One of the benefits of working at a university is remitted tuition. This allows employees (and their spouses and children) to take classes for free. Given the cost of a college education these days, it’s the reason some people will take any job they can get on a college campus.

The other day I heard a story about a young janitor at New York University who completed his doctorate while scrubbing floors. This got me thinking (again!) about my own education and whether or not I have the time, brain power or mental will to start taking graduate classes. I started down the road to a master’s degree when I was in my 20s. Let me remind you all that I am now 43. So those few courses don’t count towards anything and to get the degree I have to start all over.

I’m considering enrolling in an executive master’s program, which means you do limited weeks of full-time study. One week in August. One week in January. One long weekend in May. For two years. In between you take a mix of online and real-life classes. Some required, some electives.

I thought I’d get the ball rolling with an elective that meets once a week. The class actually starts before my workday ends, but it’s something I’m fairly certain I could work out. I’ve had the registration form on my desk at work for three weeks now. Classes start next week. If I’m to take this “Ethics in PR” class, I need to sign up. Today or tomorrow.

Lots of working moms I know pursue graduate degrees while raising a family. Both of my sisters have done it. (Heck, one got her PhD by taking some ridiculous number of graduate courses in a single semester–but that’s not normal). Many colleagues have completed MBAs, MFAs, and various programs, but they also don’t live an hour and 15 minutes away from campus. Husband and I have talked it over and he, like always, is totally supportive.”Take the class, just get going already. We’ll be fine. It’s just one class, one day a week.”

Note I would probably stay overnight on class night which is something I do anyway as needed.

It’s not the class itself that scares me. It’s the homework. I barely have the energy to cobble together a blog post these days. I wonder when I will have time to study and there seems only one obvious answer. Audible texbooks. But with my family all hitting the slopes on Saturdays I feel like this may be a good time for me to snuggle by the fire with my school work. Alternatively, I could use my free day to go to the mall and get a manicure.

If I don’t sign up for a class now, I can wait until I formally apply (and have to get accepted) into the program that starts this August. So I’m wondering, have you taken graduate classes or pursued your graduate degree while working and raising a family? What was your biggest challenge? Do you have any words of advice for me?


33 Responses to Should mom go back to school?

  1. Kristin says:

    I took a few classes and did an internship a few years ago, to get a post MSW certification. Lots of late nights and early mornings, reading while I sat with kids while they watched tv or played games. Learning to find a new normal, probably my best advice. Although you have done that with your taking the job at Syracuse….

    Much love and good luck!~

  2. Julie says:

    I watched my mom achieve both her BA and MBA growing up. It was hard for her, but served her (and us) very well. It was inspiring to me – it’s really what motivated me to earn my undergraduate, graduate and certifications all prior to having kids. As a result, my kids haven’t seen all the hard work I put into my life & don’t seem to value the hard work it requires to achieve something. I think it’s good for the whole family for everyone to support a member who is working toward some goal. As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. :) Do it, Erin! You won’t regret it.

  3. Anne Marie says:

    I am struggling with this exact same thing! I have been tossing around culinary school or going for my Masters in Arts Administration…unfortunately money is holding me back. I know in the end it will be worth it, but putting the kids in day care so I can go to school is just hard to do.

  4. Leeann says:

    You can definitely do this. You have the 2 most important pieces taken care of….support from the hubs and the desire to pursue. It will take organization, focus and creating a schedule and sticking to it. I completed my master’s while working 50 hours a week with 2 kids at home (toddler and 5th/6th grader). I am glad that I did it at this stage. My oldest is now a senior and high school is more demanding and they need you more (even if they dont’ admit it) than in elementary school.

    I was actually more productive in all areas of my life when I was in grad school.

  5. Kim Fath says:

    I’m at the tail end of a PhD (finish or go home they are telling me) and it has not been easy. It has cost time with the family that I’ll never get back and there have been a lot of bumps in the road (two major job transitions, a 700 mile move, crises of confidence, etc.). I’ve had the support of my family. I’ve got two in college who are pursuing career paths that will not be easy (in the arts) and struggling to make ends meet or facing rejection has not been part of their experience thus far in life. I’ve wanted to quit lots of times but know that I am showing my kids that just because something is not easy to achieve doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

    The end result is a hard-won degree and a career path that is my vocation and not just a paycheck.

    It’s not easy and I do tell my girls to finish their educations before they start a family but no regrets. I’m better in multiple areas.

    Good Luck!

  6. Abbey says:

    I am currently in school full-time to complete my BA, and then plan to continue on for my MA…all as a single mom. There is no way I thought that I could do this, but it seems like the more I do, the more I am able to accomplish, and well!

