Mom Returning To School: Got What It Takes?

Margie’s a wife and mother who’s about to transfer into a four-year school, but she’s not sure she’s got a good enough resume to impress the big boys.

Greetings Judge Josh! I have been an avid reader of your site for a while now and have found your candor to be refreshing and many of your tips to be incredibly useful. Thank you!

Attaway, Mom!

Thanks, and you’re welcome!

However, I haven’t come across anything from people that are in my situation, so I am hoping that you might be able to help me out.

I’ll certainly try.

I am what has been coined a “non-traditional” student. I am a 32 year-old married mother of two. I went into college straight of high school but to be honest with you, I screwed around, and ended up attending 3 different universities in 3 years. Before I knew it, I had run out of money for school and had to choose between eating in a house or eating in a box. I chose the house- it was warmer.

Probably the smart choice.

Ten years later, I was married with 2 kids, a mortgage, working in a mall, and an unhappy college drop-out. At the age of 31 I made the decision to return to colleg finish my degree.

Great! Congrats. It’s not an easy jump to make, I know.

I started at the local community college, primarily because the cost was by far cheaper.

Also a great choice.

Unfortunately, the college does not offer the degree program that I am after (Anthropology) so I know that I am going to have to transfer to a larger university next fall. My grades at the Community college have all been excellent (Dean’s List 3 semesters!),


but as a wife and mother I haven’t had much time to do what is necessary to beef up my resume’ for my application for that transfer.

Well, I’m going to ask the crowd here to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that volunteer work and campus clubs will have very little to do with whether you’re accepted as a transfer student. It’s not the same type of application that you fill out as a freshman trying to get INTO the four-year school in the first place, where you have to wow the committee with what a well-rounded citizen you are. It’s going to be based completely on the transferability of the courses you’ve taken.

For those of you at home who are in the earlier stages of this process, it’s a great idea to pick out the school you want to transfer into as early in the process as you can. That way, you’ll be able to coordinate the transfer and know with more certainty which credits will transfer and which will not.

(Incidentally, this is another great reason to go to community college for a lot of people — it’s like a hidden “back door” to colleges that you may not be able to get into as an incoming freshman. You can get rejected by a school as a new student, and then voila, two years later when you’re a junior, you just fill out the transfer student app with strong grades from your community college, and then you’re in. IT DOESN’T WORK PERFECTLY IN ALL CASES…but it works a lot of the time, especially if you’re moving to a larger institution in the same state that already has a good relationship with your community college. So, just saying…if you’re dying to go to State U. and you get rejected but you don’t want to give up, consider doing community college for the first two years and transferring in as a junior.

I call it the “back door” because it’s really exactly like you see in a movie when the heroes are trying to crash a party or event or something. You can try the front door, but it’s harder because that’s where all the security (admissions committee) is. But if you just hang out for a while, look the part then stroll on around to the back door, then you can light up a smoke with the cooks and dishwashers and then just head back inside with them.)

OK, back to Margie:

I haven’t done any volunteer work

Ha! You mean other than raising your children every day? 🙂

I don’t belong to any campus clubs– there really is nothing that is relevant to put on college app that would give me a leg up.

Again, you’re a transfer so none of this is going to matter a whole lot, I don’t think. But just for kicks, let me fast-forward to the process of applying for both scholarship and jobs and say that campus clubs carry very little weight with judges/employers. They’re nice and all, but other things impress us much more, like work experience and skill mastery. Volunteer work is a notch up on the hierarchy, and it can definitely help you get scholarships (although not so much a job).

Between t-ball games, brownie meetings, and car pool, there really isn’t enough time in the day.

I hear ya, sister. 🙂 I’m a 36-year-old father of two with a third on the way.

The avereage age of the student that attends the university that I will be transferring to is 18-24, that is, straight out of high school.

No worries. That’s the case in most places.

Any suggestions on what I can do to off-set my “non-traditional” status without sounding like a whiney mommy?

A couple years back I wrote this article about taking care of your family that is still very relevant. Here’s the summary: taking care of your family is an underrated and under-mentioned part of scholarship applications. It gets the short shrift.

Taking care of your family is one of the most important things you can do in your life. It’s a primary component of the criteria we use to judge people as human beings. You can be a scoundrel in a variety of other areas of life, even, and as long as you take care of your family, you’re probably going to be viewed as at least a halfway decent person.

