The majority of students in Master’s programs attend school part time, and many of those students also hold down full-time jobs at the same time. How do they do it? Here are some tips from current graduate students on how to balance a full-time job and part-time classes.
Make sure your boss is supportive
Take it from Lyn Huckabee who says she “had to leave my original job because of conflicts with school.” The Suffolk University Law student now works for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the day. She says her current position “is much more relaxed about long hours and the subject matter is closer so some of my research can be done for credit. You need to be sure that your manager is supportive of higher education and you in general!”
There may be times when your course schedule overlaps with your work schedule, so you’ll have to “[put] your foot down because you have to leave early,” according to Alona Cherkassky, who finished up her Master of Science in Strategic Communication at Columbia University. Cherkassky supervised the digital practice at a New York City public relations firm and said she spent 4-6 hours a week in class and 8-10 doing homework.
An MBA candidate at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business, Tracy Sellers says her company has “been understanding when it’s a night I have to leave on time to be at school but that is in part because I make sure that I put in extra time during other times to make up for that. [I made] it clear that my job still came first and because of that they were willing to accept that there were nights I would have to leave at a certain time.”
Use time management strategies that work for you
Organization and time management tips are not one-size-fits-all, but finding ones that work for you can you stay sane and save time. Jesse B. Rauch is earning his second Master degree (a Master in Public Policy from American University) while working as a policy analyst. For Rauch, “it’s essential to find innovative ways and times to do work. I read en route to work and class. I take my work to the park and coffee shops.”
Huckabee uses her Palm Treo to avoid missing appointments. “You have to be very organized and have a way of tracking where you need to be even when you aren’t tethered to your computer,” she says. “You also have to know why you are in your program. If you are in grad school because you don’t know what else to do you will not be able to handle the intensity of the schedule.”
Set realistic expectations for yourself
Even if you were all-star student during undergrad, you may find it tough to maintain a 4.0 GPA and a social life while working full time. And you don’t want to burn out in the process. Cherkassky says to “manage your own expectations [and] know that you’ll be busier than ever basically.” She adds that “it was difficult to write papers and to get bad grades off the bat. Once you master the curriculum, things will get a little bit easier.”
Sellers’s advice is to “make sure you set your priorities and stick with that. I really cared about my grades and didn’t have a family at the start of my MBA program so I could dedicate more weekend and evening hours toward making As. But some people come into an MBA program with a family and that A may not be as important.” She encourages new graduate students to “set your priorities and make sure that you have the support of those who this will affect — mainly your family and your employer!”
Make time for friends and family
Of course, graduate school shouldn’t be all work and no play. Spending time with friends and family can help you maintain balance. Huckabee admits that she lost touch with many of her friends during the first year of law school. “When I realized that I didn’t want to go four years lacking friends, I dropped sleep in my second year,” she explains. “In my third year, I am cutting back on hobbies and other activities because now I need sleep!” She also needs a stress release, so she hits the treadmill before she goes to the office most mornings. “Make time to work out,” she emphasizes.
Cherkassky says to “make sure to make time for your friends but know that you will be very, very busy. School is an enormous adjustment, especially if you’ve been out for a while? But the learning and the connections you make [are really] incredible.”