Picking A Family-Friendly School

Single students often select prospective schools based on factors like campus size, program ranking and availability of experts within their discipline. These factors are still important to student parents, but they must also consider whether the institution adequately caters to their family’s needs. Keep reading to learn about some of the challenges often encountered by degree seekers with families and how schools can help.

Spotlight on Family-Friendly Programs

Plenty of colleges and universities throughout the U.S. now provide a number of services for parenting grad students, but the offerings vary significantly across institutions. Some may only offer limited child care, while others truly go above and beyond to ensure degree seekers and their families receive excellent care and support. The schools highlighted below fall into the category of exceptional.

  • From its campus headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University provides myriad resources and support services to parenting grad students. While the Student Parent Association offers a great space to connect with other students who have children, degree seekers should also check with with human resources to learn more about the available family and childcare resources. CMU’s main campus provides the Cyert Center for Early Education, a full-time daycare and educational program for children aged three months to five years. The school also offers up to $5,000 in benefits to reduce the cost of childcare, provides lactation rooms and changing tables, and offers academic maternity accommodations.

  • Recognizing that no parenting grad student can find success without the support of their families, the university offers comprehensive resources to ensure spouses and children feel connected and involved throughout the learning process. In addition to an active Facebook page, students with children e-list, and Cornell parent newsletter, the institution provides the Cornell University Child Care Center, Cornell Student Child Care Grant, SHP insurance for dependents, 30 lactation rooms spread across campus, on-campus pediatricians, and family-friendly accommodation. During Student Parent Study Night, Cornell provides campus-based childcare so learners can study, while Time Out! allows parenting students to have dinner with fellow parents and enjoy a guest speaker.

  • At Duke University’s Raleigh, North Carolina campus, administrators and professors believe students joining the institution become part of the Duke family – as do their spouses and children. The school dedicates itself to ensuring students with families not only survive, but thrive. To that end, it provides up to $5,000 per year in childcare subsidies to ensure students don’t have to worry about their kids receiving quality care while they attend classes. The school also allows doctoral students to take guaranteed time off from studies if they give birth to or adopt a child. Meanwhile, the GradParents Student Group provides a range of family-friendly programming, off-campus events, quarterly lunches, and networking opportunities alongside events to help spouses get involved.

  • Student parents enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Yale can take advantage of numerous services and support systems to make juggling school and family life easier. The department provides Ph.D. students with annual subsidies of $4,600 for children of any age, plus an additional $1,000 per additional child living at home. Children of students can also use YaleHealth and Yale dental and eye insurance until the age of 26, while parents can take up to eight weeks off (while still receiving a stipend) whenever they welcome a new child into the family via birth or adoption. Yale provides numerous family-friendly housing options in both campus and community locations, the WorkLife program to help learners find balance, subsidized in-home childcare, and the Yale babysitting service.

Balancing Family, Work and School: Top Tips

Thousands of graduate students with families complete their educations – some of them while working. But to accomplish this impressive feat, many implemented lots of strategies, tools and systems to find time for each responsibility. The following section provides some top tips and advice for making time for family, work and school while also making time for yourself.

  • Managing the schedules of yourself, your partner/spouse and your kids requires lots of forward planning. Because grad school schedules and study meetings don’t typically follow a structured plan from week-to-week, it’s important for each family member to know what happens each day. Creating a daily schedule showing who picks up the children, cooks dinner, walks the dog or takes out the trash helps to make sure daily tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

  • Even without the responsibilities that come along with having a family, grad school can be difficult. When trying to juggle both simultaneously, the whole process can seem overwhelming. The key to sanity and seeing your dream through is to create an excellent support system. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be sure your peers, professors and family have a full understanding of what your life looks like during this season so they can be there for you.

  • Rather than trying to do work at the kitchen island or dining room table, set aside a space in your house with a door that can be closed. Although it can be difficult to separate yourself from your partner and children while doing homework, students who have a dedicated study space get through their homework and assignments more quickly and actually get to spend more time with their families.

  • When it’s 2:00 a.m. and you still need to write 10 more pages for the paper due tomorrow, it’s normal to question whether grad school is worth it. In these moments, focus on why you decided to get the degree in the first place. Whether increasing your career prospects, enhancing your earning potential, furthering your academic knowledge or creating a better life for your family, focus on the end goal.

  • In the midst of balancing the schedules of your family, keeping yourself organized while in school can often be put on the backburner. Establishing systems, processes and filing procedures is well worth it, however, as staying organized ensures you turn in assignments on time, properly prepare for tests and maybe even get to spend more time with your family rather than searching for a missing document.

  • When juggling family, school and sometimes work, the most important thing a student can do for those around them is communicate. Peers and professors who understand your busy schedule are much more likely to accommodate your circumstances than if they don’t know what’s going on. The same is true of employers.

