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Schools for Working Professionals and Parents

When a working professional or busy parent considers going back to school, many roadblocks seem to stand between them and that degree. How will they find the time to take classes when they are working at least 40 hours a week? Will it mean late hours doing reading and homework? When will they have time to walk the dog, exercise and sleep?

Those who have children find even more questions: Where is the time to do homework? How much time is taken away from the family? Who will make dinner? Do the laundry? Keep the house clean? Even when the time is found, where will the money come to pay for this extra education? A few decades ago, these were very real questions that could keep parents or working professionals from pursuing further education. Today, there are a variety of options that can fit into a schedule and make that reach for a degree more tangible.

Good reasons to go after that degree

One reason to seek further education is that it could mean a better chance at the big promotion or increased opportunities in related fields. One of the biggest incentives, however, is the potential increase in income. In 2011 according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who held a bachelor degree earned a median income of $1,053 per week, compared to the $768 earned by those with an associate degree, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In most cases, higher degree attainment means higher pay. Those who earned a master's degree made $1,263 per week, those with a professional degree (such as in law or medicine) made $1,665, and those who earned a doctorate made $1,551. In addition, the higher the degree attained, the lower the rates of unemployment.

Options for juggling obligations and education

Some parents and working professionals can make traditional courses work for them. But in most cases, a more flexible schedule is required. That's where these options can help:

  1. Night or weekend classes. Taking classes at night or on the weekends are convenient for those who work during the day and simply cannot take time off to attend class. The courses are of the same quality as those taught in the usual program, sometimes led by the same professors, and lead to the same degree that those in a more traditional schedule can earn.
  2. Part-time programs. Taking a full-time course load while working a full-time job can be impossible--there simply might not be enough hours in the day to make it work. Part-time courses allow students to take one or two courses per semester, which can often fit into a busy schedule.
  3. Fast-track programs. Certificates and diplomas that can be earned within a few months can temporarily take up that free time but give earning potential a boost. In many cases, earning a certificate can teach a specific skill set that allows a person to expand their duties at work.
  4. Specialized degree programs. Some fast-track programs are very specialized, requiring students to take only courses that pertain to their major. These programs can mean finishing the degree in a shorter period of time.
  5. Online schools. Distance learning can be a convenient alternative for those who have difficulty attending courses in person. Online schools allow students to complete coursework on their own schedule. This can be especially helpful to parents, who can study when their children are sleeping or at school.
  6. Hybrid learning. Some colleges offer a combination of classroom instruction and online education. This can be beneficial for professionals that need to do hands-on work in their new training, but also need increased flexibility. The hands-on courses can be taken in person while courses that focus on knowledge-building can be taken online.

Each of these options offer a more flexible schedule than a traditional classroom education, and that could help when it comes to family and work obligations. Parents might find that flexible scheduling allows them more time with their children while working professionals might appreciate the ability to immediately apply their new knowledge and skills at the workplace.

In addition to the obvious advantages of a flexible schedule, there are economic advantages to taking the non-traditional path. Rather than paying for a semester of full-time courses, non-traditional paths can spread the investment out over time, thus making the financial bottom line easier to tolerate. In addition, some companies cover the cost of education for their employees with the assumption that any skills or knowledge gained will ultimately benefit the company.

Regardless of the educational path chosen, make sure it is legitimate. Avoid diploma mills by choosing accredited programs. Look for colleges that are well-established with several years of experience and that have strong graduation rates to show for it. Finally, consider what financial aid might be available for your chosen program.