Balancing Work and Graduate School

As someone who teaches high school full-time and attends graduate school in the evening, I am aware of the plight of the working student.

The days are dedicated to our jobs and the nights to our studies. This leaves little room for housework, relationships, or rest.

If you’re like the millions of working students trying to juggle it all, you need a plan. Here are five tips that can help you achieve work-school-life balance:

1. Work out a schedule.

Setting an agenda for the week can help you organize the various demands of work, school, and home life. Knowing what you’ll do each day will help you make steady progress on your seemingly insurmountable workload. Get into the habit of making a to-do list. Nothing feels quite as satisfying as crossing off a task once it’s completed.

Be careful: Squeezing too much into one day could overwhelm an already busy schedule. If you have class one night, try not to overburden yourself with more work when you get home. Use that time to decompress, and pick up with your studies the following day.

2. Relax.

The stressors of working life abound. Adding graduate studies to the demands of your commute, your boss, and your bills can make relaxation seem infeasible. Still, you need to make relaxing a priority and refuse to surrender the things you love to do. For me, exercise is a release I need to keep me level-headed. I factor this in when I schedule my week. If this means an hour less of studying, that’s OK. Know what keeps you balanced, and commit to preserving its place on your agenda.

3. Make quality use of your time.

It’s essential to make the best use of your already limited time. Get more out of each hour by limiting distractions. If you’re a compulsive Facebook checker, like I am, leave your laptop in the other room while you read for class. If you’re really feeling motivated, take your work to a local café. This way, you won’t be distracted by the housework you still need to get around to.

4. Learn to say no.

We want to do it all, but we can’t. Of course you want to help your friend move or begin writing that novel you’ve been planning. It’s important to remember, however, the immediate goal of finishing grad school in a timely and relatively stress-free manner. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you can’t take on another task, simply saying “no” may provide the relief you need.

5. Ask for help.

Finishing grad school is a long road. You don’t have to go at it alone. Team up with family members, friends, and classmates to share some of the burden. Ask for help with household chores as you study. If you can’t make it to class, reach out to a classmate to ask about sharing notes.

The learning that takes place in graduate school may be some of the most meaningful intellectual growth in your academic career. Still, because life tends to get harder in adulthood, the pleasures of engaging with new ideas may be mitigated by the struggle to balance graduate school with a full-time work schedule. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, remember why you’re doing this, and make a plan. A graduate diploma will be well worth the sacrifices you're making now.

Further Reading:

How to Take an Effective Mental Health Day

What Your Financial Aid Options for Paying for Graduate School?

How Grad School Is Different Than Undergrad