Graduate school is a challenge, no matter how you look at it. Intensive courses, fieldwork, internships — not to mention the amount of writing and reading that must be done. But no one ever said it would be easy. Adding a full-time job on top of a grad school regimen, however, can break your schedule, especially if you are attempting to start your career in public service by working for busy government agency or nonprofit organization. Here are five important tips on how to balance your graduate school education with your full-time job:
1. Find a program that is flexible.
Pursuing a degree is hard enough without having to adhere to a rigid schedule. Try taking a look at programs that are online. Online courses can often be completed on your own time, although some have live classes and tests that must be taken at a specific time of day. Finding the right program may take some time and research. Explore different options, and make sure you are aware of application deadlines well in advance.
2. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
When you’re working a full-time job, it’s important to be able to both know and admit your limitations. This may mean you won’t complete your chosen graduate program as quickly as someone who is not working full time. This may mean you take one or two classes a semester until your program is finished in order to perform well in those one or two classes — as opposed to taking a full course load and doing mediocre work. Knowing your limitations and sacrificing a speedy graduation for a slow and steady progress along with a full-time paycheck is nothing to scoff at.
3. Make sure your boss knows you’re in school.
There are several reasons to make sure your employer knows that you are pursuing a graduate degree. An employer is much more likely to be sympathetic and willing to work with you if there is a day or two that you need to get to class or study if you have been up front with them from the beginning. There are also many jobs (especially in government or public service positions) that offer financial assistance for graduate programs that will positively affect your career growth.
4. Plan, plan, plan.
Get a planner, a calendar, and a smartphone with a planner and a calendar. Make sure you keep it up to date, and schedule everything that comes up. Set alarms for important appointments, and make updating your planner part of your regular routine. This way you will stay organized, you’ll be kept abreast of deadlines that are coming up, and you won’t be caught off guard.
5. Avoid burnout by making time for you and your loved ones.
Juggling graduate school and a full-time job can be hectic and stressful for you as an individual, but it can also weigh on your relationships. Whether it be with friends, your partner or your children, setting aside time each week to enjoy each other’s company is an important part of the balancing act. If your time together needs to be low key, explain that to your friends and family, then take in a movie or go for a walk and a nice dinner. Using a different part of your brain to be with your loved ones will not only be beneficial to you, but it will keep the stress of familial resentment at bay and will allow you to have moments of respite amongst all the hard work.
If you follow these five tips while pursuing your graduate degree and full-time job, you’ll be well on your way to striking a healthy balance between the two. Make sure you keep your eye on the prize, and in no time at all, you’ll be finished. Then remember to congratulate yourself for doing what a lot of people have to do in order to get ahead, and keep the positive attitude that got you there in the first place!
This article was written by Logan Harper, community manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government’s online Masters of Public Administration – a top online MPA program. Outside of work, Logan loves travel, technology, and documentaries. Connect with him on Twitter @harperlogan.