  7. Heidi says:

    I earned my Masters before having my son, but I became interested in a career change last year an am now taking classes again in another field. Keeping up with it all is a challenge. I have a full time career, a 2 hour commute every day, I write for, I volunteer at the school…plus being a wife and mom and now college again. My son just started kindergarten this year so he understands homework and likes that I have homework like him. :)

  8. Kat says:

    I got my Master’s in a one year advanced program. I worked 40 hours, took 18 credits a semester and worked 21 hours a week at an internship. I was married – practically newlywed- but no kids and yes, in my 20s. Husband was also working and going to school. In September we looked at each other and said, see ya in May. It worked out fine. However, I now have 2 kids, work 3/4 time and am in my 40s. Both kids have (relatively minor) issues that have just come up – one medical, one learning related- that will take a lot of my attention this year at least. I know I could not attempt school at this time. I think you have to know for yourself in your gut what you can handle. If you think you can do it, go for it!

  9. Jamie says:

    I went to college while raising a toddler, while pregnant with my second child (and taking finals one week before my due date) and finished my final semester while caring for a newborn who refused to sleep unless he was laying on me. A free education is a huge opportunity, don’t let fear stop you from pursuing something you want for yourself. If I can do it, then you can totally do it too!

  10. Teresa says:

    Wait…do you mean your sister got a PhD in one semester? That can’t be right. What field? I’m in my 8th year of full time study for a PhD in Neuroscience and DYING. Between trying to get my work published so I can graduate and raising a 2 year old, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted ALL THE TIME.

    But that’s not your situation… So, what’s your motivation? Getting a promotion? A different type of job? More money? The joy of learning?

    Yes, you’ll be able to study on Saturdays when the family is out and/or on those evenings you stay in Syracuse after class. But don’t neglect the importance of downtime.

    You can always try this one class and see if it’s worth the sacrifices it requires.

  11. Geli says:

    I got my master while the kids were little and I didn’t work. I think it is definitely worth pursuing, and starting with one class is a good way to find out how it will work for you. And I also like the example it sets for your kids.

  12. Amanda says:

    Erin, if it is in your heart to explore the option of getting your graduate degree, don’t be afraid to take this class – practically, it will give you time to understand some of the changes school will make to your daily schedule, and more broadly it will give you time to contemplate whether you want the degree, or perhaps another option such as a graduate certificate or just some courses as a continuing education for yourself. You have the support of your family and from all of us in the Manic Mommies community, not to mention the likely support of your employer, which is a huge plus. The road may be tough (correction, will be tough), but you will find the strength and support you need as you go along. Good luck!

  13. Tamara says:

    I am happy that I got my MBA in my early twenties before other obligations because I don’t envy friends that I see doing it now in their 40s. If it is your life goal, then go for it because you won’t find a better chance than now working for Syracuse. However, I would ask yourself, will you really learn anything you don’t already know? If you are looking to switch careers, than you need to, but it sounds like you would be pursuing a degree in PR. I think between your professional experience and your experience with Manic Mommies you could teach a course or two. So if you don’t need it for your career and you won’t learn anything new…is it worth the effort? I can’t answer that because I don’t know what your long term career goals are and what education is required (like if you want to teach some day do you need an advanced degree), but it is something to think about.

  14. Cara says:


    Do it!
    I started my master’s one year ago – while working a new full-time teaching job, living in a new city, supporting my laid off hubby and being a mom to three wonderful children. It’s very time-consuming, maddening and fascinating at the same time. I think it’s great the kids see me struggle with homework and time management. And my now-working hubby is 100% supportive. Helps that we have extended family nearby to jump in when we need the help.
    I am starting my 4th semester this next week – and am only 9 credits away from my masters – CAN’T wait!

    Good luck,


  15. Kim says:

    I’m in the same boat, although I work for a community college, I will not have my Ed.D. completely paid for. Most programs are cohorts and go every weekend for 2 years. I have just found one that, while a cohort, meets one night a week from 5-11 and follows the traditional 16 week semester and summer school.

    If I am admitted, I will have a 14 year old 9th grader & 11 year old 6th grader. I will finish as my oldest starts his senior year.

    Cash is a factor, but so is time. Both kids play lacrosse, one plays basketball, one plays piano, I volunteer. My ex-husband offers some help, but usually whines.

    I will apply, I will make it work, but it won’t be easy, I will be more tired, but I will do it! I hope you do too, I would love to follow along with your experience.

  16. Lindsay says:

    I decided on a career change and went back to school to become a Registered Nurse when my kids were 1 & 3. I worked full time and went to school full time. Yes it was crazy, but when I was in it I just did it. You find time, I literally didn’t watch tv or read any books for three years. Support from your family is crucial. Your kids may resent you at times but I think it is good for them to see the time and effort you are putting into your own education. Starting is the hardest part, you will find a way to integrate class, studying, paper writing into your life as you go. If you’re like me you will find out how little sleep you can actually get by on! Once my now 1year old is in pre-k I plan to go back and advance my degree further. Go for it, you won’t be sorry! (but you are not allowed to give up the podcast!)

  17. Lisa says:

    I had my oldest halfway through my PhD program. By then I’d already finished comps and was “ABD” (all but dissertation). The plan had been to research and write most of a rough draft while pregnant, and then work on the editing and revising phase after she was born. The reality was that I was hit with hyperemesis that lasted my entire pregnancy; teaching as a part-time adjunct used up what little energy I had. Then came the reality of an intense baby who turned into an intense toddler (who’s now an intense 8-year-old), not to mention the sleep deprivation and all. I kept teaching part-time, but I wasn’t able to effectively wrap my mind around my dissertation topic until she was 2-1/2.

    It worked out in the end: I successfully defended my dissertation three days after her 4th birthday, but I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard, both due to the demands of a needy small person and because my husband never provided the kind of support that I needed. (Example: I would tell him over the weekend that I planned to go to the library after dinner on Tuesday and Thursday night so I could write and he could watch the kid. Without fail he’d have a late meeting, there’d be traffic, he lost track of time at the office…and I’d lose an hour or two of work time. This happened repeatedly, despite the fact that he himself has a PhD and was working at a university, and despite the fact that he knows full well how much work a dissertation is. He, however, had written his while on fellowship while still single.)

    I think it would be easier now. Eight years of child/household/career negotiations later, we’re in a better place. He’s admitted that his contributions during our daughter’s first few years fell vastly short despite my repeated requests and arguments during those years. It also helps that he’s newly tenured and doesn’t feel as pressured as he has for the past eight years, having started a tenure-track position shortly after she was born. I’ve worked out better systems for getting work done–like staying downtown after teaching my evening class to do research, and knowing that the practice of writing a little bit a day really does make a difference.

    Last, a master’s program is more intense than any undergraduate degree is, but it’s contained with manageable expectations (as opposed to most PhDs). The real question is whether this is what you want to do at this point in your life.

    Good luck either way!

  18. Erin says:

    From one Erin to another – I think you should do it! I got my MBA part-time at night. When I started I was working full-time but no kids yet. I had my first daughter halfway though the program, took a semester off and then finished when she was about 2 (I continued to work full-time after she was born). It helped that by then I was doing electives that were available in compressed weekend classes similar to what you are talking about.

    My only reservation looking back now is whether it was worth the money I paid (I’m still paying off a loan for it). So since you get free tuition, go for it!

  19. C says:

    So, this may provide you with a bit of a different perspective. I have the fortune of being a stay at home Mom. I have a friend who is a stay at home Mom as well. My friend’s husband just completed his master’s degree. While my friend put on a happy face throughout the three year process, it was hard on her and her family. Her husband worked full time, took three hour classes two nights a week and somehow squeezed in travel for work from time to time.She said the way it shook out, her husband would see their boys Friday nights, Saturdays and some Sundays. Then, between work obligations and masters classes, her kids would not see their Dad again until the following Friday night. While my friend was supportive of his decision and knew it may benefit in the future, she had to make many, many sacrifices for him to pursue his career. She eventually built up a support system for herself and was able to push herself through those three years.

  20. Virginia says:

    I work at NYU and have the tuition remission available to me. I just got accepted into the Masters in Higher Education and Student Affairs program and will start this spring. I have one toddler (2.5 years) and am concerned about how I will make everything work since my husband also works full time and is already in the midst of pursuing his Masters at NYU part-time (my tuition remission will kick in for him this spring….yeah!!!!). I feel like there’s no time like the present to get started. Anytime is busy and we can always find reasons not to do something and procrastinate. I’m starting with 1 credit course and will see how it goes. If I think I can handle it, then I’ll bump it up to 2 classes, but only if I can do them on one night of the week since we have to juggle day care pick-up. Once my hubby finishes his degree, I’ll speed things up. I’m so excited about this new journey and seeing what it’s like to be a student again. It’s been 13 years since I graduated from college so I’m a little rusty. Good luck with whatever you decide, but I think it’s a great idea and it’s hard to turn down a free education when you work for a great university:)

  21. Karen says:

    I say try the class and see. Then you can decide if you want to enroll in the whole program or if you want to wait a bit.

    Also, think about why you want to do this. Will it help you get better jobs or better pay? Will it help you switch the direction of your career? Do you enjoy taking classes and think it will be fun? Think of costs (not money, but time, stress, etc.) & benefits. Is a master’s degree really going to help you at this point? Just because tuition is free is not a good enough reason.

  22. wendy says:

    Will it get you more money or a better job? Free college classes are definitely worth it, and you might be able to carve out the time in your schedule. But what is the motivation behind it? If it’s just to have another piece of paper or more letters behind your name, you might want to consider the effect on your family of not having mom around before you do the whole degree. Sorry to play devil’s advocate! But you have to keep in mind what you’ll be giving up and why. I like that someone above said that downtime is really important.

