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Goal Setting Strategies: Advice from Student Parents

Aug 12, 2021

If anyone can speak to the experience of going to college as a parent, it’s WGU alumni. Thousands of our graduates have completed their online degrees while also juggling family and full-time jobs.

So, how did they do it?

We asked several of them what it takes to succeed as a student parent. For many, goal setting was key. Here are their tips for how to plan out your goals and stick to them while you’re in school.

4 Goal-Setting Strategies for WGU Student Parents

1. Prioritize Your Studies

As you lay out your academic goals, know in advance what you’re willing to sacrifice or not sacrifice. This will help you prioritize your time and set realistic goals for your studies.

Once you’ve outlined your priorities, it’s crucial to communicate them to the people around you—that’s Michael Mcaffery’s biggest piece of advice for new student parents.  

“Getting my degree was my top priority, and everyone knew it,” he said. “I informed my family and my son what I was doing and that I needed their help to finish as quickly as I could. It took me three years to get my Bachelor of Science in Business Management. I didn't take breaks. I didn't take summers off. I would finish one course and start the next. I did well on many of the pre-assessments, so I focused on my coaching reports, increased my competence in the areas I needed to, passed the course, and moved to the next course.”

Shiloh Strain has a similar point of view: 

“Balancing life, parenting, work, and education comes down to choosing your battles. Some things have to be put to the side,” she said. “The house may not always be perfectly clean or picked up, the kids may eat pretzels and string cheese for dinner, you may sacrifice sleep to finish a paper, but the time will pass whether you accomplish something or not. Give it what you can and do the best you can.”

“Study any chance you get,” suggested Finuliar Wilfred. “When the kids are at school or daycare, taking naps, lunch breaks at work, every down time. Put all your study material on devices where you can access it (phone, tablet, laptop). Dedicate scheduled study time or time for writing papers and stick to it. If you have a spouse, let them take care of the kids if possible. If not, keep the kids busy by either sending them to grandparents or a babysitter, etc. so you can fully focus for at least two hours.”

2. Understand There Will Be Sacrifices

Getting a degree is a huge time commitment and one that requires sacrifices. As you set up your goals, there may be some non-educational goals you have that can’t be the focus. Be prepared for the possibility that you may need to put some of your current activities and goals on hold—or limit your family time in exchange for study time—as you work through your degree program.

Anthony Parisi can speak to the sacrifices you might have to make as a student parent. 

“You might have to give up your personal time, but it’s to obtain a better future for yourself and your family,” he said. “Make time, daily, for yourself to study. I chose my lunchtimes during work or after we tucked our children in for the night.”  

Daniel Ahlstrom adds:

“Plan what you’ll give up intentionally to have time to do your schoolwork. For me it was no TV, no vacations, and very little social media. Know in advance what you’re willing and planning to sacrifice,” he said.

3. Know What Your Motivation Is

There’s no sugarcoating it; being a parent and a student is hard. When times get tough, setting goals will help you visualize where you want to go and give you the motivation to get there. Understanding the motivation behind your goals will help you want to accomplish them. Goals without a driving motive are less likely to be reached, so knowing your “why” is key to setting goals you can achieve.

Michael Ahlstrom has this piece of wisdom:

“I first considered my purpose. What skills, talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts do I possess? How do I utilize them now, and how will gaining a degree further them? This provided the motivation,” he said. “Your motivation is the anchor that will steady you when you are sick, stressed, or tired. You can always return to your motivation. If it doesn’t provide strength to help you carry on, then it's not your real motivation.” 

According to Elizabeth Sedlack’s, focusing on the end goal is key for maintaining your motivation.

“Remember that pushing through and staying motivated will get this phase of your life done much quicker! Chances are you’re doing this for a promotion, better job, or more stability for your family. Once you get the degree part over with you’ll have much more free time and/or better finances to spend more one-on-one time with your children. This is only a small, hard step to create a better life long term.”

4. Commit to Finish No Matter What

Staying committed to your goals requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Keep reminding yourself that each goal you accomplish is getting you closer to the finish line. Knowing that you have a commitment to finish your degree program no matter what will be key in keeping you on-track for your goals. 

Melissa Smith can speak to this better than most. In the midst of raising young twins and working full time, she was able to complete both her bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from WGU.

“I would work all day, come home, and then do my routine with the kids. I’d get them to bed and study until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer,” she recalled. 

“Never in my life did I believe I’d get my master’s degree. Was it easy? No! But WGU allowed me to make it happen, and I took the opportunity and ran with it,” she said.

When faced with challenges, Melissa says the best thing you can do is to stay the course.

“Being determined can lead you to your goals no matter the hurdles. Remember, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” she said. 

Lastly, Finuliar Wilfred’s advice is to remember the big picture.

“First remind yourself why you're going back to school in the first place. Whether it’s job security, better future, children etc., keep that on your mind with every class you take with your degree program,” he said.

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