  • It can be temping to stretch out on the couch and watch endless amounts of television after a long day. While every student needs those days where they fully disconnect from school, they also need to ensure they stick to their goals. Some learners find it helpful use alarms and/or alerts to create structure. Rather than watching television for four hours, set a reminder on your phone after an hour and then resume studying.

  • Parenting grad students often feel themselves being pulled constantly in different directions as they work to meet the needs of professors, colleagues, employers, spouses/partners and children. Being responsible to each relationship is critical, but students also need to be kind to themselves so they don’t burn out. Parenting students can do this by eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, exercising moderately and taking breaks.

Paying for Grad School with a Family

According to a study by College Board, annual costs for master’s and doctoral degrees continue to rise year over year. For the 2017-2018 year, students working toward a master’s degree paid $8,670 annually to attend a public institution and $29,960 for private educations. Doctoral candidates, meanwhile, paid $10,830 and $42,920 for public and private schools, respectively. Adding tens of thousands of dollars in educational costs each year isn’t often feasible for students with families, but fortunately they can find numerous methods of saving money along the way.

  • Families who meet income requirements receive a tax credit of $1,000 for every child living with them at least 50% of their time. Students can also take advantage of a number of other school-related tax credits to further reduce their educational burden. The Lifetime Learning Credit allows degree seekers to receive a 20 percent refund on up to $10,000 of learning expenses, while the Tuition and Fees Deduction allows up to $4,000 of qualified school expenses to be deducted.

  • Under rules of the IRS, employers whose companies participate in Employer Tuition Assistance programs can omit up to $5,250 annually in benefits used to pay for qualified educational expenses. These funds do not have to be shown on your tax return.

  • Many schools offer student assistantships and/or research grants that can cover the entire cost of education. Many even provide a living stipend in addition to tuition. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for graduate teaching assistants in 2017 was $32,460. Due to the financial assistance provided, grants and assistantships are highly competitive.

  • As demonstrated above in the study conducted by College Board, students attending a public college or university as a resident student can save more than $21,000 annually if working toward a master’s degree or more than $32,000 annually for a Ph.D. when compared to tuition at a private institution.

  • Many colleges and universities provide free or discounted tuition for university staff, faculty and administrators – provided they meet eligibility requirements. At the University of Louisville, for instance, students working at least 80 percent of a full-time schedule can take up to two free classes per term. At Pennsylvania State University, employees, their spouse and any children aged 26 or under receive a 75 percent discount on the cost of tuition.

  • Students seeking more information about how to pay for a graduate degree and save money along the way can review other GoGrad guides on these topics, including Paying for Your Master’s Degree, Smart Students’ Guide to Graduate Student Loans, and Alternative Ways to Pay for Graduate School.

Q&A with a Grad School Parent

John P. Sousa is currently a Campaign Manager for 301 Digital Media. Both John and his wife attended grad school with young children; in fact, their second child was born while his wife pursued her Ph.D. John completed his MFA in writing in 2008-2010 with a three-year-old. When he finished, his wife returned to finish her Ph.D. in history.

  • What, if any, services did your school offer to help balance coursework with having a family?

    My program at the University of San Francisco was designed for working adults, so we met twice per week in the evenings, which made it pretty easy to facilitate childcare, but didn't offer any specific benefits or programs for families. While my wife was at Yale, the big benefit they offered was health insurance for the whole family, and in fact, that allowed us to have our second daughter without incurring any costs.

  • What tips do you have for students looking to balance family, work, and school?
    1. If possible, be near extended family. This was key when I was in grad school, as we had grandparents available for childcare.
    2. Different programs and schools offer different services/benefits for grad students; try to find one that is family friendly.
    3. This is hard, but getting into a funded program (i.e. where tuition is covered and/or you're paid a stipend) is a life-saver, because at least you won't have to balance having another job (which will allow you spend more time with your family), and you're less likely to go into debt.
    4. If you do work, take advantage of any employer education benefits.
    5. Get to know the other students in your cohort who are also parents. Sometimes it's good to just commiserate, and you can also swap childcare occasionally.
  • What are some aspects of balancing family and school that you maybe didn't consider before the process started?

    Working from home was a challenge, because if you're home, then the kids (and sometimes your spouse) want your attention. It can be difficult to explain, especially to small kids, that you're working, and need to be left alone. Go to the library when possible.

  • If you had it to do over again, are there any changes you would make?

    I would have done more research when applying to grad school, with a focus on finding a school that was more supportive of families (maybe with student/family housing, or a childcare center).

  • Any advice on how to pay for grad school with a family? 

    Apply for as many scholarships as possible, take advantage of any work reimbursement, and try not to take out many student loans! I entered grad school at the start of the Great Recession, and while I was fortunate to have some really great, part-time employers during that time, I took on a lot of debt, which I'm still dealing with 8 years later. Seeing that balance is a real source of shame because the number was so large and I'm not sure it was worth it. It's a problem when the only people who go to grad school are those who can afford it because it prices out people who have a lot to offer. If you can avoid taking on debt, that's the best advice, but also maybe not very helpful, because grad school can be so expensive.