Going Back to School for a Bachelor's Degree - And More
I started out on a traditional education path: I graduated from high school and went to straight to college. But halfway through my freshman year, I found out I was going to be a mom. I knew that taking care of a baby while attending school full-time, away from home, would be impossible, so I dropped out. About ten years later, after having two more kids, I went back to school to get my nursing degree, and then worked in the healthcare field for the next five or six years.
I had always wanted a master's degree, and had set a goal for myself to be enrolled in a program by the time I was 40. I had to complete a bachelor's degree first, so I began looking at schools and that's how I found Champlain.
My Experience as an Online Student: Fitting School in as a Working Mom
The biggest challenge in going back to school was figuring out how I would attend classes. I live in Southern Vermont, where there aren't many educational opportunities, so to pursue the degree I wanted I had to either move away or find an online program. I wanted to go to a school that had a good reputation - I didn't want to go to an online college without a brick and mortar base. When I started looking up schools, I found Champlain, and it met all the criteria I was looking for.
As a working mom, doing the online program was the only way I was able to pursue my education, and it worked out really well. I had to be creative when it came to fitting in my schoolwork: a lot of the time, I did homework while my kids were sleeping, or I'd bring my textbooks to work and do some reading during my lunch break. Days off were my dedicated homework days. I've done homework in so many places from the pool while my kids were swimming, to the emergency room when one of them had an accident. During my program, I had to travel for my job, so I've done homework in airports and in hospitals across the country, from Oregon to Tennessee. It was made easy for me, because I could just use the Canvas app on my phone to read or respond to discussion posts no matter where I was.
I think my kids got tired of me always doing homework, but they appreciated that I could do my schoolwork while we were together - I didn't have to rush off to class.
The Support I Found at Champlain College Online
I was able to fit school in despite all of the things that life threw at me during the five years I spent at Champlain. And when there were times when things got tricky for me, I could contact my professors and let them know I couldn't meet a deadline. They always worked with me to find a solution.
The instructor that had the biggest impact for me was in my healthcare finance class. I ran into a situation where my daughter ended up in the hospital for a month. I was in the middle of a huge project and wasn't sure if I would be able to get it done on time, so I emailed the instructor and we set up a time to talk on the phone. I was so overwhelmed by everything that was going on and I couldn't focus on school, so we talked through it and he helped me make sense of the assignment, and then worked with me to come up with a plan to get all of the work turned in. He was so compassionate and caring and truly wanted me to succeed, and that meant a lot.
More often than not, I found that the Champlain faculty and staff have all had that level of compassion and support: they want you to do well, and they want you to be successful in your program. They want you to focus on what you're actually learning and how you can apply it to real life instead of focusing on grades.
One of the biggest gifts of the Champlain experience is that all of the classes you take are set up so that you're not just learning textbook concepts, you're applying them to something you're actively doing in your job. The instructors ask you to think to put everything into the context of your workplace, and that really makes the education feel more real.
How Going Back to School Helped Me Advance in My Career
Having a master's degree is definitely helping me to meet my goals. I'm a registered nurse, and now I have an MBA to go along with my RN. That opens up a lot of doors. I started working in management about halfway through my nursing career, and I knew that I needed more than an associate degree in nursing if I wanted to continue advancing. I've been able to do that with the knowledge and education I've received.
Shortly before completing my MBA, I got a promotion. I'm now working at a higher level than before, and it's made me much more marketable. Now people don't look at me and think "she's a great nurse who knows how to lead people"; they understand that I have deeper knowledge gained through my education, and that makes a difference.
The biggest lesson I learned during my time at Champlain is to not put yourself in a box, because there's always a different way of looking at things. There's always a method you haven't tried yet, or a way to take a process a step further. Champlain teaches you to go beyond what's been done before, and drives you to achieve something better - they make you feel like you can do anything, and that's pretty exciting.
Vanessa Junkins received her online bachelor's in healthcare administration from Champlain in 2016, and finished her online MBA in 2018.