If you’ve considered going back to college but are hesitating because you aren’t sure how to balance your work, family and school obligations, consider this: There has never been a more important time to have a degree for achieving long-term success in law enforcement, and likewise, there have never been so many flexible options to help you earn one. Working toward a degree while also maintaining a career — especially if you work nontraditional or unpredictable hours — is certainly a challenge, but a strategic approach can help you achieve your goals.
With schools offering many programs designed for working adults, officers have an array of options to help them meet their individual needs and objectives, including 100% online degrees, hybrid degrees (completed partially online and partially in person), evening and weekend classes, and even self-paced study. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start by doing your research. Choosing the right school and program can save you both time and money. Check college websites and speak with an advisor about how many of your existing academic units can be applied to your degree. National Fraternal Order of Police University (NFOPU) Consortium colleges have developed programs to make your enrollment as smooth as possible while maximizing your prior service, training and college credits — allowing you to graduate faster. All of the schools are regionally accredited (considered the highest standard of accreditation), with some offering tuition discounts to FOP members.
An online program can obviously save you a significant amount of time getting to and from class, and provides the most schedule flexibility. NFOPU schools American Military University, Bellevue University, Liberty University, Tiffin University, Trident University and Upper Iowa University offer fully online bachelor and graduate degrees in criminal justice, organizational leadership, public administration and specialized law enforcement areas such as homeland security and emergency management. These degrees are designed to help officers build their credentials while also receiving academic advising and peer support, without ever setting foot in a classroom. Upper Iowa’s self-paced degree program, with more than 100 courses available, allows students to take up to six months to complete a course via the web or by even by mail. If you prefer a more traditional classroom learning environment, many Consortium colleges offer hybrid degree programs and in-person evening and weekend courses in locations across the U.S., including Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota (Bellevue); Ohio (Tiffin); Vermont, Ohio, California and Florida (Union Institute and University); Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oklahoma and Louisiana (Upper Iowa University); and Missouri (Mineral Area College).
Make a long-term schedule. Once you have chosen a degree program and understand the time commitment and class requirements, prioritize all of your work and household responsibilities,enlisting your significant other and additional family members in the planning process. Set up coverage for the times that you will be unavailable. For instance, if you have family members and friends who want to pitch in by preparing meals, transporting your kids or providing household assistance while you’re enrolled in school, let them help. Be organized, scheduling thoroughly and far in advance, noting when you will have school and work projects due. Speak with your supervisor and, where possible, adjust your schedule to avoid conflicts.
Effective time management will be your most important tool once classes are underway. As an officer, you likely have the advantage of working a 4/10 or 3/12 schedule, so plan blocks of study time during your most productive hours and in a location that allows you to work uninterrupted and free from distractions. If you can, finish your class assignments before the deadline to allow some time for yourself.
Also, be sure to take advantage of school resources and academic support programs aimed at helping you study smarter and more effectively. All schools have academic centers with free services to help students improve their skills, including online tutoring and writing centers. Be sure to participate in study groups as well: Not only will it help your lessons stick, but you’ll also connect with peers who share common goals and struggles. Your fellow students can be a great source of support and helpful study tips.
Maintain balance in your life. Even if it sounds difficult, you must build in quality time with your family, maintain healthy habits and get adequate sleep. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and to maintain productivity you must stay physically and mentally fit. Schedule time with your family to reinforce your goals and motivation. (After all, providing for your loved ones is probably an important reason why you are seeking career advancement in the first place.) Eat nutritious foods that will keep you energized, and avoid foods and beverages that contribute to sugar and caffeine crashes. Maintain a fitness routine. When you can’t engage in lengthy workouts during intense periods of study, fit in a short walk between tasks, which will help you be more effective.
Finally, fully embrace the experience of learning, knowing that it will help you achieve more career success over your lifetime. Keep track of your progress, recognizing where you are applying what you’ve learned in your studies on the job and vice versa — how you are bringing your real-world experience to your learning. Give yourself credit for your achievements, whether it’s completing a paper or acing a test. With strategy and discipline — two things officers certainly know a lot about — you can earn your degree while continuing to work and live your life.
For more information about schools and specialized programs designed to help you succeed, visit www.fopconnect.com/education-connect/.