Completing your degree while being a stay-at-home parent is a smart financial strategy. The average family in the United States has two or three children, spaced approximately two to three years apart. If you choose to have a parent at home until the youngest is in first grade, then the at-home parent may be out of the workforce for anywhere from seven to twelve years. Plenty of at-home parents find ways to work and bring in money, either from part-time jobs, working from home, selling used items on eBay, or from connections to old jobs. One strategy to consider, though, is using the time at home, during your children’s formative years, to complete your Bachelor’s degree.
If you haven’t yet earned a Bachelor’s degree, there are a wide range of options available to you. If you’ve already earned 64 credits or more in college, consider a “degree completion program.” Some schools, such as Vermont College offer “low residency” programs that allow you to complete fifteen credits every six months. You spend one week on campus at the beginning of the six month session, meeting with academic advisors, picking projects, and meeting other students. Then you return home and work on your six-month long project; at the end of six months, you come back to campus for a week to finish one semester and start the new one. Some students choose education, psychology, business, languages, and other topics as their focus. If you already have 64 or more credits, then you generally only need 60-75 more, and this program has a low impact on your family life-you’re only gone two weeks per year.
Another option is online-only coursework. Boston University has its Metropolitan College, where students who have earned 64 or more credits can take its 64 credit completion program to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Under this program, you take the sixteen courses Boston University tells you to take-you have no choice. Each of the sixteen courses is six weeks long, and you take one course at a time. Most students complete the program in two to two and a half years. You earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Interdisciplinary Studies degree. You never have to leave home, the schedule of classes is flexible, and Boston University is one of the top-ranked universities in the country.
If you have 90 credits under your belt, consider the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The offer an online degree completion program as well-for a fraction of the cost of the Boston University program. The program offers a Bachelor’s in Community Studies degree. Again, like Boston University’s program, there is no flexibility in the courses you take-they are chosen in advance. You take ten courses and you are done. The coursework can be done around your daily life, and you can finish a degree quickly from home.
For those stay-at-home parents who have never gone to college, or who have less than 64 or 90 credits completed, consider CLEP exams. The College Board offers CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams in more than thirty areas. It’s as easy as it sounds: study for one of the tests, pay the $60 registration fee, take a computerized test that lasts 90 minutes (some tests do have essays, notably in English and Literature tests), and if you score well, you get three to six college credits.
CLEP works well for people who are independent learners. Even if you’ve never set foot in a college classroom, you can take CLEP exams. Most colleges accept the CLEP testing and offer credit; some colleges have limits to how many CLEP tests they’ll accept, so remember to check with the college you hope to enroll in before taking the CLEP exams. CLEP exams are also a great way to cut the cost of tuition. Even if you only take one exam and earn six credits in, say, History, that’s six credits you don’t have to pay for. $60 for six college credits is a steal; two courses at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst costs over $1400!
The years you spend as a stay-at-home parent will be blank on your resume, and future employers may wonder why you have a four or five or even twelve year gap in employment. One way to help keep your skills current, to answer the dreaded “what were you doing during those years?” question, and to give you a strong restart when you return to the job market is to complete your Bachelor’s degree, all from home.