In 2012, Tori Gulledge was completing her junior year at The University of Alabama. Near the end of the semester, she married her high school sweetheart, a Coast Guardsman, and six days after their wedding, his military service relocated them to Hawaii. Tori finished the semester from the 50th state. “I even took a few of my finals online!” she said.

When she transferred her UA Elementary Education credits to the University of Hawaii, she was dismayed to find out that Hawaii requires many state-specific credits, putting her behind in her academic progress. She decided to take a break from school until she and her husband transferred to their next location, and she was discouraged about becoming a teacher now that she knew her life would include lots of moving around.

In Hawaii and pregnant with their first child, Tori attended a Budgeting for Baby class at Pearl Harbor that opened her eyes to another professional route. “I never knew financial planning was a career path before that. In my conversation with the teachers about budgeting and expenses, they encouraged me to consider it and told me I was really good at it,” she said.

Tori researched and found UA’s 100% online Bachelor of Science in Human Environmental Sciences, Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Family Financial Planning and Counseling. “Once we got orders to leave Hawaii, I applied to UA’s program.” She received good news twice in one day that summer. “I actually found out I was pregnant with my second child the same day I got my acceptance letter from UA.”Tori holding her daughter and wearing her son in a baby-wearing carrier

“I had a choice. Looking at finishing my degree with two under two, I thought about putting it off and waiting until they were a little older. But I chose to keep going,” Tori said.

She began the online program in Fall 2015, while also coping with what turned out to be a high-risk pregnancy. “I was in and out of the hospital pretty much the whole time, but all of my teachers were super-helpful to me and really just amazing. Communicating with them ahead of time about my situation was huge.” Tori had her son in March, finished the spring semester and then took a short break from school that summer so she could set a routine for managing two children at home.

Her husband’s schedule with the Coast Guard only allowed him to be home for two to three days at a time, which made balancing her life as a student mom a little more difficult. “We’d get up and do our thing in the morning, and then I would study at naptime, and then we’d do our thing in the afternoon and I would stay up and study more after bedtime. Then we’d get up and do it all over again the next day!”

Tori smiling with both of her childrenTori graduated in May 2018, and she and her family traveled to Tuscaloosa so she could participate in commencement. She said many of her classmates from the online program were there and she enjoyed meeting people she’d only known through discussion boards and group projects. During the ceremony, she sat next to mostly traditional, main campus students at graduation.

“Talking to them about their experiences at UA was neat. They saw me waving at one of my kids and said, ‘Oh, cute baby! Who is that?’ and they were blown away when I told them it was my kid. Seeing the difference between their goals and experiences and my own was really interesting.”

After graduating, Tori began her career at an advising company that works specifically with military members and their families to help with their financial planning and investments. “I learned a lot from the UA program’s curriculum that I use every day. There was an entire course on investments and another on insurance that have been very helpful to me. And the information I learned related to consumer behavior and the psychology of money has been beneficial as well,” she said. Tori passed the Securities Industry Essentials exam in [MONTH YEAR], and she enjoys using her degree at work. And she has no regrets about choosing to earn her degree in the throes of young motherhood, an option she wouldn’t have had without the online option. In fact, she credits the experience as helping her learn how to juggle everything now that she’s working full time.

“It was definitely a challenge – having my children so close together and earning my degree at the same time. I’d have one that was running around and the other wanting to sit in my lap as I tried to type a paper! It kept me on my toes, for sure, but the payoff is that once you get out in the working world after succeeding through all that chaos, you feel like you can handle anything.”

Published: January 14th, 2021