Non-Traditional Students: No Ordinary Student

Each semester hundreds of military spouses start college; some for the first time while others continue where they left off.  Going back to school as an adult learner is a challenge for most people, but add to that being a military spouse, and many might give up.  However, quitting is not in the vocabulary of most military spouses.  The community is full of men and women who are goal oriented, passionate and driven. We have the ability to adapt and overcome challenges; we are admired by most and highly regarded for all of the obstacles we endure in our daily lives.

My personal educational journey goes something like this: in 2010, just nine “short” years after beginning my graduate degree, I finally finished!  During those nine years, we moved overseas, survived an additional four more PCS moves, had four children, my husband finished another Bachelor’s degree while facing weeks and months of separations.

Finding a School That Works With My Military Life

Every year I vowed, this was the year I was going to go back to school.  It wasn’t just the desire and time it would take to go back to school but finding the perfect school for me was a challenge in its self.  I already had over 20 graduate level course hours that I was not willing to give up, but I couldn’t choose a major that required me to do an unpaid internship or student teach because the cost of childcare would be too much of a burden.  I spent many long hours sifting through online colleges because I wanted to stay home with my young children, and I forecasted a PCS in the middle of any program that I wanted to complete.  Finally, I found a properly accredited program that I could complete online, and it would help me achieve my goal of teaching in a community college setting. 

My story is by no means special but simply mirrors that of many other military spouses.  The key to success is finding a balance between the roles of military spouse, parent, student, employee, volunteer and all that life throws your way.

Helpful Hints for Balancing Your Life with All Those Hats On

Write Your Goal Down:

Writing your goal down and mapping out your journey will give you inspiration when things aren’t going your way or when school and family life get to be overwhelming. It will remind you of what you WILL accomplish in the end. 

A Slow and Steady Approach:

Don’t set yourself up to fail, start by taking a class or two. If your school is local, try an online class and one in a traditional classroom setting.  This will give you an idea of which environment will work best for you. Starting slow will also give your family time to adjust to the new schedule and your new commitments.


Your calendar will become your new best friend. Find a central location in the house to display it so that the whole family can see what is going on and nothing gets forgotten.  Put everything from class assignments and study sessions to sports practices and medical appointments on it and update it daily.

(Weekly menu planning can also make evenings go smoother and cut down on grocery store shopping time.)

Remember to sleep, exercise and eat healthy:

A healthy YOU is an important part of the success equation.  Getting a regular night’s sleep, eating healthy and exercising will keep your body and mind in great shape.

Set an Example:

Schedule family homework time when your children get home from school.  Sit down with them and show them that both of you have homework and that you are completing it in a timely manner as instructed.  Don’t leave the hard stuff for this time, but items that if you need to step away from to help your child, you can easily return too. 

It Is Okay to Say No:

You can’t be everything to everyone all of the time.  When you are in school, make it known to your family, friends and neighbors that this is your priority.  It will allow those who rely on you to understand you can’t commit to something because of your homework studies.


Take a look at your commitments, put them in order of their importance.  Is there something you can give up while in school to give you additional time to study? Is there another way you could help that doesn’t require as much time as your current commitment? 

Ask for Help:

There is going to come a time when you need help, it may be something as simple as someone babysitting your children so you can get so extra study time.  I know this is hard for most military spouses because we pride ourselves on our ability to take care of things on our own, but this is where we can get ourselves into trouble by thinking we can do it ALL!   

It’s not an easy task to return to school as an adult, but anything worth something in life comes with hard work.  As a military spouse, you have an advantage to succeed. You have the skills you have gained through the years of overcoming obstacles as they are thrown at you.   Your toolbox is vast; it is filled with flexibility, patience, commitment, love, and dedication, just to name a few.  Your journey may be longer than most, but you will prevail and reach that finish line. When you do you will cherish that diploma and all that it means to you.  Dream big and balance accordingly!     

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