Kristen Schaaf always dreamt of going to college. Initially enrolling at age 18, Schaaf had to pause her academic journey due to life events like joining the Coast Guard and starting a family. After the birth of her first two children, Schaaf went back to school for a third time and completed her associate’s degree.
While Schaaf aspired to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, she chose to focus on spending quality time with her family. It wasn’t until Schaaf experienced one of the most challenging events in her life that her outlook on higher education changed.
“My oldest daughter got diagnosed with osteosarcoma when she was 11. After seeing her go through cancer and realizing that life is just really, really, really short, it made me realize that I just wanted to do something that I love with my life,” Schaaf explained.
This realization was the first step in Schaaf chasing her dreams. While Schaaf was drawn to Arizona State University for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest was the flexibility.
“I chose ASU Online as my number one for the flexibility, so that I could be at home with my three kids,” Schaaf said. “I wanted to be able to be home and be a part of their lives, while still doing something for myself in the process.”
With her family's love and support, Schaaf went back to school and graduated from ASU Online with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology.
As a mother with a busy schedule, Schaaf attributes her prioritization of time management as a key part of her academic success. Aside from paying attention to due dates and working on her coursework in advance, Schaaf utilized many resources and habits to stay on top of her education. These included audio books, Microsoft Word’s dictate function and YouTube video transcriptions.
“I bring headphones wherever I go, so I can listen to videos or lectures if something takes longer than expected,” Schaaf explained.
Now pursuing her Master of Sustainability Leadership at ASU Online and homeschooling her daughters, Schaaf utilizes these skills and habits more than ever. As she continues her education, Schaaf advises other students to prioritize themselves as they work toward their goals.
“The biggest things, I think, are don't procrastinate and make time for yourself. Your mental health is essential, and it's okay to set aside one day for you to do absolutely nothing,” Schaaf explained. “Also, if you’re struggling to take quizzes and exams, reach out to your professor or your advisor. Get in touch with the student accessibility and inclusive learning center to see if you can get accommodations to play music, read aloud, or write out test questions. You have to be able to advocate for yourself.”
While Schaaf admits she is unsure of the exact career path she plans to pursue, she knows she wants to promote change in the world. As she explores career options in conservation and sustainability, she plans to finish her master’s program and volunteer at local non-profit organizations.
With ambition, drive and an intrinsic motivation to make the world a better place, Schaaf demonstrates that it’s never too late to put yourself first and pursue your dream of higher education.