But students don’t often think of this when it comes time to apply for colleges and scholarships. They think what Margie thinks — that my resume isn’t strong enough because I don’t have student government or Future Business Leaders of America or other such things on it.

Bah! Totally false. Taking care of your family isn’t AS important as those things — it’s MORE important! So don’t be afraid to mention the nuts and bolts of what you do every day for your family on any application that requires you to account for how you spend your time.

Don’t be afraid to announce your dedication to spending hours every day with your children as they grow up. It’s more valuable and admirable than anything you could be doing on campus.

Any advice you could give a mom returning to school would be super appreciated!

Well, that’s mine — I hope it helps. Anyone else out there have advice for a mom headed into the second half of school? Let us know in the comments below.

32 thoughts on “Mom Returning To School: Got What It Takes?”

  1. As Josh said, being a good parent isn’t necessarily a strike against you. It shows you can juggle many things and manage your time effectively. Besides, what is helping out the Brownie troop, if not volunteering?! Mention those things in your essay, if the 4 year school requires them. I specifically stated how I wanted to be a better example to my much younger brother and be the first in my family to finish college. If/when essays are required, work and family experience can only help you.

    I started Columbia University in my 30s and many of my peers in the non-traditional program were moms. One had beat cancer and promised herself she’d do something with her life if she survived. She was active in student council, worked FT at an investment bank and eventually transitioned from an Executive Assistant there to an Analyst upon graduating Summa Cum Laude. It’s doable.

    Actually, I think the parents did better than those of us who did not have kids and who were single. It was difficult to work that hard for Bs and I often doubted the investment and everything I sacrificed (stable job, social life, travel). The people who were parents were more organized, had things they cared about outside of school (their family!) and kept things in perspective.

    As Josh pointed out, state universities often have agreements with the community colleges to admit students who complete certain requirements. Here in CA, admission to the Cal State or UC 4 year college is GUARANTEED if you complete the course requirements. Courses with CAN (California Articulation Numbers) are guaranteed to be transferable to any 4 year state university. Granted, you might not get into the highly competitive UCs (Berkeley, UCLA) without top grades and perhaps extracurricular activities, but there are many other fine state universities here and I’m sure wherever you live.

    I’d also encourage you to think about long term goals and income potential with your major. It’s nice to study what you love, but as others have pointed out — your family will have to make sacrifices (financial, time investment, redistribution of family duties) for you to attend a 4 year university and ultimately it sounds like you want to broaden your job opportunities. That said, I had a friend who majored in anthro who is now in law school, so not all doors are closed by a particular major. But think long and hard about what your long term goals are and whether this major is the best path to them. Do your research about careers you’re interested in and how to get there.

    Most of all, don’t assume doors are closed to you because of your age and being a parent. When I graduated from Columbia, there was at least one new mom crossing the stage, infant in her arms. There were grandparents, retired business owners, people from every walk of life. I had a similar rich peer group in junior college, when I was a traditional-aged student. Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table, intellectually. I always knew I’d graduate from an Ivy League university, in spite of getting so-so grades in my teens and early 20s. Non-traditional students tend to do better because they WANT to be there, they’re spending their own money, they have a better understanding of who they are, they take things seriously and they have learned from past mistakes.

    You may want to go to a school like Columbia, with a specific program and support system for non-traditional students. Unfortunately, there is still some animosity toward that program as a “back door” into Columbia and that gets old…but since we have the highest undergraduate GPA at Columbia, we take it in stride! Or, you may choose the school nearest you. Again, consider what your needs and goals are, and don’t assume age/parental status are strikes against you.

    1. Hi!

      I agree as one of those non-traditional student! I am a black women who is married with three teenage children ages 16, 14 and 13. y husband and I are both in online school and I am majoring in Business Admin. I just turned 39 on the 20th of this month (Sep). I have a 3.28 GPA and I have so much on my resume it is only getting to the proper person who will look past the standards and look for a good fit for their company. In terms of colleges, I was accepted into a Ivy league school who then due to budget cuts rescinded their offer. I was devastated for about 3 days then I realized the blessing I had been handed. Not only did I not have to uproot my family- did I mention they are all teenagers- I saved myself about 100,000 in debt for my education, which is essentially the same at the smaller online school that I chose. I also just recently discovered that the company that I want to work for has specific agreements with only this school for new hires. (Yea me)So nontraditional learner that you are I would say stay focused on your long-term goals and research research research, you will be surprised what you can learn with the proper networking and stop focusing on what you think you do not have and concentrate on the multitude of things you do have. One is the support system that 18-24 year olds may be lacking that wonderful family and supportive husband who can help you with your homework and kids all at the same time- not to mention those midnight back rubs while you hunker over your desk. Smile it will only get better with age.

  2. Margie:

    I’m a non-traditional applicant too. Josh is totally right about community college being the back door. For entry students, they really want to make sure you’re not going to waste a seat in already overfilled entry level classes … they want to make sure you’re serious. If you’ve already completed the General Ed classes, especially with a high GPA, you’re serious and they know it. Welcome to College. I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak to that aspect, and I know it’s going to take huge cooperation from your husband and kids to do it, but if they are willing, you will have good opportunities to work with professionals who hopefully are active in your field. One other suggestion — even as an entering Junior, you will have plenty of writing assignments. Whenever possible, use those writing assignments to write about what your particular passion is. For me, it’s educating young deaf children in English literacy and Writing. I’ve been able to write about some aspect of that in my Junior Writing class, Sociolinguistics, and now in a Learning and Memory class. Use every writing opportunity as a research opportunity to go more in depth into what it is you want to do. You can compile your writing efforts and use those as a packet of material showing how serious you are about your studies, and what kind of research you have done. Best of success to you — J

  3. Transferring to a four year college is the easiest thing, you don’t really need to impress them much with other than your GPA, and awesome story about a mom returning to school. You won’t have any problems, I’m sure. BTW in what state do you live and to what school are you planning to go to, because here I’m just referring to how it is in NY at CUNY schools.

  4. Did it myself and can attest to letting my kids watch too much television, playdates have been minimal, and the house is always a mess. That is not to mention the 20+ pounds I’ve gained from all the take-out and sitting at the computer. This was the cost of graduating with a 3.75 GPA.

  5. I went back to school at age 35 and got my ADN (associate’s in nursing, 2 years) at a local junior college.

    Then, 13 years later, went back to school to get my BSN (bachelor’s in nursing).

    My question is this: “what benefit, other than personal satisfaction, will a degree in anthropology give you?”. You can learn a lot of anthropology outside of the university setting, saving yourself tons of time and money with no hardship on the family. A bachelors in anthropology probably won’t make you any more money than you’re making now. You’ll have to go on to get a master’s degree in it and teach at the jr. college level.

    Like Josh, said, there are no issues with transferring from a community college to a university. You just…transfer…badda bing badda boom! You’re in.

    I would strongly recommend getting a degree in something that will improve your quality of life when it’s all over with, though. Putting yourself and your family through the stress of attending college isn’t worth it in my opinion, unless there will be some sort of reward at the end other than that piece of paper that says ‘hey I got a degree in something I was really interested in’.

    And really, older students are generally the better students because they don’t party and they don’t take education for granted. But again, unless you plan on getting the master’s degree, I would learn as much as possible on my own and forego the cost and stress of the formal degree.

  6. You can do it! I did the transfer route after taking a long break when my son was diagnosed with autism. I got in, got my B.A. and I am in a doctoral program now. As a single parent. I am sure there are more non-trads out there at the school you are thinking of too! Ask your advisor, they may be able to point you to the places they hang out in between classes.

  7. Margie just described my situation almost exactly.

    I had no problem going from community college to the 4-year university. It might be different if you’re applying to Harvard or something, but I got into my state school easy as pie. Not only that, I got accepted into a fairly prestigious undergraduate research program and have received several departmental scholarships since starting there.

    I think the most important thing to do as a non-traditional student is to own the fact that you’ve made mistakes in the past, and to embrace your other responsibilities in life. It makes the time you give to school that much more valuable since your time is at a premium.

    As for the “[get] a degree in something that will improve your quality of life” argument, my take is this: you have waited this long to finish your degree. Do something you are going to love. Too many people see their job as drudgery. You’ll be a lot happier if you love your job.

  8. Re: pam g – I totally disagree with you. You can be as self-motivated a learner as you like, but there’s nothing to compare with the opportunity to bat ideas around in a class full of people who are there because they’re just as interested in whatever bizarre subject it is as you are.

