A student in Saint Leo's online criminal justice degree program and a mother of five young children, Nikki Bryan shares what it's like to return to school after 14 years.

By Nikki Bryan,

Student, Saint Leo University | Online

It has almost been a whole year! A whole year since I embarked on the journey of returning to college.

Many people were shocked that I would return to school being that I am in my thirties and a mother to five little children. Trinity is my oldest; she is 10. Victoria is 9. DJ is 8. Lily is 6, and Jake is 3.

Actually, I was a little hesitant myself. I didn't know if I could keep up since my days were already packed. But I decided to just make the choice and do it.

After all, how would I know if I could do it or not if I didn't try?

Finding a caring community online

I knew I would have to do an online degree program because I still had a little one at home all day. I searched every school I could find, and discovered a few that I liked. But to be perfectly honest, Saint Leo University found me. I had received an email from Saint Leo, and decided to look into it.

As it turns out, I was really impressed with Saint Leo's core values and what the school stood for, so I applied.

Call it fate, but I could not have chosen a better university.

At Saint Leo, I have experienced the most caring and supportive staff that have helped me every step of the way. I have had the best professors who have taken the time to personally answer my questions and assist me in my assignments.

This support has made all the difference in my success.

Quite simply, I would not have had this same experience if I didn't have such amazing faculty and an amazing school to stand behind me and support me.

Going with the flow

I have always been drawn to law and counterterrorism, so I decided to pursue an online degree in criminal justice/homeland security. I have thought long and hard about going to law school and getting my JD, but I am also drawn to the FBI, NGA, or NSA.

While I know I want to work in this type of field, I still have not figured out exactly what I want to do. And that is okay. The great thing about going to college is you don't have to have everything figured out all at once. You learn more about yourself and what you want to do as your go along.

Overcoming first-term jitters

I have to admit, my first term was scary.

This whole experience was new, and a tad bit untraditional given my situation as a stay-at-home mom and an older college student. I hadn't even been to school in 14 years, so I didn't know what to expect.

As the opening day approached, and I started to read the introductions of the other students in the class, I realized I wasn't the only parent going back to school. And I also wasn't the only one who had been out of school for years.

The days were long that first term. I embraced longer nights than I cared to, and I was tired a lot of the time. However, I didn't give up. I just kept pushing through and somehow I just made it all work.

I like this quote by Thomas Edison: "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."

This quote is so true, and such a testament to my academic journey so far. My first term I made an A, and I was really proud that I was able to stick it out and do so well. I am glad that I never gave up.

New routines, new friends

I am now in my fifth term at Saint Leo. Things have changed a lot.

I have learned how to get into a routine. I still embrace late nights, but it has actually become a calming time that I look forward to. I usually study once the kids go to bed at about 9 p.m.

I have made some lasting friendships though this journey. Two women I have met are also criminal justice majors. We had classes together, and eventually found each other on Facebook. Since then, we help each other with classes, and we are even planning on taking a course together. We encourage each other daily.

In addition, I joined the Student Communication Club. I write for a newsletter for online students at Saint Leo and even had the opportunity to present at a recent meeting.

So I have to say that there's definitely community to be found as an online student.

Life lessons

This journey has taught me that I can do hard things, and that I am capable of great things.

And you can, too.

It may be a hard and scary journey at first, and you may not have it all figured out. But you just have to take it one step at a time.

At the end of it all, when I walk across the stage and get my diploma, I hope my kids look at me, and are inspired. Inspired to never settle in life, to always reach for their dreams no matter how impossible they may seem, and no matter what, to never give up!


The mother of five beautiful children, Nikki Bryan lives in a small town in the heart of Oklahoma. When she's not working on her online courses or busy with her kiddos, she loves to write and would like to write a book one day. She hopes to either attend law school or work for a federal intelligence agency.

 Image Credits: DWilliams on Pixabay and courtesy Nikki Bryan