If a packed school schedule wasn't demanding enough, military spouse and Fort Detrick resident Saprena Levy also works as a full-time server at a local restaurant and carves out time for nightly homework and study marathons during final exams.
Although Levy, who takes classes at Frederick Community College near Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., has yet to experience the back and forth of base transfers and overseas assignments, she knows the possibility looms and anticipates the obstacles faced by many military spouses who return to school.
"It could most definitely put a damper on my education," said Levy, 41, whose husband is in Army training. "But all I can do is continue to try hard and do my best [in school]."
The hectic schedule of a military spouse enrolled in college courses, she said, is best suited for those without young children - a lesson she learned first hand.
When her kids were 2 and 4 years old, Levy was a premed student at Montgomery College. Adding the rigor of full-time coursework to a life of raising children created a daily schedule that proved untenable. She decided to put her higher education on hold until her son and daughter - now 17 and 15, respectively - became self-sufficient teenagers.
"It makes life much more manageable," said Levy, on balancing work and school with older children. "It makes it really easy on me every day."
Currently in her second semester, Levy is studying to become a counselor, specifically for people struggling with addiction. She is enrolled in five classes worth 14 credits in her pursuit of a social worker's license.
Levy created a class schedule that makes for an arduous couple days; she is on campus for 10 hours on Mondays and five hours every Wednesday, leaving time for work, weekly papers and homework assignments.
"It can be a little rough sometimes," said Levy, who grew up in Montgomery County and attended Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md. "But I know it's what I have to do ... and I try to keep that in mind."
Online courses have gained traction among some working parents returning to college, but Levy found out quickly that she preferred a traditional classroom to a Web-based course. The flexibility of online classes, she said, made it difficult to maintain any sense of academic discipline.
"It was too much leniency," said Levy. "I needed more structure. Some things are not for everyone, and I definitely learned my lesson."
Starlett Henderson is co-host of Army Wife Talk Radio on the Army Wife Network and an Army National Guard wife of 14 years. She said Web-based college courses helped her earn her master's degree in 2005, after her husband was deployed to Iraq and she took classes throughout her pregnancy.
Military spouses should be prepared for late-night study sessions and early-morning classes in order to balance family life with coursework, said Henderson, who served in the Army from 1993-2001 and lives at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
"It really became a secondary thing that I had to squeeze into the wee hours of the morning while the kids were in bed," said Henderson, who recently welcomed her husband back from a one-year tour in Afghanistan. "But I stayed determined, and that's a must, really."