    Similarly, there is no such thing as a useless degree (whatever Avenue Q might sing to the contrary) – college is one of the only opportunities you get to take a subject that really interests you, and study it in depth. Broadening your horizons and expanding your education will improve your quality of life, regardless of whether it increases your paycheck. And, no matter whether the subject itself leads directly to a lucrative career, the fact of having stuck at something long enough to get those little letters after your name does say something to prospective employers. Fields like anthropology, history, English and other highly academic subjects, while they may not have career implications as direct as, say, hotel management or neurosurgery, do tell prospective employers that you have dedication, an eye for detail, a good memory for facts and figures and probably a creative mind with a high capacity for problem-solving and recognising patterns. That can put you in a prime position for employment as an executive assistant, a journalist, a social worker or any number of other rewarding, respected and even lucrative positions. My original major was linguistics, with a focus in Latin, Classical Greek and Sanskrit: utterly useless as a subject in and of itself, but an excellent basis for graduate or professional studies in stenography, interpretation, speech therapy or even law.

    In other words, shame on you, pam g, for dismissing education for education’s sake. And kudos, Margie, for going for it!

  9. Go for it Margie! I’m guessing you’re considering the closest in-state 4-year and I think that’s a great idea. Like Judge Josh said, the selectivity of most places drops for transfer students, to get a better idea I would use to see what the required GPA and credits are. I agree that raising a family is twice as impressive as any club membership! I think you have a great shot and wish you the best of luck!

  10. Thanks you guys for all of the supportive feedback and great tips! I really appreciate them all.

    I left a few details out because I didn’t know how relevant they would be to the discussion, but I will throw them in because as it turns out, those details were more relevant than I had first guessed.

    My current major is in History, because (as I previously stated) my local community college doesn’t offer an Anthro major. The closest (and as it turns out, the best) university that offers my desired major is Grand Valley State University, which is about 2 hours from my home. I have toured the campus, had many conversations with an admissions counsellor, and even chatted up some alumns. I have also been getting academic advising from my Anthro prof, as well as my History prof, so I did not just randomly choose Anthropology as a degree. When I transfer to GVSU next fall, I will be sure to get my MACRO stamp so that all of my credits transfer, and changing my current History major to a minor and replace it with Anthro.

    I am already looking past the undergrad years. As an undergrad, I will already have at least one publication under my belt, an NAS certificate, and both will be degree related. These, combined with what I hope to be a maintained 3.86 GPA will help get me into one of the 2 schools that I have been eyeing for years to do my grad work: Penn State (which I have already toured) and University of New Mexico (one of the 3 schools in 3 years). My husband and I have already discussed educational options and opprotunities and he (and my kiddos) are behind me.

    I am not by any means distracted by the romanticized visions of Anthropology that Harrison Ford and Kathy Reichs have left in the minds of the American populace. I am considering the vast number of job opprotunities out there for someone with a degree in Anthropology- ranging anywhere from government sub-contracting to researcher at a local news station. I am frequently asked what I would do with this kind of degree and my reply is always the same: “What wouldn’t I do with it?” This is something that I love, and getting paid to do it is an amazing thing.
    But looking at the application for admission was a little frightening. There were so many blank spaces where I thought there should have been *something* and I was beginning to freak out. I quit a crappy 40hr/wk job to spend more time with my family and go back to school and those blank spots made me second guess my decisions. I guess I never considered helping out at Brownies or on my daughter’s field trips as volunteering. I just figured it was part of being a mommy. It’s a relief to know that being a parent counts in more ways than just the obvious!

  11. I am doing it now, on my third year. Margie, go for it, no need for any of the extra clubs or anything. Just do your transfer and dig in!
    There are a few things that suffer, but if hubby helps and kids see the importance of college, it will all be good!

  12. Margie,

    Congratulations on your decision to continue your education and invest in yourself! I am a 45 year old mother of ten kids ages 19-5 and I returned to a community college two years ago to wrap up the few classes that I needed to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in psychology. Since time is a huge factor when raising a family, I decided to transfer to a college that provided a year round educational program. So instead of carrying four full classes, which is impossible in my situation, I chose to attend a school that offers classes year round to allow me to take two at a time to avoid the risk of graduating in my 80’s.

