The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Life as a parent returning to college

Illustration by Amy Sandoval

My two teenage sons motivate, frustrate, inspire and infuriate me. They make me smile and make me, to use their lingo, cringe.

They have watched my return to school, beginning with them attending my graduation ceremony in June 2022 for my third AA in Psychology. The first two were earned before they were even born. Then they saw me transferring to CSUN two years later to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism.

It’s one thing to be a returning transfer student, with one or two years of higher education under your belt. Wait, not a belt. Who wears those anymore, anyway?

Either way, you’ve got some experience. This isn’t your first rodeo. Maybe you took some time off for personal reasons, like travel, or just being over it and needing a break, or even COVID because not everyone wanted to learn online, some people prefer actual in-person education. Perhaps you wanted to change careers, learn a skill, or, like me, you want to get your bachelors as a matter of principle.

You’ve already worked some jobs, moved around, bought and sold cars, traveled, partied with celebrities, loved and lost, buried your father, You’ve lived a life, but, because you had children, you never quite finished getting that degree.
Now, for me, those children are (fairly) self-sufficient, thereby allowing me to become that rare creature: A returning full-time transfer student, single mom with two jobs and two teenage sons.

As a working mother, I appreciate the online classes, mostly because I don’t have to drive two hours or more round trip to attend class. Asynchronous classes are my favorite, as I’m able to attend class when it suits me, but I do enjoy the camaraderie of in-person classes.

If it’s a synchronous class, I try to keep my video camera on so that I can engage more. Just because a class is online, doesn’t mean you have to be removed from your peers.

Speaking of peers though, I don’t have many as a returning transfer student who is a parent. According to, in California, around 20% of undergraduates are parenting students. Additionally, 181,182 students are single mothers. Of those students, nearly 40% report feeling disconnected from their college. Just 28% of single mothers graduate with a degree or certificate within six years of enrollment. On the other hand, 55% of single mothers leave school before earning a college credential.

I feel a disconnect not because the majority of my classes are online, but because the majority of the time, I am the oldest person in my class, including the professor.

While it is interesting and entertaining to be part of a class where the majority of the students are fresh out of high school or in their early 20s, I find it off-putting when professors teach and use language that automatically lumps me into their peer group. I’m not. My experiences are most likely aligned more with the professor than the students, but as mentioned, not always, considering I’m almost 51 years old.
To be clear, I’m not unhappy with my return to school, but I do wish that more accommodations were automatically granted to students who are parents.

For example, adding more online classes, offering weekend and evening in-person classes, and if possible, for those students who need it, on-campus child care or a discount with affiliated schools who can provide childcare.

Whether student parents decide to utilize these accommodations is up to them, but it is better to have the option than not.

That said, one thing that is very phenomenal about being a returning transfer student parent is the amount of financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships available. I have been awarded far more than I ever received as an incoming, newbie 18-year-old freshman, and the funds definitely help me to pursue my degree.

I could not pursue my degree were it not for the financial aid. Another amazing thing about going back to school is that my children see my efforts, and we are often aligned in our lack of desire to finish, or start, assignments, let alone go to school.

It offers me a new way of relating to my middle and high school sons, and a good example to them that it is not too late to pursue your goals, whatever they may be.

The coolest thing on the horizon? My eldest son and I will both be part of the graduating class of 2025. He will graduate high school, and I’ll graduate from CSUN. Hopefully, not on the same day!

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