Mary Adams, now the president of American Sentinel University, credits online education for the successful career that she otherwise might not have experienced. Online education offers adult students the chance for success in their careers that they otherwise might not experience. Just ask Mary Adams, who dropped out of college and returned 17 years later and eventually became president of two universities.
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Adams, now the president of American Sentinel University, says that she always knew she would go back to school and earn her degree – even if it were many years after she originally dropped out.
She and her husband were struggling financially with four kids between the ages of four and 13 and she was working part-time. But Adams knew that her path to success depended on her earning a degree.
“I didn’t think anyone would hire me if I didn’t have a degree and I knew that going back to school was my best chance to be successful,” says Adams.
Things got even worse for her when she finally returned to school: Adams’ husband lost his job, they lost their home and they were forced to move in with her parents.
“What kept me going was that I knew the path to success was predicated on finishing my degree and that each course I successfully passed gave me more confidence in myself to continue,” she says.
Balancing Work and Family Life
When Adams first went back to school she wasn’t altogether sure that she could do it because she hadn’t fared so well the first time around. So she devised a plan to make it work with her family by getting everyone involved.
Adams plan for success was simple. Her kids had to study or read when she had to study. She says this concept works well if you have kids in school and the parents aren’t working opposite shifts. For the family, it sets the expectation that it’s study time for everyone, which can be a great way to gain some personal time during the week.
“When I went back to school, my kids knew that even if they didn’t have homework, there was an hour to two hours each day set aside for everyone to do some homework or read quietly,” she adds.
Adams’ family also pitched in to help out with the housework and preparing meals. Her kids made their own lunches the night before the following day of school. “I swear we ate the same seven meals for a few years, but persevered,” she says.
Most importantly, Adams says that she learned how to say ‘No’ and that she didn’t need to volunteer for everything at school to be a good mother.
She also made sure to set up a do-not-disturb study place in her home. Although her house was not big enough to accommodate a study, she set up an area with a desk that was used for school work.
“Having this study place put me in the right frame of mind. If you schedule the time in your calendar to do something, you are much more likely to do it than if you just hope you will have time to study,” says Adams. “This mindset ensures that you avoid that last-minute weekly scramble. It’s also a great way to keep focused on how much time you need to do your course work.”
Outside of the home, she carried her schoolwork with her almost everywhere she went, so whenever she had some free time, she could read and take notes.
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For any adult student going back to school, Adams recommends that you learn the signs for when you’re falling behind or feeling too much stress. If you can identify them early, you can plan ahead.
It’s not a good idea to take a lengthy break from your studies, she adds, because it is harder to get started again. But if you need to do so, try to plan ahead so you can avoid any additional stress of feeling guilty about taking a month off.
She also stresses that adult students be realistic, especially as to what they can handle and what they can’t. Adams urges adult students not to take on too much and to be realistic with their expectations.
She notes that while many students use the holidays to make great progress toward completing their degrees, others find that the activities associated with the holidays are stressful enough. “You shouldn’t need to worry about doing homework when everyone else in the family is celebrating,” she explains.
She recommends that adult students keep a chart of credit hours needed to finish their degree and that it be updated for each final grade earned. It can also be helpful to add an expected completion date at the top to track progress in both credits remaining and time remaining until you reach your goal.
Adams found the best way to stay balanced is to focus on what you are learning, not the final grade.
Most importantly, Adams says, take the time to celebrate small victories.
“As an adult student you want to do well, but a lot of stress can come from wanting to get all A’s,” says Adams. “A’s are great, but they aren’t worth adding stress to your life. I recommend that adult students focus on the big picture. GPA is important, but it’s not the most important thing in your life when you are balancing so much. The learning is what’s important.”
Twenty years after dropping out of college, Adams earned a bachelor of arts in history from California State University, Fullerton and later earned her MBA from ISIM University.
Since earning her degree, Adams has gained more than 20 years of experience in distance education, including serving as president of Aspen University from 1992 to 2004. She has served as president of American Graduate School of Management (and its successor, American Sentinel University), since 2004.
Secrets to Her Success
Adams credits distance learning for her successes today.
“Distance learning via telecourses helped me earn credits toward my bachelor’s degree before online education was readily available. Most of my undergraduate work was in the traditional classroom, which meant I had to show up for classes when they were offered.”
She earned her graduate degree online and notes that, in some ways, it was easier and other ways it was harder.
“I could schedule my time, but it also meant it was a little to easy to put things off since I didn’t have to show up at a certain time,” says Adams. “It definitely gave me an appreciation for online students, what kind of discipline it takes, how hard they have to work and the kinds of support they need.”
Adams thinks that distance education is the difference-maker for stay-at-home moms who want to go back to school and earn their degree without needing to leave their home.
“Today with the Internet so readily available and so many degree choices, a woman can change her life one course at a time.”
She notes that a woman can still hold down a job, take care of her family and with a little less sleep for a few years she can learn anything she needs to start a new career or run her own business.
Adams says it is important to have a plan and keep your goal in sight, but that you need to take time to look at every opportunity.
For instance, she had originally planned to become a history teacher, but in her final year of college, she enrolled in a course called ‘what to do with history if you don’t want to teach.’ She credits this class for changing her life by opening her up to what else she could do with her degree.
Adams took time to look at other opportunities and was hired to work with an entrepreneur who was creating a new online school, “and the rest is history,” she says. Adams says she never saw herself becoming a president of a university, but gives credit to the role that distance education played to prepare her for opportunities that she otherwise might have overlooked.
“I have worked hard and was able to change my life one class at a time with a supportive husband and family who allowed me to do great things,” says Adams. “Now I love what I do and would never have predicted this outcome all those year ago without the benefits of distance education.”