    Surround yourself with people who will encourage, guide and support you. My family has had to pitch in to keep things going, but they know that this is important to me and that it will benefit all of us in the future. I am a different kind of student now and I will make a much better therapist than I would have in my late 20’s. This is your time to grow, an enriched mother will only enhance your mothering. You are also a great role model to your children and others that it is never too late to realize a dream. Enjoy the journey!

  13. Rebecca Donnelly

    Hi Margie,

    i support the community college route and advise you to get a teaching minor. i say this because i am an anthro major/histroy minor. luckily, i got a job in a museum as student and have been there 11 years. as i find myself in the midst of a career change due to budget cuts, i advise you to get a teaching minor so you have something to fall back on. most employers don’t know what anthro is and do not even recognize the degree as providing you employable skills ( i mean most don’t even know what anthro is). i ignored this for the love of the subject and find myself going back to school for a masters in education to make myself more employable. work experience has proven to be my most valuable asset in all of this. if you want to be anthropologist or archaeologist or linguist you will be expected to research, write and publish all of which i hope you enjoy. I however did not enjoy dealing with the inhabitants of the ivory tower. it is a very interesting subject and really everyone should be required to learn from anthro in public school to reduce social conflicts, but people feed off being ingorant and hating “the other”. (That is a whole different post.) Anyhow, if you want to do anthro, set yourself up for something else at the same time that is more directly employable like teaching.

  14. Margie,
    I decided to attend community college at 36. My efforts/grades earned me acceptance and a transfer scholarship to my chosen state university. I haven’t had the time nor the energy to join any student groups but I have been invited to an invitation-only honor society for my hard work. Non traditional students are recognized and commended for their efforts.
    Go for it!

  15. Margie,
    I decided to attend community college at 36. My efforts/grades earned me acceptance and a transfer scholarship to my chosen state university. I haven’t had the time nor the energy to join any student groups but I have been invited to an invitation-only honor society for my hard work. Non traditional students are recognized and commended for their efforts.
    Go for it!

  16. I’m not a “non-traditional” student, but I have some insight into transferring-and-not-thinking-you’re-qualified. I recently transferred from Bakersfield College (CC in California’s great, asthma-inducing Central Valley!) to University of California, Berkeley. I never have belonged to a club in my life, and my GPA was a rather unimpressive 3.6. I am a history major.

    In my essay, I was frank about my GPA. I said that when I started college I was unmotivated, a poor student. The last 3 semesters before transfer, I had a 4.0, so all the poor grades were a ways in the past. Despite my low hopes, I got into all three colleges I applied to (Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Davis).

    In addition to my lackluster record, the only things I had were a few essay contest awards. However, I think what probably most impressed the admissions people is that I had/have a very clear idea of my academic interests. I intend to pursue a PhD, and since you’re going for anthropology I assume you’re rather academically inclined as well. I laid out in detail my future research plans as they stood at the time, and did so confidently. I think this helped to offset my unimpressive GPA (again, I also drew attention to the fact that my screw ups weren’t as recent as my successes).

    Since you’re “non-traditional,” you probably have a leg up in the “having thought about what you want to do with your life” department. So I say, in the written portion of your transfer application(s), don’t be afraid to confidently state what your plans for the future are. Sure, you screwed around in college initially, but that’s less important than having a clear plan for the future. Admissions people, I think, aren’t so much interested in a few bad grades/choices in the past if you illustrate convincingly that you will succeed in the future. After all, their job is to pick students who will be successful, no?

  17. Josh,

    I think as long as she has the support of family and friends she can go into a four year college. I am transferring into a four year college in January 2011, they tell me if you are not nervous then something is wrong. She’s come too far to stop now. The kids will understand as long as you explain it to them. Besides mom’s are always there it will be refreshing for dad to attend some of those meetings.

  18. Margie,

    I do not have kids or a husband, but I am a non-traditional student. I am 41 years old, work full time as a caregiver for my mother–who is severly disabled. In fact I dropped out of college in my 20s to help her thinking at the time that it would be a 3-5 year commitment and it is now 19 years later.

    I went back to college–Seattle Central Community–in 2005 and graduated in 2008 with an AA in Business Information Technology, and a 3.57 GPA. The only club I joined was Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. I did that due to being able to get scholarships as a member and to have at least one activity that would look good on applications that addmissions folks could relate to. In 2008 I applied to several schools and got accepted to all of them–Smith, Mount Holyoke, etc… I even had offers for nearly full rides, and one full ride scholarship:) But due to my family situation I did not have enough resources to cover relocating both me and my mom back east, so I stayed in Washington. Of course it was right at the height of the economic downturn so I didn’t find a job with my AA degree, so I applied to colleges within Washington for my bachelor degree intent on continuing my education to the next level.

