"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
April 09, 2015
Going Back to College
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I have decided to go back to college. I got about half-way through when I was younger, but I never finished. I have wanted to finish my formal education for years, and now — many children later — my husband and I feel that the time is finally right for me go back to school. My goal is to have a degree and a vocation.

This time around, I’d like to study a different major. I still have credits for most of my general education classes, and for a minor in my old degree. The major I’d like to pursue now has significant requirements. I’ll need about 21 classes to graduate.

The local university where I now live does not have a good program in the major I want, but I can take online classes from my original university. Then, for classes that are not available online, I’m thinking that my children and I can spend one nine-week term every year with my parents, who live near my original university.

My parents are willing to take over my homeschool duties (and they’ll do a great job), and I will devote myself to studying. My husband will drive out to stay with us for part of the time we are there. He can use vacation time and work remotely.

Does that plan seem feasible? Or am I nuts?


What you are describing is a major venture. Going back to college as a homeschooling mother of a large family will require determination and patience.

And it absolutely can be done.

The first thing you should do, before you enroll in anything, is figure out what kind of vocation you want to pursue. It is not enough to pick a field of study that interests you. You need to think about what kind of job you’d like to have. What you want to be able to do that you cannot do now?

I suggest you find and talk with people who have jobs you think you’d like. Explain that you are going back to school because you are interested in their field and see what they say. Ask each person what he does all day. What was his career path? What kind of education does he have? What kinds of qualifications do new hires in the field have? What does he think is the future of the field?

Note the tone and enthusiasm of your conversations. Not everyone will be Suzy Sunshine, but if people in your desired field seem universally worn down and burned out, or if they maintain work and travel schedules that you are not willing to endure, you might consider another profession.

More importantly, you might discover that these jobs are not what you expected. Or that you need a different education than you were planning. Or that it takes twenty years to break into the field, making it impractical for a person who would be starting work in her forties or fifties.

Second, call your original university. After you have identified the kind of job you want and figured out what education you’ll need, you need to learn (1) if that major is available at the university (and, based on your own research, if the program is well regarded), (2) if your old credits are still good, and if so, for how long, (3) whether online credits can be used towards the degree you want, and for which classes (4) if the school will accept credits from your local university, and for which classes, (5) the process of enrolling as a non-traditional student, and (6) if there are any other impediments to your plan to earn a degree over a number of years through online classes and occasional terms on campus.

You may have to talk to several departments. Prepare a script that explains who you are and what you are trying to accomplish.

And when you call, keep notes of each conversation (date, person’s name, information conveyed, and any other pertinent information). Keep your notes together and in order. With a little luck, the people you reach at the university will be knowledgeable and helpful. But if they are not, call back another day and talk to someone else.

Third, consider taking classes at your local university. Even if its program is not well regarded, there are probably basic classes you could take that would serve just fine. If there are several colleges in your area, investigate all of them to see if they offer the classes and schedule you need, or if they have programs for non-traditional students.

It makes more sense, in my mind, to take as many classes as you can locally. Not only is it more convenient than moving your family for two months of each year, but you will finish your degree faster.

Local classes would also avoid the potential stress of online classes. That is, online classes tend to hang over your head every second of every day. Every time you sit down to read a book you’ll think, “Shoot! I should be doing statistics right now.”

Fourth, once you know what classes you’ll need and how long you’ll have to complete them, you will have enough information to make the when, what and where decisions about actual enrollment. To the extent it is necessary, your plan to stay with your parents for nine weeks each year seems feasible, or at least worth trying.

Your children will certainly survive nine weeks of homeschool from grandma and grandpa. However, if your parents are going to be the primary caregivers and educators of your children for those months, you will have to give them more leeway than usual to do things their way.

The plan as it regards your husband is more concerning. Nine weeks is a long time for a father to be separated from the family. Taking vacation time (I’d fly if the drive takes more than six hours — his time is valuable) is a way to ameliorate the separation, but I am skeptical of his plan to work remotely.

Few workplaces will admit that face time is as important as it is. At many workplaces, a person who wanted to travel to a different state and work from that location would be viewed with suspicion, even if the amount and quality of his work did not decrease.

Working remotely diminishes his connection to his office and to the people who work there. Even if his immediate supervisor endorses the plan, that person’s supervisor might be unhappy with the arrangement. And if your husband is not physically at his workplace, he will miss opportunities, increase the chance of miscommunication and perhaps even create resentment in his co-workers.

Finally, we haven’t even touched the twin topics of time and money. College classes mean tuition, fees, books and parking passes. You will need a computer, software, supplies and clothes. You will have to hire people to assume some of your many duties, such as child care, curriculum development and housework, and all of that costs money.

You will also have to run a household, homeschool a large family and take college courses all at the same time. That’s quite the undertaking, and it will require a solid plan. However, as much as I love planning ahead, I’m not sure it is realistic to try and plan all of the details in advance. Instead, I suggest you start with one class at your local college, and make further plans based on that experience.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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