Rachel Albert works nights as a medical transcriptionist. She's at her desk from midnight until 8 a.m. Fortunately, she works from home, which helps with the third-shift hours.
Once her night job is over, however, her day job begins.Rachel is mom to three children: 6-year-old kindergartener, Katie; 3-year-old Elaina; and infant son, Grayson. And, as any mom of young children knows, that's easily the more demanding of her two jobs.
It makes you wonder how she also makes time to work toward a college degree, but she does – and quite successfully.
Mother, wife, employee, online student
With just two courses left in Saint Leo's online psychology degree program, Rachel has a 3.9 GPA. She will graduate and walk in this spring's commencement ceremony, finishing what she started after high school – before marriage to her high school sweetheart, relocating and starting a family intervened.
As an advisor in Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning, Rachel's husband, Scott, encourages his students – busy, working adults enrolled in online degree programs – to stay focused and persevere whenever a term becomes particularly challenging.
And he doesn't need to look far for an inspiring story to share.
"If one of my students feels nervous about being able to juggle school, work and family, I use Rachel as an example," says Scott. "Her determination is so impressive. I tell folks that if she can do, so can they."
So how does she do it?
How did you become a medical transcriptionist?
Rachel: I originally became certified as a medical billing specialist but found transcription more interesting. The position enabled me to work from home, which was my main goal since I had a young child at the time and wanted to be home with her. I was hired and trained by a local transcription company but a few years later started to work for a national company on a hospital account.
Did you have any college prior to starting at Saint Leo?
Rachel: Yes, I had gone to two universities spending two years at each.
What motivated you to go back to school?
Rachel: I desired a degree for greater job opportunities as well as my own pride. I wanted a diploma for all the hard work I had put in. It also was a step in the direction of becoming a therapist one day.
Rachel: I've always wanted to be an occupational therapist and work with children.
Why Saint Leo?
Rachel: My husband began working and taking classes with Saint Leo, and he was really impressed. Through him, I learned about the online program, and that is when I realized going back to school was something I could do.
Why study online?
Rachel: I had two young children and worked full time and studying online was the only way I could fit school into my schedule.
Did you have any concerns about returning to school?
Rachel: Yes, I was nervous about having the time to get all my work done and also staying motivated.
How did you overcome those concerns?
Rachel: Focusing on smaller achievable goals has helped. Seeing the big picture can be overwhelming. But once I knew I could reach those smaller steps along the way, I began focusing just on those instead of how many classes were still left to take.
What are some of the challenges of online learning?
Rachel: Staying motivated and on task. It's very easy to fall behind and very tempting to push assignments out of your mind.
Describe a typical day.
Rachel: Nonstop. I work until 8 a.m., and then while taking care of my two youngest kids, I squeeze in schoolwork between housework, lunch, naptime, picking up my oldest daughter from school, errands, my daughter's homework, dinner, bedtime routines and bed.
What have been the advantages of online learning?
Rachel: Convenience. I can participate and complete assignments anytime, anywhere.
Did you feel connected to the university?
Rachel: I began to feel more connected in my second year because I was interacting with the same students and teachers who had been in my previous classes.
How do you stay organized?
Rachel: I write everything down in lists. I write out the schedule and school assignments for weeks ahead.
Is there any time for family fun?
Rachel: Usually on Saturdays. We try to breathe and relax together.
What keeps you motivated?
Rachel: My husband and kids. I want my family to be proud of me. I want my children to see that I didn't give up and that they, too, are capable of anything. I have also put a lot of hard work into my degree, and I want to reach that end goal.
What support do you have?
Rachel: My husband is always encouraging me and reminding me that I am smart and capable.
Do you have time for yourself?
Rachel: Finding time for myself can be difficult, but I make room for it when I can see that stress is getting to be too much. I unwind after work in the morning, even if it's just for 30 minutes.
What have you had to let go of?
Rachel: Spending time with friends. Also, housework gets neglected. My home can stay messy for some time when I am focusing on writing a paper or reading a chapter for a class.
What advice do you have for working moms who want to earn a degree?
Rachel: Go for it and just take it a step at a time. Time management is everything. Because you are learning online, you have the freedom to create a schedule that works best for you. Make lists, spread them out and do a little at a time. Once you find a routine that is comfortable, schoolwork will become normal and maintainable.
Any tips for being a successful online student?
Rachel: Don't procrastinate. Split up the work and find time throughout the week.
Were there any moments when you thought, "Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?"
Rachel: Yes, before and after I had my baby. I was worried I wouldn't be able to balance everything; I was adding a baby to my already full plate (and babies tend to take over the whole plate).
What has enabled you to be successful?
Rachel: I refocused my priorities, took deep breaths, and pushed forward towards my goal. Sometimes you just have to plunge into the work. It has helped to picture myself in a graduation gown, smiling with my family by my side. I am going to frame it on my wall one day.|
Are you a working mom pursuing a college degree online? Do you have any advice for other moms who are thinking of going back to school?
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Image Credits: Tinatin on Shutterstock.com and courtesy Rachel and Scott Albert