    I am was accepted to Seattle University and recently switched from being a Business major to History. I will be a junior in the fall and am looking forward to the program. I have even started looking toward a grad program.

    Sure as a non-trad of over 40 I sometimes feel I don’t fit with the 19-20 somethings; however, I am more focused then they are. I don’t get caught up in parties, or relationship drama that can derail their progress. Of course, I sometimes have to decide to settle for a B- on a paper instead of the A I know I am capable of because of a health emergency with mom that cutts into my time. But I tend to get As on most assignments so those Bs don’t destroy my overall grade. Most of my professors like that there is a student in class that gets there humour referrences–most are my age or a little older.

    I know why I am in classes, where I want my education to take me, and what questions to ask (or at least more of them) then the traditional students. Life experience helps a lot in planning my time, work, and life more effectively.

    For volunteering… Doing Brownies, Girl/Boy Scouts, and other activities is still volunteering. You are managing people/activities, and you are not getting paid for it. Also helping with PTA functions and so on counts, too. I know there are a lot of people that think of being a home-maker or caregiver is not a “real” job, and does not count as applicable life experiences. But those folks are completly wrong. Your skills as a caregiver: management–both time and money, organizational skills, people skills, negotiation skills–if you have more than one kid you have had to mediate some conflicts, conflict resolution, etc…. You just need to learn how to use the vocabularly that fits others requirements.

    Anthorpology is a major I have interest in, too. Thankfully at SU many of my History courses look at not just the dates/places of things but at the why and how. So it has Anthro leanings. So I get both interest with one major:)

    As for those, including Josh, that claim such majors (History, English, Anthro, etc…) won’t get you a good job or repay loan debt don’t know what they are talking about. With a BA in History I can teach (elementry level), go into Law, go into Business, research, become an author (fiction or non-fiction), historian, work for TV and movie companies, acting, etc… Not just museumes. I can chose to pursue a master or Phd… I am not forced only into acedamia by a long shot. So if Anthro is your passion go for it.

    Sounds like your husband and kids are with you:) So it may take a little work to figure out your schedule for juggling family and study time, but it can most certainly be done. My mom thought I was crazy to go back to school at my age and that it would mean debt (so far about $20k in loans) and a waste of time. But I know when the time comes and she passes I can not get better than min wage jobs with out an education of at least BA level. So inspite of the challenges I am getting it done. It will take hard work to finish but it will be more then worth it when I’m done.

  19. I normally do not comment due to lack of time but I have to on this one. I am a single mom of two who also completed my
    Associate at a community college, I am now transferring into a four year private college (because it has the program that I need at the times that I need to go), now this is a continuing education program, but, my adviser has given me the impression that I would be accepted no matter what due to my grades, I also commend you for your awesome grades! It is very hard to find time to study while trying to manage a household, that in itself speaks greatly for your academic commitment and I believe should be mentioned. That is not whining, it is being proud of your great accomplishments! This is completely doable and kudos to you for taking these steps for your family! I also had no time to participate in extra curricular activities, due to full time work and two boys, but had no problems transferring into this college. Go for it and good luck!

  20. rading this really helped me. i’m in a different yet veru similar situatuob=n right now. i’m married 20 yr old mom of a 13 month old. i’m planning on transfering to a 4 year university in the spring. have already been accepted but don’t know what to major in! i keep getting comments like those of pam g to choose subjects for fin. reasons etc. i also had a passion for anthropology and linguistics but was told i won’t have a job after college. but this article and all your advice for margie really helped me out!

  21. Transferring from a community college to a university is amazingly easy if you have good grades. I was halfway through a degree in biotech when I heard a local university (large, private, and highly selective) had an articulation agreement with my community college for my major that made transferring painless. I had not intended to go any further but decided to check it out, and found that my CC credits would transfer so well I would need only one year at the university to get my bachelor’s. I applied, and was accepted very quickly. I was surprised that they didn’t request letters of reference. When I asked about thet I was told that all they needed was my transcript. I’m also non-traditional, much older, widowed, with one child still home, and forced into a wheelchair by hip problems. If the university knows the CC is fairly rigorous transfer is easy, and if there is an articulation agreement it seems to come down to transcript alone. Investigate this, make sure your CC is in fact a good one, and try to find out if there are any articulation agreements- I bet you’ll be surprised by how easy the process is, and another thing is I heard just a week or two after I applied, none of this waiting 5 or 6 months like the high school kids do to hear if they’re in. Go for it!

