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Going back to school when you have a family, a job and a mile-long to-do list takes guts. It also takes planning, commitment and realistic expectations. We rounded up the best advice from students, professors and counselors to help you take that big step in a way that works for you, your family and your life.

1. Tell your employer what’s up.

If you have a full- or part-time job, it’s a good idea to tell your employer you’re going to school. Most managers will admire your initiative and give you schedule flexibility or other support if you need it.

2. Give yourself a balance break.

We know, everyone says they want work-life balance or school-life balance. If you can achieve it, great! But let’s be real: when you go to college, the scales may tip toward studying for a while, especially if you take an intense subject or you discover something you’re passionate about. And that’s OK.

3. Schedule your studies.

You have a work schedule, a class schedule, maybe even a workout schedule. So why not block out specific times to study? That way, you’ll keep up with homework, your family will know what to expect and you’ll be more likely to graduate on time.

4. Yes, just say no.

People who go to college after they’re established in life usually have an ambitious streak. That’s a good thing, as long as you don’t take on too much. While you’re in school, you might need to drop out of the carpool, give up your spot on the volunteer committee and let someone else take care of dinner a few nights a week.

5. Take care of yourself.

Eat right and exercise. You’ve heard it a million times, but it really does help when you’re juggling several major life priorities at the same time. You’ll not only feel better and be less stressed, your grades may get a boost too.

6. Pick the right program for you.

For a lot of working adults, pursuing a degree online is a convenient, practical option. But once you’ve made that decision, how do you pick a school? After narrowing the list to those with the courses and timeframes you want, dig a little deeper to find out if you can complete the whole program online, whether real-time participation is required and how much real-world experience the instructors have. Make sure the school and degree program you pick are fully accredited, too. If you need some additional assistance, try our “How to Choose” Checklist to help narrow down your choices.

7. Be OK asking for help.

A great thing about college is that most of them have really good support systems. Whether you’re struggling with studies, workload, time management or other issues, there’s usually a professor or counselor you can turn to for help.

8. Give yourself some space.

If at all possible, set up a space at home dedicated to your studies – and don’t use it for anything else. That way, when you’re there, the family will know not to disturb you and you’ll be able to get in the school frame of mind more easily.

9. Set goals and celebrate.

Getting an online degree can take a couple of years or longer. Set interim goals, like making an A on a certain test or completing a big assignment early – then reward yourself and your family when you hit your targets. After all, you deserve it!

10. Enjoy the ride.

The chance to get a college education, grow intellectually and professionally, and possibly earn more money is a dream come true for many people. Grab on and get all you can from this amazing experience!

 

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