By Alex Summers
When I went back to school in 2014, picking a major was the easy part. I already knew that I wanted to go into nursing, and that I wanted to focus on radiation therapy. My step-mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011, and had to go through radiation as part of her treatment. She went into full remission, and I credit the radiation therapists not only with helping her recover from her cancer, but also with making the whole experience go as smoothly as possible. When I decided to go back to school, I knew that I wanted to follow in those women’s footsteps and help other cancer patients.
While choosing my course of study was easy, deciding how to pursue it was difficult. As a single mother of two, with a full-time job that I wasn’t ready to give up, I had to figure out how I was going to get the education that I needed to pursue my goals, while still taking care of my family and meeting my work obligations.
Choosing the School
Since the kids were both in school, and all of their friends and family are here, moving out of Philadelphia was not an option. Also, although I already had a Bachelor of Arts degree, I didn’t have all of the science courses that I needed. I had to find radiation therapy programs in PA, and as close as possible to Philadelphia, where I could also take science courses that I needed to meet the prerequisites for the program.
I wanted to be able to do it all at one school so the I wouldn’t have to worry about transferring those credits in addition to the English and Public Speaking credits from my previous degree. It was important that I be able to continue working, so I also needed a program that would allow me to take courses in the evenings and on weekends.
Taking Care of My Family
Luckily, both my children are at an age where they can take care of themselves after school, including preparing their own meals. Because I work full-time, they had already gotten into the habit of fending for themselves until I got home. However, there were some evenings when I just felt more comfortable knowing that there were responsible adults within shouting distance, just in case there was an emergency. Because I share custody with their father, there were some weekends, and even weeknights where they stayed with him. Other nights, their grandparents would check in on them, just to make sure everything was ok.
There were a couple of other older students with children in my classes, those that didn’t have parents or spouses to help out, or whose children were too young to be on their own, often made arrangements with each other for child care. For example, I remember a couple of women in my Intro to Radiation Therapy class who would trade off having the kids at each other’s houses, and chip in for a baby sitter.
Some schools also have on-site day-care centers for students who need child care during the day. There were a few women in my class who took advantage of those services, if they didn’t have child other child care options. The big advantage was that they didn’t have to make extra stops to pick up their kids after class; everything was on the same campus.
Handling Clinicals and Other Obstacles
I’m just finishing my first year of a four-year program; and, right now, I still have a bit of flexibility in my schedule. However, once I start clinicals, I will need to adhere to a less flexible schedule. While it is certainly possible that I would be able to find a clinical rotation with evening and weekend hours, it’s also possible that I might have to do them during my usual working hours.
I believe that it’s important to be proactive, so one of the first things I did was to discuss my options with my advisor. She was able to give me an idea of what to expect with clinicals, and of whether or not I could select a rotation that was compatible with my work schedule.
I’ve also started working with my current employer to see what my options are regarding leave, or changing my schedule to accommodate my clinical hours. I’m also looking into other options, including part-time work possibilities, either through the college placement center or through an outside employer; and I’m working with the financial aid and scholarship center to look at other options for financial support on the off-chance that I do have to leave my current job once clinicals start.
Going back to school to pursue my goals has definitely been worthwhile, but it also took a lot of planning and organization to help me balance my existing and new responsibilities. It also takes the support of my family and friends, as well as my college and classmates, to pull it all off.
Have you return to school as an adult? We would love to hear your personal story. Please share it in the comments.