Here’s a question that we get asked all the time: What exactly is it that we did for a living? Well, the short answer is that Amon was an urban planner and I was an attorney. But just leaving it at that feels like I’m leaving out a lot of the story because I didn’t actually become an attorney until pretty late in my professional career.
In fact, my law school journey actually started after becoming a mom, when the kids were 5 and 3 years old. As a “mature” student, I may not have fit the typical law school mold but I sure did have an incredible experience that I’d love to share with you guys!
We were living and working in Spain when we decided that my going law school was something we as a family wanted to pursue. I took the LSATs in Madrid and chose UCLA Law as my school. Amon flew from Spain directly to San Francisco, where he was able to get a job, while the girls and I moved down to Los Angeles to live in student housing at the school. Over the next three years we learned so much about how to succeed as family while returning to school full-time. So if you’re thinking about going back to school as a parent or even just returning past the typical college years, keep reading to hear all about my experience and tips that you might find helpful!
Tip 1: Have A Strong Support System
This is probably the most important tip on the list! Law school is HARD. To really make the process as easy as possible it is crucial to have a strong and secure support system to help you through it. For me, this support system was my family. Amon and the girls were 100% on board and were so supportive throughout the whole process! Because Amon’s job was located in a completely different city, we were unable to move to LA as one unit. To make this work, Amon took the effort to travel down to LA every single weekend, and even switched his work schedule around so that he could work from home and have extended weekends. That way, we were able to work around his job and have more time as a family.
We also decided to live in graduate family housing at UCLA because we knew that by doing this we would be surrounding ourselves with other families in a similar situation to us. In this setting, the girls were able to make friends really fast and we were able to take part in an informal system that benefited everyone involved by allowing for things like babysitting throughout the week.
Tip 2: Have A Detailed Schedule
With so much chaos in our lives, having a detailed schedule was vital to our success. Amon was in San Francisco for around half the week, so I had to take the girls to and from school and different appointments, on top of juggling my classes and studying. I’d never have been able to keep all of this straight without a detailed schedule that I could follow.
Tip 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You can’t do it all yourself, and that’s ok. Especially as a returning student, you have to be open to asking for help from other students. As older students, many of us may have to struggle with our pride and really accept that in order to achieve success we have to be okay with reaching out to people that may be significantly younger than us. In my case, there were a LOT of times when I found myself asking kids that were 21 or 22 years old for help. My ability to do this really ended up benefiting me in the end.
Tip 4: Don’t Procrastinate - Use Your Time Wisely
While procrastinating is never ideal, this is especially true in law school where grades in the first year are usually determined by only one test at the end of the term. Because the system is structured this way, you may think that you can get away with not prioritizing school early in the semester. Trust me when I tell you that this is a BAD idea. If you end up procrastinating on your readings and notes, you’ll have no choice but to cram everything into the last few weeks before the exam. Doing so can make this period significantly more stressful than it needs to be and can impact your academic success. Not to mention the fact that if you have kids you might not be able to get away with dropping everything to study all day, everyday like younger students might.
Tip 5: Keep your Eye on the Prize - School is Only Temporary
Remember: School is temporary. In the grand scheme of things, the 3 or 4 years (or more!) you spend in school is just a small blip in the timeline of your life. View it as such and be willing to make the necessary changes - both in mindset and habits - to adapt and thrive.
For instance, if you’re someone who procrastinates in your normal life, make the effort to change this, at least for the time you’ve dedicated to going back to school. It might be hard, but remember that this short period is necessary to eventually achieving your goal and leading the life you want to live.
This mindset is something that needs to be present in all members of the family. The whole family has to understand that EVERYONE is sacrificing for this particular amount of time in order to achieve a goal for the entire family.
Tip 6: Learn How to Say NO
In law school, you’ll be presented with a lot of interesting opportunities outside the classroom. As appealing as these might sound, you really have to be realistic about your situation and understand that as returning or mature students, you may not be able to do everything that you want to do. You have constraints that other students may not have and that means you need to be able to limit your activities and commitments to only those which you can practically fulfill. Personally, I only got involved with one extracurricular activity (UCLA Law Review) and had to say no to everything else.
Tip 7: Don’t Allow Others to Let you Feel Extraordinary
When I was in law school, I had a lot of people tell me that what I was doing (going to law school with two young children) was SO amazing. The thing is, while this praise may feel good, it also makes it really easy to accept the narrative that because I’m working so much harder than everyone else, it’s ok if I don’t do as well academically. The problem with this is that if you allow yourself to think that way and use your circumstance as an excuse to expect less of yourself, then your academic success will reflect this lower standard. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying don’t be proud of your achievement. All I’m saying is not to allow others’ opinions to impact the standard that you hold yourself to.
Tip 8: Be Confident
As a parent or returning student with other commitments outside of school, there may be days where you have no choice but to adapt to life’s curve balls. In my case, for instance, there were certain days when I had to bring my kids to class with me. I could’ve viewed this as something to be embarrassed or anxious about. But I didn’t! Instead, I strutted into the lecture hall with confidence because I knew that my kids weren’t disturbing anyone and that, quite frankly, I didn’t want to miss class. Be confident and don’t let yourself feel awkward for doing what you need to do in order to make school work for you!
Confidence also applies to you as a student. It's easy to feel awkward and out of place as someone who may be older than the majority of the class, or to feel insecure in your abilities because you’ve been out of the classroom for so long. But don’t let this shake you! You bring so much valuable real life experience to the classroom and are likely able to provide unique perspectives on topics, so don’t be afraid to fully embrace your role as a student!
Tip 9: Stay Positive
Going back to school as an adult with children can be really challenging, not just on the returning student, but on the entire family. There were a lot of times over those three years when things were hard. We could have focused on the negative aspects, becoming frustrated or unsatisfied with how things were going. But because we maintained a positive attitude, we were able to get through them. Take my word for it: Staying positive is incredibly important to succeeding as a returning student, especially once you have a family.
Being able to build a satisfying career while also increasing your earning potential is a great way to start your FIRE journey. This may or may not require going back to school, but I hope my experience in law school and these nine tips will be helpful to you!
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