    But if it DOES get you something you will really appreciate, for whatever reason (money, prestige, personal satisfaction) then go for it!

  23. kristina l. says:

    DO IT!!! free tuition?! what more excuse do you need?!

  24. Laura says:

    So what’s your end game in getting a Master’s? As a PR exec myself, I spent many years overworked and underpaid to get the executive level job I have now. Personally, I’ve always thought of that experience as my “graduate” degree. :) I know many fields put a premium on graduate degrees and rightfully so but I’ve never found that to be the case in my broadcast news/PR career. If you are passionate about getting a degree I wouldn’t hesitate a second but if not, aren’t you getting better experience by doing real life projects like hosting the Dalai Lama? It sounds like you could be teaching an “Ethics in PR” class! Just remember, there are only so many hours in a day so spend them wisely whether that be studying or shopping! Good luck!

  25. Erin says:

    Hey Ladies,

    Thanks so much for all of your great comments! I knew this was the place to discuss this.

    In higher ed, advanced degrees are revered. To move up in academia, you really do need one (or two)!

    I really did like teaching at the college level and would like to do that again. Adjuncts without advanced degrees are rare and they are never professors. I was able to get a visiting professor gig in Massachusetts, but that was a special case.

    As for the family impact, there’s no doubt it will leave a mark. That’s why I’m starting slow with just one class (if I even get permission to enroll in this one and I’m already seeing a potential conflict with the first class)!

    So we shall see…

  26. adena says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late to this thread (great discussion!). I am also working at a higher ed organization now, and we are offered classes at $40 (instead of $2K). I just signed up for a writing (journalism) class, not to get a degree but to push myself to write more. Even though it’s a web-based class, you have to sit and watch the class at a certain time, and I’m nervous about even finding the time to do THAT! (never mind the homework…) But I’m going to try to make it work…

  27. Jenny says:

    Education lasts longer than a manicure (even the shellac manicures!).

    What is the saying…how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Realize it will be crazy and that is okay. The new normal will ensue and before you know it, you will be done and something else will take its place in the chaos of life.


  28. Kim says:

    Hey, if anyone in this world can do it….that person is YOU!!

    I know you can. You have accomplished so much in the years I”ve known you and this will be another great mountain you will climb.
    Hugs to you…..

  29. Beth says:

    Yes! Mom should go back to school. So should Dad. My husband was attending classes when our daughter was starting school. She chose to sit down and “do school to”. As a teacher, I do homework all the time. I believe this models good work habits, perseverence, and life long learning.
    We also changed chores and jobs to assist the student and work times. Mom is not responsible for everyone and everything. The earlier kids learn how to be responsible and independent the more better and more successful they will be as adults.
    Go get that degree! You deserve it!!!!!

  30. Ana says:

    I also say Yes. :-)
    I remember I listened to a podcast from the Divacast that talked about this same subject. It gave me a lot of encouragement. Specially after hubby grunted when he heard he had to take the kids one day of the week from 6pm and on… which is not too hard, they are just two and they sleep at 8pm.

    I think you’ll find at the end that it was a great thing you did for yourself only. Good luck.

  31. Kathleen E. says:

    Along the lines of what Teresa wrote…it depends on the field and your limits. An advanced degree in PR sounds like a lot of classes and writing, likely doable for you…compared with an advanced degree in one of the hard sciences, where you’re expected to spend most of your time first in classes and then laboratory research, travel to conferences, etc….is much harder to do when you have younger kids and a full time job. I had to put grad school aside after Riley was born-between him, my daughter and running the histology end of my lab full time…it was just too much for me. I expect to pick it up again when he gets a bit older-perhaps when he starts kindergarten, we’ll see how it goes. But I think you’ll be okay.

  32. Sandra says:

    I earned my first degree- BS in genetics, then got married. we moved to the state next door, but my husband never could find a job locally. for 6 years he drove 1.5 hours to our former home. we finally quit arguing and moved home, now i do the drive. we also had a kid in there, then i went back to get my 2nd BS- clinical lab science, so i would be more marketable at home. here i am, a year after graduation (which graduation was about the same time we had kid #2), and still trying to decide what to do next. keep getting rejected for new positions due to not enough education. also, last september i got diagnosed with ADHD, and in Feb i turn 30.

    So, Erin, i’m with you. i’m signed up for the GRE and will try to get into the WI MBA cohort program this summer/fall. with two kids at home and the 1.5 hour commute (each way). the only reprive is i only work 32 hours/week.
    husband is tentatively ok with this, but he also hesitates with reminding me of all the previous arguments we had about me missing out on getting out of the house with the kids.
    if i can do it, you can too! Best of luck!

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