8 Tips for Balancing College, Work, and Childcare
By Doug Wintemute
Reviewed by Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC
Published on September 7, 2021
- Proper planning and preparation can keep student parents organized.
- A schedule for work, school, childcare, and relaxation can help you avoid burnout.
- Prioritizing flexibility and self-care can lead to more positive mental health outcomes.
Higher education brings with it many challenges, but being a parent in college can be especially difficult. A 2019 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that roughly half of student parents leave school without completing their degree.
Without proper preparation and support, these learners can struggle with finances, academics, and self-care. Thankfully, many schools and state governments have introduced specialized support for parents to help them balance college, work, and childcare.
In this guide, we spotlight helpful tips that student parents can use to improve their odds of success and their overall experience in higher education.
Review Your Course Syllabi and Plan Ahead
Most students parenting while in college face similar challenges, but everyone's individual situation and schedule is unique. These learners need to plan ahead for college to avoid conflicting responsibilities and potential backlogs of schoolwork, especially during busy periods.
Before starting courses, student parents can review their syllabi to get an idea about their class schedules, workloads, and project and exam dates. You can often find syllabi online or by asking your professors or academic advisor. Student services can also help learners identify spots in their schedule that might cause problems.
Student parents can then seek out accommodations for these challenging periods. If they approach their professors and/or managers early — and with proper etiquette and transparency — they may be able to gain extensions, alternative deadlines, or time off, depending on their needs. The more advanced notice instructors and employers have, the more assistance they may be able to provide.
Create a Schedule and Set Weekly Goals
Because prospective student parents know when their work and home schedules are busiest, they can choose a class schedule that aligns with their needs best. They can pick the classes and class times that accommodate the healthiest work-life balance. Student services can also help learners create their schedules.
Bear in mind that midterms and finals week are generally the most demanding times of the semester — plan ahead and be compassionate with yourself during these periods.
One of the best ways to stay organized is to create a complete schedule that incorporates downtime, travel time, and study time. While many students strive to complete courses and programs in the most direct way that takes the shortest amount of time, practicing self-care and avoiding college burnout can be even more important.
Learners should also consider setting reasonable weekly goals that help them stay on track and meet targets. You should start studying and working on projects as early as possible to develop a routine and reduce cramming and heavy last-minute workloads. You can then reward yourself with breaks and leisure time to incentivize sticking to the routine.
Prep Meals in Advance
Student nutrition can impact both health and academic success. Student parents should think about their own health, as well as their children's well-being. Preparing food ahead of time helps ensure that parents and children have access to healthy meals when they need them without having to rush or stress.
Meal prep can also save a great deal of time and money for student parents. Rather than spending money on fast food or traveling to a store or restaurant, you can simply eat or reheat your prepped meals. Student parents can prepare sandwiches, salads, and microwavable meals well in advance, even making multiple meals at once.
Make Time for Family Activities
While balancing work and school, students with children also need to make room for family outings and activities. Parenting while in college can be difficult for parents and children, but losing out on quality time with family can lead to regrets and burnout.
Early on, learners should look for availability in their schedule and plan weekend activities. Extended vacations might be difficult to arrange, but booking visits to local attractions on the weekends or even picnics at a nearby park can help you recharge.
Depending on the age and attention span of their children, student parents might find it easier to plan more free-flowing activities rather than outings with rigid schedules and tight timelines. Some schools also offer on-campus activities and events for student parents — a great and easy way to have fun with your kids and meet other parents.
Carve Out a Study Space at Home
Since many student parents study from home, a private space they can use when they need to study or complete an assignment is essential. If possible, this space should be isolated, free of distractions, and quiet. Individual learners know the environments they work in best as well as how much space they have at home.
A separate study space can give you privacy from your children and help you get into the right mindset. A busy living room might not be the most conducive space for retaining information, while a calm environment with the right essential materials can do wonders for the process.
Befriend Other Students, Especially Other Parents
Making friends in college may not be a top priority for all student parents, but having the right connections can help in many ways. Associating with other parents who are also managing schoolwork and family commitments can help you feel supported and less isolated.
Student parents can form study groups that work around one another's busy schedules. Friends can make group projects less stressful and may allow you to collect notes or insights from any classes you miss. These friendships can also lead to more campus involvement, which may enhance the college experience and even lead to better postgraduate opportunities.
Choose a Job That Offers Flexibility
For student parents looking for a job, flexibility is often an important consideration. Factors like pay and job happiness may also be critical, but flexibility can afford learners the time and space they need to complete their studies as best as they can while fulfilling their parenting duties.
Flexible college jobs may allow student parents to build their own schedules or strategically plan shifts around classes. Many schools offer work-study programs to qualifying learners. Student parents may also want to consider remote jobs, which allow them to work from home.
Landing a job that offers flexibility can be challenging, but a well-written resume and interview preparation can help. Learners might want to speak with their school's career services team during their job hunting process to see if they can help identify or secure flexible positions.
Practice Regular Self-Care
Balancing work and school is no easy task, and adding parenting duties to the mix can create even more challenges. Stress and overstretching yourself can lead to burnout and mental health challenges, so learners should prioritize stability and take the proper steps and precautions to maintain their mental and physical health.
Colleges around the country are experiencing a mental health crisis, and institutions aren't always equipped to offer adequate support. As a result, students may need to develop their own mental health coping skills.
An important thing to consider is scheduling and making room for proper rest and relaxation. Student parents should take regular breaks from studying and working. Even during a busy week, downtime can be more productive and beneficial than hard work, especially in the long run.
Rayelle Davis is a nationally board-certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Davis earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. Davis is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.
Rayelle Davis is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Feature Image: Dianne Avery Photography / Moment / Getty Images