.
When you have done that, make a list of things that should be handled immediately. You should tackle the citizenship first and foremost; next deal with the degree and transfer paperwork–if this doesn’t get handled the other points are mute. I know this from personal experience.
Next I agree with the other students; you need to pick a career. I would say that to decide you should stop and evaluate your career needs–do you want money or emotional satisfaction. Once you decide that make your plan for that school. You might want to wait a semester and retake your tests based on your needs for entrance.
After that it is full stem ahead. Good luck with your goals and remember you are never given more than you can bear. Even when it feels like it.

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Tiffany March 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

FWIW, I wouldn’t recommend nursing. I’m an RN and I think it’s a great field but new grads are having an impossible time finding jobs right now. Nursing schools are flooding the market, whether or not there actually is a nursing shortage is debatable, and even if it is true, hospitals aren’t hiring to fill the shortages anyway. It’s just not a great time to go into nursing.

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