How One Online Student Balances Family, Work, and School

Amber Brehmer tells how she manages her time as a parent, store clerk, and online student.

By SHARE

Amber Brehmer, 29, wakes up at 4 a.m., five days a week to accomplish her three main responsibilities: parenting, work, and online school. Brehmer is a wife and the mother of a 3 year old. She’s also works full time as a clerk in the receiving department of Home Depot in Milwaukee. And, since January 2009, she’s been an online student pursuing an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Bryant & Stratton College Online, which also has 17 campuses in four states.

Brehmer personifies the average online student: a female between 25 and 44 who is employed full time and is pursuing an undergraduate degree online, according to a survey of 68,760 online learners from 87 institutions between 2006-2009 by Noel-Levitz, a consulting company that helps colleges with enrollment and student success. More than half of the surveyed online learners are married, and 35 percent are married with kids. Brehmer says once she completes her degree in April 2011, she wants to earn a bachelor’s degree online in criminal justice from Bryant & Stratton, and eventually work in forensics as a fingerprint examiner. U.S. News spoke with Brehmer about her views on online education and how she balances school, a full-time job, and her family.

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1. Why did you decide to take online classes? 
The number one reason I went back to school online was because of my daughter. We don't put my daughter in day care, so my husband and I actually work opposite shifts so we don't have to do day care. I wasn't willing to take that extra time away from her and put her somewhere where she wasn't going to be around her family. I wanted to figure out a way where I could still learn and not have to sit in a classroom. I didn't benefit from having a teacher standing there talking to me. With the online school, it's all reading and it's visual and that's the way I learn. 
 
2. What have been the drawbacks of taking online classes?
It does take up a lot of your time, for the most part. It's always going; it's a year-round thing. You do get a month off here and a month of there, but as far as planning vacations, you have to plan your vacations around your school or expect to still be doing school work because you can't make things up. You have to stay on task because it is so accelerated you can't really just leave it and then come back. There are a lot of components that you have to do on a daily basis. So being able to step away can be a drawback.
 
3. Can you describe your typical day?
I wake up at 4 a.m., and leave for work at 4:30. I start work at 5 a.m. and work until 1:30 p.m., five days a week. I take my lunches and any breaks to do my school work. I do as much as I possibly can during those times. When I get home, I take care of my daughter. On days that she does nap, I'll do school while she's napping for about an hour and a half. If she doesn't nap, we'll give her an hour a day of TV time, so we sit down, and she gets to watch her TV while I do my school work. ... Monday through Thursday, I go to bed at the same time as her, around 9 p.m. On Friday nights, I'm up until 11:30 p.m. or 12 a.m., and will do school work and watch TV at the same time. On Saturdays, my husband is around for a couple hours in the morning, so I'll do my school work on Saturday mornings. All my homework is due on Saturday at midnight, so I'll do work from 9 to 11 p.m., if there is work I need to finish up before it's due. 
 
4. How many hours of school work do you complete each week? 
Throughout the week, I work probably two to three hours every day. On Fridays, I take a little bit more time because I do work after my daughter goes to bed, which takes probably closer to five hours. Then, I work between three to six hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
 
5. What are the challenges of balancing your job, school and family?
I keep feeling like there's not enough hours in the day. Being on a set schedule at work, I feel like I'm not getting enough done at work, and I can't stay later because I have to get home to take care of my daughter. ... This is my only child--we're not having any more--so I want to be able to spend as much time as I possibly can with her. There have been times when I have school work to do, but I want to spend time with my daughter. You're almost in a mental struggle at times as to what's going to be better to do at that point in time. It's kind of a realization that this is short term; I'm only going to school for a couple of years. Then, after that, I'll be able to benefit and better myself for her and be there for her later on.