  22. As a professor of mine once reminded me “this isn’t a practice life”. Stop and think about what you do as a mom: you budget, plan and direct/oversee daily operations, and it’s fast-paced, and thriving. The time invested driving car-pool, and with scouts (don’t you fund-raise and provide ecological awareness to your troop?) are the volunteerism/clubs you belong to.

    It’s good that your husband and kids are supportive. With your GPA, it’s obvious that you are a conscientious student. You mention the school is two hours away, but didn’t include how you would resolve the distance. If you take a rental near school, would you only see your family on weekends? If you commute the hours spent driving eat into family and study time, plus they wear you down. When I transferred to the university near me, what was suppose to be a 2 hr round-trip commute turned into 3 hrs. due to traffic (traveling during peak times) and road construction. Plus, I made the mistake of jumping in taking 18 hrs. Looking back, I should have taken 12 hrs. initially to acclimate to the new routine and then taken more classes once I adapted to the routine.

    Another thing to consider is being ‘core complete’ when you transfer. It could save you time and money. If they have an articulation agreement with the CC it could save you from having to take whatever university classes your school promotes. I wasn’t core complete (lacking one biology class) and wound up falling under the university academic requirements for all incoming freshmen and had to take an additional 12 hrs of ‘university core’ classes. Best wishes with your goals. Keep in mind that non-traditional students offer a different perspective from the typical younger student: life/job experiences.

  23. I went back to school after 25 yrs of military life and 6 kids, my husband and son were 5 hrs away from my university. I am part of an honors frat, a vet’s group, and 6 honors based organizations, I carry a 3.5-to a 4.0 gpa and have taken advantage of the study abroad program. Did I mention I’m over 50?? Oh. and I have a driving force-5 granddaughters. I want to be the one they think of when stuff gets hard, if gramma can do this, they can deal with whatever. You are NEVER too old to chase a dream or to make one come true. and when you quit learning you might as well hang it up. It does take someone who is as invested in you as you yourself and my husband and kids are my biggest cheerleaders. IF you really want this, you will make it happen. My only true warning is dont do what I did- 22 credit hr semesters will make you crazy, stick with 12-15.

  24. Some great schools have programs specifically for people returning to school at a non-traditional age that nevertheless treat you like a normal student, financial assistance and housing options included. Check out the Davis Degree program at Wellesley.

  25. @Dani: there is nothing wrong with getting an “education for education’s sake”, UNLESS, it interferes with the lives of young children depending on their mom to raise them and not a nanny or babysitter while mom is off persuing her intellectual dream.

    Plus, I did mention that a degree is anthropology is fine if she is planning on continuing into graduate school, but – and I have personal experience with a bachelor’s degree in a subject that isn’t a ‘career’ – if she stops at a bachelors she may be disappointed.

    I don’t know why folks are so afraid to admit that a person can be highly “educated” without going to school. My own husband, for example, does have an engineering degree, BUT, he has enough knowledge about history to teach it, specifically WWII and aerospace history. I’m just saying, that a person can be extremely well-educated without ever stepping foot inside a college classroom. AND there are plenty of folks with degrees that cannot find a job that pays the bills.

    There is nothing wrong with admitting that our society is changing. Education is changing. The economy is changing. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t sugarcoat our advice and tell it like it is……that if you want to get a BA in something vague (which I did the first time around, a BA in psychology), then understand what the consequences will be. But, if you want a CAREER, then you have to get a degree in something specific that will train you for that career.

    People write into this site with money woes all the time. I’m just saying there are ways to achieve your goals of education without sacrificing money and family.

  26. in response to the quote below:

    “As for those, including Josh, that claim such majors (History, English, Anthro, etc…) won’t get you a good job or repay loan debt don’t know what they are talking about. With a BA in History I can teach (elementry level), go into Law, go into Business, research, become an author (fiction or non-fiction), historian, work for TV and movie companies, acting, etc… Not just museumes. I can chose to pursue a master or Phd… I am not forced only into acedamia by a long shot. So if Anthro is your passion go for it.”

