If you’re an OG follower, you may be well aware that I quit grad school the first time around. I started a year and a half ago, only to quit and lose $5,000 in the process. I’ve since moved on and gotten back on track to take classes towards a masters in Curriculum & Instruction, focusing on literacy. I’ve worked really hard to find the right way to approach balancing work and grad school.
When I first started grad school, I was on the fast track to a quick masters. I would be done in two years or less and I would take two classes a semester, plus summers. I would just deal with being tired at work, and I would occasionally pull an all-nighter but it would be worth it to get my As and my degree. That was my plan.
No. Being a grad student and working full time, especially when you have a job that is so demanding both in and out of the “office” (in my case the classroom), is so much different than being in undergrad. Your tolerance for all-nighters and weekends spent at the library is just not the same, and your priorities are so different. Frankly, those priorities can be spread very thin, making motivation a hard thing to come by.
If you want to get your masters part time, and you don’t want to burn out, I’ve put together some of my tips!
Choose ONE day a week to work on grad school homework. This will help with the feeling of being overwhelmed. Whenever I feel overwhelmed thinking about it, I tell myself, “you will deal with it on Sunday.” It really helps and it keeps me focused on work when I need to be and school when I need to be.
Don’t try to balance alone or in silence. Speak up to your boss AND your professor. Even if it’s just an email saying, “Hey I’m coming to class straight from work, so I may be a few minutes late on occasion,” that lets them know you’re trying to do two HUGE things at once, and they hopefully will be mindful of that. Same with your boss. Maybe your boss will give you a few minutes at the end of the day to leave early for class. Honestly, if they don’t seem to be mindful or supportive of that, I just pretend they are because I don’t have time to feel guilty about being five minutes late to a three-hour class when I’ve got so much going on. Neither do you.
Realize it’s totally ok to be the tortoise, not the hare. I have had to be forgiving of myself when I take one class per semester, and sometimes take semesters off. I threw out my “I’ll be done by ___” mentality a long time ago. Just focus on the courses you can handle at one time, and plan semester by semester. It helps with the guilt of dropping a class if it’s not right for you, dropping an entire semester if things are just too crazy, or just picking classes that sound interesting instead of ones that just fit one of the requirements.
Don’t be afraid to say to yourself that a syllabus is just too much. Email the professor and ask for the syllabus in advance. This will help you determine what classes have a realistic work load for you before you get two weeks into the semester when you feel like you’ve waited too long and maybe missed too much of another class to switch. Also, don’t feel bad at all if you leave the first class and go “there is no WAY I’m going to do all this work.” You have a job, too! You are not just a student. Not every class is geared towards part time students. It’s ok to say this is too much. Go home, log onto your student portal or wherever you register for classes, and search for a new one. Email that professor and tell them your situation, and then don’t look back!
If you can, take a personal day the first time you have homework due. This will help you gauge how long it will take you each week to complete your assignments without the stress of having to prepare for work tomorrow, too. This helps me a lot because I can take a day to just focus on homework. If it takes me an hour–AWESOME. If it takes me all day (and it has), then I’m glad I took the day and I will know to set aside ALL of Sunday next week. On the same token, don’t be too upset if you feel the need for a personal or sick day here and there while taking courses. You’re balancing work and grad school–those are huge. Be ok with BOTH of them having to give a little. Take a personal day here and there to refocus on school. Be a few minutes late to class here and there to make sure you’ve wrapped things up at work. You have to be forgiving when it comes to these things, otherwise the pressure builds and you might just break.
Rekindle your love of learning! Remember that being in grad school isn’t just about “doing all this work!” It is about learning and hearing new perspectives. When I approach my courses with that mentality, I enjoy them so much more. Don’t focus on the workload too much, focus on the experience of learning something new instead. Also, buy yourself cute notebooks and a folder or binder–remember when you’d get excited for back to school supplies? Go to Target, browse the school supply aisle, and pick yourself out something special! I personally use these cute little notebooks in class with these pens. A little Elle Woods? Meh, I don’t care!
Find the place you work the most efficiently. For some, this is Starbucks. For others, the library. For others, home. I like to work at home right now because it doesn’t make me feel so “gone all the time.” In the summers, I prefer to go to Panera or some place of the like, because I don’t leave the house as much and it’s nice out. Treat yo’self, too. If you gotta do work, you might as well have a mocha latte or chai tea, amiright??? Still, remember you don’t want to dedicate every single moment of free time you have, so pick a place you do enjoy, but also a place you know you will work efficiently. It’s nice to sit at Starbucks all day, but is it nice to get home and realize you didn’t even finish what you started while you were there AND it’s already dinner time on Sunday? Nope. Not for me.
Use a planner to write down all your assignments that will be due at the start of the semester. This will help you IMMENSELY to plan ahead if you need to and also to NOT do that thing where you wake up on your grad school work day and avoid looking at what’s actually due for the week. Ya know that feeling? I have avoided alllll day before and had to stay up so late because when I finally got up the motivation to look at what kind of work I was in for, it wasn’t THAT bad but it was substantial. I could have finished in that morning in oh, say two hours, but instead I waited until 9:30pm to look at it and then had to stay up working until after midnight on a school night. Not a pretty scenario. DON’T BE ME! Write it all down when it’s new, and you’ll never have to experience the syllabus-check-dread.
Well there you have it, folks! There are my tips for balancing work and grad school. If you have any tricks of the trade, please share! Don’t be shy!
Until next time!