Best Strategies for Juggling Family, Work and Grad School

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Let’s face it. Sometimes, graduate school is your whole life. You disappear into those hallowed halls and emerge about two years later with greater career prospects and a deeper appreciation for writing and research. And, sometimes, your graduate education is only a small aspect of your life. In addition to “student”, you may also shoulder other important roles like “spouse”, “parent”, “caretaker” and “employee”. Advancing your career through higher education – or changing careers altogether – is carried out while simultaneously working a full-time job, raising children, and/or managing a household.

 According to the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 65% of all postsecondary were pursuing a master’s degree. The average age of students surveyed was 32. Nearly 24% identified themselves as married with dependents and over 16% of students were married with no dependents. This data proves that many postsecondary students are successfully balancing their studies with a variety of other responsibilities. Are you wondering how they do it? Here are five tactics for juggling work, family, life, and graduate school.

Choose the Right Program for You

Graduate students who also work or have family responsibilities must carefully consider which graduate programs meet their needs. Luckily, graduate programs today are incredibly flexible in both structure and time-frame.

One of the most important considerations is selecting a program that aligns with your professional goals. Secondly, you will want to figure out how you will pay for your education (i.e. scholarships, loans, out-of-pocket) and whether you will require extra cushion for expenses relating to a growing baby, reduced work hours, transportation, or childcare.

Finally, examine your expectations and limitations. Don’t develop unreasonable expectations that will only add stress to your daily life. Think about both your job and family responsibilities and determine what your limitations are.  Should you be opting for a program with longer completion times so that you can take summers off to spend with family? Should you be enrolling in school full-time or part-time? Should you enroll in an online or hybrid degree program?

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Choose the school that is most flexible and compliant with your current, and expected, schedule. Anticipate curveballs such as financial difficulties, promotions, pregnancies, illnesses or deaths in your family, which may require you to take time off or extend your schooling. Even consider a distance learning online Psychology degree program. Today, many Non-Profit universities offer Psychology graduate programs online. After all this is the future delivery of high quality higher education.

Develop a Support System

It takes a village to properly manage your life as a graduate student. You can certainly do it alone, but you shouldn’t. A support system can actually mean the difference between persevering or dropping out of graduate school.

At Home

Whether you are married with kids or living with your parents, or a roommate, reach out to those around you. Make your social circle aware of this new endeavor you are undertaking. Sit down and talk to your partner, family and closest friends about allocating responsibilities like getting the kids on the school bus in the mornings or making sure someone is present to cheer during their sporting events.

If you were mainly in charge of running errands and completing chores, you may have to pass some of these duties to someone else temporarily as you adjust to being a student.

At Work

Bring your boss and coworkers on board at work. If you work in team setting, give them a heads up that you may not be able to take on extra projects for a while, or that you’ll need someone with whom you can delegate responsibilities.

Have a discussion with your immediate supervisor early on about going back to school and how your new-found responsibilities will affect your job. Be sure to highlight your rationale for pursuing higher education (e.g. promotional opportunities, exposure to new skills, technologies, and methods relevant to your position, etc.). Some employers participate in tuition assistance programs if your graduate degree relates to your current job. Find out if this is available where you work.

At School

The connections you bridge while in your graduate program, with other students and faculty can lead to lasting personal and professional relationships. If you are a graduate student who is juggling work or family with your studies, be sure to make your professors and classmates aware of your circumstances. Professors may be willing to work out arrangements for classes you have to miss and allow you to attend via Skype or Hangouts.

What’s more, if your child or spouse becomes ill, a fellow classmate may share notes or study with you. Even just having other people who can relate to your unique struggle of being a working or married graduate student is beneficial, as there will certainly be times when your partner or family members can’t understand what you’re going through.

Manage Your Time

Time management is important to all graduate students. Days and nights are spent researching, writing, and studying. Those juggling multiple responsibilities have an even greater need to be masters in time management. A great deal of graduate work happens outside the classroom, making the workload particularly strenuous on those whose home life is also marked by caring for an elderly parent, making time for date night, or helping kids with homework.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Work with your support system to divide responsibilities so that others can pick up the slack. Develop simpler systems for completing household chores, paying bills, preparing meals, and running errands. If you happen to have foresight about a demanding time coming up either at work, school, or home, shift your focus to allot more time to tasks in order of importance. For example, you can double up on classes and take more hours if you expect to be out of work after a pregnancy.

Incorporate time-management strategies that enable you to maximize productivity. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple, yet revolutionary method that can help you to prevent burnout, manage distractions, and develop a better work/life balance. To try out the Pomodoro Technique by first choosing a task like a research paper, work project, or personal accounting. Commit to spending 25 minutes on the task. Set a timer and get to work. Once the timer rings, applaud yourself for getting a small chunk of the task completed and then take a short break. For every 4 Pomodoro work sessions, take a longer 20 to 30 minute break.

Set Boundaries

Create a tentative schedule that includes time for family, studying, work, and classes. Test this schedule out for a few weeks and see how it works. Let’s say, you’ve agreed to be available once the kids come home from school to do homework and help out up until dinner time. Then, you have the rest of the evening free to study or catch up on any assignments. Your partner and kids should respect this agreement and not constantly call on you for assistance and cut into your school work.

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Setting boundaries is extremely important for students juggling many responsibilities. You should alert your boss and coworkers about restrictions in your schedule when you will not be accessible to field call or answer questions. Lastly, be sure to allot as much time as possible to all the important people and tasks in your life so no one feels undervalued.

Practice Self-Care

Know when you need to pull back and take care of yourself. Life as a graduate student, full-time employee, or parent can be demanding enough, but combining them all is a handful. You put a lot of effort into satisfying professors, employers, coworkers, spouses, kids, family and friends. Satisfy your own needs in order to stay centered. Regularly assess your physical, mental and emotional health. Map out time for a few stress-relievers either daily or a few times a week to fend off excess stress. Self-care can be any activity you find relaxing and nurturing. Common examples of self-care strategies include:

  • Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy
  • Sleeping for 7 to 9 hours each night
  • Exercising regularly
  • Meditating
  • Yoga
  • Visiting the spa
  • Reading

To some, self-care is one of the most vital elements to being successful in graduate school. If you are not functioning optimally, then it will be difficult, if not impossible, to juggle the demands of school, work, and family life.

About the Author: Veranda Hillard Charleston

Veranda received her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern State University of Louisiana. She has nearly five years of experience as a trained mental health professional. As a freelance writer, Veranda creates quality content for topics such as mental health, self-help, general health, fitness, and relationships. Off-line, Veranda conducts psychological assessments of children and adults in a private-practice setting.

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We are an open forum for articles, manuscripts, unpublished thesis, and letters as well as a guide for job, career and program advice from like-minded Graduates. We are seeking submissions that will be of interest to the community.