Living in the small town of Okeechobee, Florida — which boasts a population of less than 6,000 people — Kathryn O’Neal’s options for higher education were a bit limited. She’d had her daughter Hailey at a relatively young age and from the time Kathryn was 20, she’d attempted to go back to college multiple times.
But the fact that she had to drive at least one hour each way to go to classes made fitting everything in nearly impossible.
“Between life, family, traveling, and working full-time, it just never worked out for me to be able to keep up with that type of school schedule,” says Kathryn.
When she began working as a customer sales consultant at Comcast five years ago, Kathryn found out the company offered a full tuition grant to full-time employees. Her HR department suggested she check out the Forbes School of Business & Technology® at Ashford University*, and she realized the flexibility of an online school was exactly what she would need to achieve her goals.
So, with an almost teenage daughter and a young son under the age of two, the 31-year-old mother made the commitment to go back to college and finally earn her degree. This time, it was without the crushing commute.
“It’s all worked out amazing, because it’s finally given me the option to go back to school and the realization that I can finish it,” says Kathryn. “Between having all the classes online and the way the scheduling is set up, the workload is not overbearing, and I know I can do it.”
Initially, Kathryn started out pursuing her degree in Human Resources Management but is in the process of switching over to business management, which she says will give her time to focus on the management aspect of the job.
“As someone who has been working with customers so long and really enjoys helping people, it opened up a few more options that I can pursue in a future career,” she says.
During her first year enrolled at Ashford, Kathryn also found out she was pregnant. When her third child Waylon arrived, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
“It was a little rough when I had him,” she acknowledges. “I had to have a C-section [her second] and I had a lot of complications afterwards. My student advisor worked with me to take time off of classes to heal from all that and it ended up working out nicely.”
Now well on her way to earning her degree but with a full-time job, a teenager, and two toddlers to keep up with, she realizes that it can be rough balancing everything some days. “Luckily, I have a good husband who helps me with the kids whenever I’m trying to study and get assignments done,” she notes. “And my 13-year old daughter helps out a lot, too.”
On the weekends, her husband Ryan will often take the kids out riding their buggy in the woods around Lake Okeechobee so she can enjoy some dedicated time to complete her studies in a quiet house.
Her main advice to other students? Take everything one day at a time.
“I make sure to keep certain hours at night where I focus on working on my schoolwork after the kids are in bed,” she says, while also conveying the importance of doing projects as early as possible. “I always try to stay ahead on my assignments. You don’t want to fall behind or have to cram assignments in last-minute.”
“I like the Writing Center because I can submit my papers to them, and they’ll review to help me know whatever I need more or less of in the paper in order to get a better grade,” she explains.
At her job, she’s currently training for a position as an assistant store manager and already has put many of the lessons she’s gained from her Management for Organizations and Business Law I classes to use as she is learning the ropes of her new upcoming role.
When graduation day finally does arrive, Kathryn will definitely be celebrating and says she’d love to attend the ceremonies in-person. However, it doesn’t mean her educational journey is stopping there. She says she plans on enrolling in a master’s degree program or going on to get a specialization to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding in her field.
The most important thing is to keep going, says Kathryn.
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you don’t stop,” she says.
* Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus