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Attending college alone is a unique challenge. From applying for admissions to paying for tuition to studying and test-taking to graduation. Heading into Father’s Day weekend we reached out to a couple of dads to get their experience juggling life along their journey.

A little background on the dads we interviewed. Walter is a single father who returned to finish his degree after the loss of his son’s mother. Ben was a member of the military who earned a degree while raising three kids. Chad is a father of two who finished a degree that was started before the birth of his first child.

What made you want to earn a degree while being a father?

Ben: “I elected to attend college in order to earn a degree that I felt would afford me greater opportunities to further my career.”

Walter: “College seemed like the best way to go beyond the job I was in and begin a career.”

Chad: “I’ve always liked school and my degree seemed like the best way to make a career out of what I enjoyed.”

What were some challenges you faced while earning your degree?

Walter: “I had a long commute which took time away from both family and school responsibilities. I had to learn to make every minute count, whether as a father or a student.”

Ben: “Balancing time between my work responsibilities, family, and other obligations required a strong sense of time management and motivation to get things done.”

Chad: “Being a new father, my greatest challenges were learning how to care for my children. ‘You never know what you don’t know, until you have to know it.’”

How did you pay for your degree?

Chad: “Loans mostly, towards the end of my degree I got some tuition reimbursement from my employer.”

Walter: “Family helped pay for my first year. The second year I used loans. I got the Pell Grant and school grants to finish my last three years.”

Ben: “Most of my school was government-funded”

Do you feel your kids are more or less likely to go to college?

Ben: “I believe my children learned how hard work and the occasional sacrifice is required in order to achieve success. As a result, I am confident that each of my children will take with them the lessons they observed as they pursue their own degrees in the future.”

Walter: “I don’t know if they will attend college or not. I suspect they will because they were too young to remember any of the struggles I experienced before getting my degree. There is a big push to forgo college and instead work right away. I hope they realize the long-term benefit of some kind of vocational training if not a full degree.”

Chad: “I suspect my kids have no choice. I have already seen my effort influence their attitudes towards their school work. My kids are all in high-achiever courses in school so they will be pushed in that direction.”

What advice do you have for other fathers either currently working toward their degree, or considering going back to school?

Chad: “I advise you to take your time and make sure the degree you seek will afford you the opportunity you desire. Do not discount the amount of time and effort it will take to balance school and family. Realize you will fail at times, accept that and do the best you can. Expect to lose friends and make new ones. Spend twice as much time looking forward as you do backward. Most of all, time is precious so enjoy every second.”

Ben: “My advice is to place the importance of being a father and a husband above all other requirements or responsibilities. Before making the decision to pursue a degree, it is absolutely critical that the decision be a fully joint one between you and your spouse. Especially if your children are small. Without the full support and understanding of your family, the stress of successfully completing your program will be even greater. If already pursuing a degree, place emphasis on ensuring your duties as a father do not diminish. It is of paramount importance that you support the needs of your spouse but also allow for time spent listening and encouraging your children as they grow and experience their own challenges. There are no requirements, professionally or academically, that supersede the day-to-day responsibilities of being a father and a husband. Finally, be sure that the degree you are pursuing will afford you the greatest opportunity to advance professionally. The decision you are making to achieve a greater level of education, and consequently the sacrifices you will make at the expense of your family, necessitates the highest level of scrutiny.”

Walter: “Do the things that bring you joy, that made the biggest difference for me. An on-campus advisor told me “don’t sweat the small stuff” when I was struggling with prepping for a test. I didn’t realize until now how much that impacted me. It will be hard but if you see the big picture the missed assignments and being late to a recital will fade away. As far as family, just be present. Don’t get sucked into having to see everything or what this dad does that you don’t. Ask for help, you will need it and it does not mean that you are a bad person. The other parents loved to pick up the kids or bring them home and those little things were the 10-20 minutes that made all the difference.”

By Jason Combs