    Everything you mentioned with the exception of becoming an author and being an actor, will require further education (and you don’t even need the degree to be an author or an actor).

    This reinforces what I stated earlier, that as long as people realize that they’re going to need more than a bachelor’s degree, then fine, go for it! But to tell someone they can be a lawyer with a degree in English or history or anthropology is misleading and isn’t helpful at all. Even to be a teacher at the elementary level you’re going to have to go back to school to get a teaching certificate (at least in Texas you do, because at the elem level it is social studies, not history, and you have to be trained for it).

  27. I’m also a non-traditional student. I’m 51 years old and I will be attending a private university this fall. I’ve spent the last few years attending community college. I attended half-time and worked part-time up until this last semester. I worked full time and took a full time course load – 12 hours.I also have a medically disabled husband and a 16 yr old @ home. Keep your grades up, make sure your credits transfer,and you should be ok. Volunteer work shouldn’t be an issue. I am pursuing my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I had credits sitting on the back burner, the perfect time to go back was never going to show up, and I didn’t want to regret not having completed something worthwhile that I started.I’ve had lots of crisis’. My health, my husbands’, my teenager, and alot of unexpected things happened but, I’m still in the race. You’ll do fine. GOD bless you and your family.

  28. I have a similar situation. I went back to school at 26 as a recent divorcee and single mother of two young children. Now I am in grad school, hoping to be done in May. 🙂

    I spent the first twelve months at the community college finishing my AA. I then transferred to a private 4-year university up river 30+ minutes. Here they have a program dedicated to commuters and non-traditional students. (They lumped it together because the majority of non-traditional students commute.) The lady in charge organizes gathering of all types for us to get together and interact. All majors are included. So there have been many of my classes where there were other non-traditional students.

    Because of this, I usually didn’t feel lonely. And those classes where I was the only one I made a few good friends that were traditional students. (Who often think it’s amazing that your in school when you have children.)

    Other interesting information that may help someone:

    In Iowa, many of the university’s have guaranteed acceptance transfer agreements with the community colleges. But these have to be completed prior to earning 30 credit hours.

    If you haven’t done so, register as an Adult Girl Scout. Doing so provides you with document-able volunteer work as a co-leader, committee person, other adult helper.
    There is a President’s Volunteer web-site ( where you enter your volunteer activities and the amount of time you spend on the activity. They award those with certain levels of volunteer hours.

    My career counselor at the career center keeps telling me that I need more volunteering on my resume (she wants 5). Her suggestion for doing this was getting involved in several organizations where you volunteer on an annual basis. She said the more opportunities that are major related assist with professional experience when applying for grad school and jobs.

  29. Sheila Chappell

    I think you should go for it. I am 46 years old and my children are adults but I decided to return to school. I attend online and I find it very rewarding. Although I do not have small children I do have a very spoiled husband and many, many other priorities but returning to school is so rewarding. I had to focus on what I really wanted and then putting things in priority really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I first had to convince myself that this is something good for me. I had to be a little selfish to realize that it is okay for me to be good to me and to work towards satisfying me. Go for it! If you ever need an encouraging word email me, I’ll email you back!

  30. I am a divorced mother of 2 elementary age children, 8 and 11, and a 40 year old college freshman. I never went to college after high school. I had “better” things to do with my time back then, lol. If only I knew. Don’t let your age or situation talk you out of going to college. You AND your family will be better for the experience. It won’t be easy and the family may resent it initially but HANG TOUGH!! Also, be sure to find your college’s Non-Traditional Student Association!!!!! A peer group all your own! They can help and do understand what you’re going thru!! Good luck!!!!

  31. Congrats on going back to school! I’m in the same boat as you and have figured a few things out:
    1. Josh is right. Listen to him.
    2. Meet with advisers from your Community College and your prospective University to work out a class schedule that will get you transferred with a minimum of hassle.
    3. Check for “transfer degrees” at your Community College. I attend a Comm COll in Maryland. They have many degrees that are designed to transfer nicely to any of the University of Maryland schools.
    4. Check to see if your school has an Honors program or Honor Society if you really want something to put on your application that doesn’t take up a whole lot of time. I was invited to join both of these at my school based on my placement test and GPA. The honors classes are a little more advanced but, aside from that, there is no time commitment to take you away from your family.

    Good luck!

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