School Days

Divorce can make going back to school a viable option -- or an absolute necessity. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking of updating your education.

By Sabrina Toucinho
Updated: September 25, 2014
Divorce Recovery

Divorce can initiate some drastic changes in your lifestyle. You may now be faced with going back to work after many years of staying at home to raise your family, or the economics of your situation may require you to increase your earning potential by updating your skills or training in another field. Divorce also causes you to reevaluate what you want out of life, and going back to school to attain that dream you put off many years ago may be just what you need to boost your sense of security and confidence in yourself.

Since much of your life is in flux right now, you may think that you should put off going back to school until some later date. But consider this: maybe the only thing that's stopping you from investing in yourself is fear. Fear of failure, fear you won't make it, and fear that you aren't good enough. Divorce is the end of your marriage, but it's not the end of your life -- so why not choose to do something creative and exciting with the rest of your life?

Juggling work, school, and taking care of your children and a life full of competing demands won't be easy, but you really can make it happen if you stay focused on a great new future you're creating for yourself -- and for your family.

Getting started

The first thing to do is to think about what you love to do, and find out what it would take to have a career in that field. If your dream job requires a diploma, investigate a few different schools offering the courses (more on this below). Decide on what you need to learn, and how much you want to learn it. Make a plan and set goals for yourself, making sure to place a completion date beside each objective. (A plan without deadlines won't get you where you want to go. You may not have enough information to fill in all those dates now, so fill in these blanks as you go.) Think of ways to get the education you want: will it require a full-time program, or will you only need a few night classes to retrain? Will you have a full or part-time job while you're studying, or will your divorce settlement cover your living and schooling expenses? If you're not yet divorced, you could ask for this to be considered as part of your spousal support. And then stop planning and do it. If you don't know what you want to do with your life, a career counselor can point you in the right direction and let you know what steps to take to achieve your goals.

No institution is right for every student. Choosing a school is a matter of making a calculated and informed decision, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each institution on the basis of factors such as academic reputation, price, availability of evening or weekend classes, proximity to your home, etc. You know your own priorities, so look for a school that seems to serve them best. Picking a school is a tricky business, but given the current "buyer's market" there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to find the right one.

A school to suit your schedule

As the enrollment of adult students continues to grow, more colleges and universities are offering continuing education programs and courses designed to fit into their students' busy lives. Programs such as The Lawyer's Assistant Program (LAP) at Chicago's Roosevelt University www.roosevelt.edu/paralegal, for example, offers students the option of completing the program on a full or part-time basis at night or on weekends.

"We're seeing more and more people coming back to school after a divorce or a long period out of the workforce," says Alison Kotlarz, director of the LAP program. "We know these students have many demands on their time, so we try to offer a supportive environment that enables them to further their education without leaving their responsibilities behind."

Do you need courses that fit into a schedule that includes a job or child-rearing? If you can't afford the time to travel to campus, there's a new way to have quality courses at your fingertips: with a computer, a modem, and the Internet, you can have access to expert faculty and quality instruction that you'd find at campus courses. Private schools such as Parkland College in Champaign, IL., as well as state-run colleges, such as California State University at Long Beach, are now offering courses online. This venue can take away many obstacles that could otherwise stop you from getting your diploma, such as children needing care or supervision, transportation to and from classes, financial constraints, etc.

Correspondence courses offer a range of options to those who just can't make it to classes during regular working hours. These courses allow students to use the postal service to receive and send out projects and exercises in almost all fields -- from bookkeeper to electrician.

As more and more modern careers require computer use, many schools are offering computer training to meet today's job market. Robert Morris College (www.rmcil.edu) in Chicago offers computer systems courses and training in graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Pagemaker, and Quark XPress, as well as other applications such as Novel Netware and Windows NT. There are also schools that offer nothing but computer training and consulting, such as MAC University (www.macuniversity.com), which offers Macintosh computer systems and applications training. Computer training is by no means the only type of specialized schooling available to adult students. There are many different schools offering training in careers from hairstyling to auto mechanics to pharmaceuticals. For instance, Pivot Point operates hairstyling schools in various cities throughout the US; the Adler Psychology School of Professional Psychology (www.adler.edu) offers marriage and family counselling training; and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts has schools in New York and California for those dreaming of a career in the theater.

There are many options for those wanting to gain more education and experience relevant to their chosen profession. Enrollment in post-graduate programs is on the rise, and colleges and universities are adding more of these programs to their course listings. For instance, Columbus University in Chicago offers a wide range of baccalaureate programs in more than 60 subjects, including: accounting, communication, chemistry, economics, history, management, and psychology as well as specialized programs and non-credit courses.

Taking non-credit courses at your local college or university is a low-pressure way to discover where your interests truly lie, perhaps pointing you in an exciting new direction.

Hunter College in New York City offers various non-credit classes for both adults and children in a variety of subjects such as art, business, computers, crafts, dance, film, and real estate. New York's Open Center also offers introductory courses to holistic learning and culture, including courses in aromatherapy, massage, shiatsu, nutrition, and psychology.

Two of the best ways to find information on colleges are to search the Internet and to check out your local library for school brochures and guides. (The Fiske Guide to Colleges 1999 [Time Books] rates schools and provides information concerning costs, courses, and student services.)

How to apply

Technology is changing the face of college selection and admissions. If you have access to the World Wide Web, searching for the right school and applying can be a breeze. A growing number of corporations now distribute computer-generated application forms to hundreds of colleges on disk or via the Internet; many are free and allow you to save your personal information data so that you only have to enter it once.

Financial assistance

Picking the right college -- one that serves your particular needs perfectly -- is one of the most important decisions that you'll make. However, going back to school is also a major investment, and your finances may limit your choices -- unless you know what's available in terms of scholarships and subsidies.

Most scholarship and bursary programs don't have age restrictions; if there are restrictions, they're usually expressed in terms of the student's year in school (e.g., high school senior) rather than a chronological age. As a mature student, you should conduct a search for aid just like your younger counterparts: talk to the financial-aid office of the schools you're applying to and find out what they offer in terms of scholarship and subsidies. (See "Financial Support," below.)

Although many schools restrict eligibility for the school's own financial-aid programs to the first Bachelor's degree, some will waive the restrictions when the applicant is an adult returning to school to earn a second degree in preparation for a career change. There are no age restrictions on eligibility for federal student financial aid. If you have small children, you may wish to consider how they could fit into your plans for a new career. Some schools have daycare facilities for young kids, or your family -- or even your ex -- might be willing to help out while you're in school. You won't know unless you ask.

Also, don't rule out your current employer as a source of support and encouragement; some corporations will give employees a leave of absence or even pay for you to upgrade your education in a relevant field.

In conclusion

Going back to school can be challenging, but don't give up! Review your goals and renew your commitment on a regular basis. Remember the reasons why you decided to go back to school: you wanted to upgrade your skills to create happiness, financial security, and self-confidence. Celebrate your accomplishments -- big or small -- as you continue with your schooling.

Whether you're looking for a better-paying job or new career in a field you love, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing your divorce gave you the opportunity -- and you had the courage -- to do something to make a positive difference in your life.

Financial Support If the cost of going back to school is one of your major obstacles to going back school, here are a few resources to make your search for financial assistance easier.

  • If you have any questions about financial aid or would like to receive brochures or publications, you can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 433-3243, or you can download "The Student Guide" at the US Department of Education's website, which is located at www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/StudentGuide. or write to: The Federal Student Aid Information Center, P.O. Box 84, Washington, DC 20044.
  • The Displaced Homemakers Network organization assists women who were homemakers and now need to get a job or go to school. For more information, call (800) 467-6346.
  • The Business and Professional Women's Foundation has a variety of scholarships and fellowships aimed at women age 30+ who are going back to school to either upgrade skills for career advancement, to train for a new career field, or to re-enter the job market. For more information, contact: Scholarships, BPW Foundation, 2012 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036; tel. (202) 293-1200.
  • Lifelong Learning is a consulting company that specializes in adult learning, especially distance learning or "campus free" degree programs. Their webpage (located at www.geteducated.com) lists alternatives to government aid for adult distance learners. For more information, contact: Lifelong Learning, 170 South Main St, Waterbury, VT 05676; call or fax (802) 244-4175; or send an e-mail to Vicky Phillips at lifelong@together.net or LifeLearn@aol.com.
  • www.finaid.org This great online source offers a free guide to student financial aid. Finaid offers links to information concerning sources of aid, special interest scholarships and bursaries, links to government sites, personal finance, college planning and career resources, and listings of books and software to help make your search easier.
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May 01, 2006
Categories:  Coping with Divorce

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