How to go to school while working a firefighter shift schedule
A firefighter's schedule can be very demanding, but here are some ways you can get an education while juggling your responsibilities
You work as a firefighter and you want a college degree. You want to complete your education for many reasons. Some of those reasons include pride in the accomplishment of earning a college degree. Perhaps you want to set an example for your children. Your motivations may come from the aspirations of promotion where a college degree is needed. Higher education can open many doors to a firefighter in addition to enhancing their knowledge and abilities within the profession.
Once a firefighter decides to pursue their college degree they face many obstacles. What school should they attend? How will their schedule line up with the class requirements? What about online education — is it respectable? Can they be in a class environment with other students with similar backgrounds? These are many of the questions faced by those who want to get their degree and oftentimes these obstacles are enough to frustrate and eventually terminate the process.
A typical firefighter shift schedule is very difficult to maintain with a traditional college or university schedule. Taking time off to attend class is dependent upon personnel availability and can quickly deplete the firefighter's leave balance. Consider a college or university that offers classes online. Many schools have realized the importance of online education and are now offering classes and entire degree programs over the computer. In today's times you can find a school that offers everything you need over the internet with a degree that is accredited.
Firefighters typically work 24-hour shifts. Though the shifts can be very demanding, many have some down time within their day. My experience has shown that after dinner most of the work in the station is complete. Other than responding to emergencies, a firefighter can put in several hours during the evening with a laptop and internet card to work toward their degree.
Consider this for motivation: you are at work already, why not get on the computer and get some studying done? What else would you do during this time? Sit down, relax, and watch some TV? While this sounds like a very nice reward for a hard day's work, studying instead could be the difference when you go for promotion. If you practice good time management and watch your time, you can complete most of your school work while at the fire station and not have to take it home. Let that sink in for a moment, a couple years of watching "Dancing with the Stars" could be replaced with a shiny Bachelors Degree hanging on your wall.
So now that you are motivated and believe you have just enough time to get your degree if you do not have to worry about scheduling time off to go to class, how do you get started? Start with the United States Fire Administration and look at their higher education website: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/nfa/higher_ed/.(1) This can provide a nice starting point and give you an idea of what you should look for in your university of choice.
You can also look at your local level. Perhaps a school near where you live offers exactly what you are looking for. If they do not though, do not get frustrated. Perform an internet search and type in the degree you wish to pursue, look into the results, and contact them for more information. Many untraditional schools have developed recently to serve the working student. Many have been criticized as "diploma mills." You can check a schools accreditation through the U.S. Dept. of Education and avoid any chance of pursuing one of these schools: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx.(2)
As you search for the school that is right for you, consider a few factors. Many schools offer shortened semesters. Others offer a traditional "brick and mortar" school name and all it brings to your online education. As you consider schools that offer online education you will oftentimes find professors that are full time professionals in the field they teach.
Here you can have a teacher that truly knows what you are going through. As you take classes within your major you will also be able to work with students who are working in the field all across the country. You will immediately be networking and building friendships with people just like you all over the country.
So let's recap: you have decided you can find a school that works with your schedule. You can focus your down time at the station to complete much of your schooling. You can find an accredited school that may offer shortened courses in your specialty. Your classes can be taught by fellow professionals in the field and you can network with people all over the country. The time is now, so get started. The fire service is advancing and you can be at the tip of the spear and lead the way within your organization!
(1) U.S. Fire Administration. "Higher Education" Online, accessed 25 October, 2010 from: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/nfa/higher_ed
(2) U.S. Department of Education. "The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs" Online, accessed 25 October, 2010 from: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx