According to a 2016 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the mean age of first-time mothers increased from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014. And the average age for first-time dads is now almost 31 years, according to a 2017 Stanford University report.
There’s overlap with the average ages for some graduate programs in this area. Georgetown University’s M.A. in democracy and governance: 25 years. George Washington University’s global MBA program: 28 years. George Mason University’s Scalia Law School: 25 years.
“I think the idea of graduate school as something you do immediately out of college is becoming less and less common,” says Michael Keynes, associate dean of graduate studies at American University. He’s seeing older students coming back to graduate school after spending time in the workforce, either to further their careers or change them altogether.
For graduate students who are also parents, Keynes points to the variety of degree options at American, things like part-time and online programs that make it easier to juggle parenting with school. “Within about five years, we’ve gone from zero to 19 graduate programs online,” he says. “So students have flexibility in terms of when they take their classes.”
Another consideration for parents is child care. Some students are eligible to take advantage of child care at American, Georgetown and George Mason universities. It’s something the University of Maryland sees a need for as well. “As we work with the city of College Park to build out, we are advocating for more graduate housing that is affordable and to have more services such as child care,” says assistant dean Jeffrey Franke.
While she was attending the University of Maryland, Hemingway was grateful for private lactation rooms around campus. (Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason Universities also offer these spaces for students and staff.) She also appreciated the ability to work from home. “New moms need flexible work hours and to be able to work from home as much as possible, especially if they are breastfeeding,” she says.
Before enrolling in a graduate program, students should make sure they can truly balance the commitment of school with being a parent. “I went through a networking process to confirm that it was really important for me to get a graduate degree to continue to progress in the field I want to be in,” says Sarah Koning, 37, a mom of two who’s in a part-time program at American for a master’s degree in organizational development. Relatives help her and her husband with kid duties.
A supportive partner can make a big difference. “If it wasn’t for my wife I would be in trouble,” says Mohamed Osman, 42, a father of two who came from Sudan with his family to get a master’s in finance at American. His wife agreed to handle the bulk of the household and child care duties so he could focus on his studies. “But I devote all of my time to my kids on the weekends,” he says.
It’s vital to stay organized and prioritize tasks so that you can deal with dirty diapers and temper tantrums as well as required reading and group projects.
“My main thing is organization,” says Nabila Hijazi, 48, a mother of three older children who’s getting her Ph.D. in English at the University of Maryland. “I work best by having a routine and following that routine.”
Hemingway hopes faculty can see the upside of being a parent and a graduate student. “You will never find a more productive graduate student than a graduate student who is a parent,” she says. “They’re motivated not only for themselves and their careers, but they’re also setting an example for their children.”
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