Surviving Grad school while working Full Time
So you’re thinking about going back to school? Or maybe you already starting and you’re just looking for some tips on how to juggle your school load with your workload.
Before I started Grad school everyone explained to me that it would be difficult but worth it. That’s all I heard about before starting my degree. Well, I wish someone was a little more honest with me. I do think my situation is a little different (most of them didn’t work during their program or didn’t have to do their internship outside of their FT job)… but I quickly learned.
If I’m being honest sometimes Grad school really let me have it.
I remember staying up late doing homework then turning around to wake up early for work.
Sometimes during my first year I would get off after work 8 hours and go straight to my internship until 10:30/11 at night.
There were days I went without responding to texts.
I remember coming home from work sometimes and taking 15-minute naps before logging on for class.
I remember feeling overwhelmed like I had no idea what I was doing..
But I also remember getting to study what I love.
I remember meeting amazing new people who had the same passions as me.
I remember learning more about the populations we serve and the biases I might hold because of my identities and experiences.
I remember gaining confidence in my clinical skills at my internship.
See, I am not a traditional Grad student who went to school directly after my Bachelor’s Degree. I didn’t really enjoy my undergrad program (besides my extracurriculars) and never planned to go back. After graduation, I did a year of Americorps VISTA in Cincinnati and then moved around OH getting case management & crisis work at different community Mental Health agencies. After getting some experience in social services I realized I was going to have to go back to school to get my license so I can become a bigger part of my client’s clinical treatment. Because I waited a couple of years before I went back I was able to gain some relevant experience in my program.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you go directly after your Bachelor’s degree or take some time off, Grad school is different than your undergrad. For the most part, my Grad experience has been amazing and I’ve already learned so much. I was lucky to get into an amazing online MSW program at the University of Denver. The professors are great and there are so many resources available to us.
Things to think about
If you’re thinking about going back to school there are important things you should think about before you decide if it is for you. That being said I encourage you to think about these questions:
- Is Grad school worth it? Will this help your career?
- What grad program is right for you?
- What’s your priority? Work or school? Maybe being a mom full time?
- Are you going to be pursuing your degree full time or part-time?
- Are you currently working? Is it full time or part-time?
- When are you going to be able to do your internship (hours and days)?
- How much is grad school? Can you afford to go back to school?
Now that you’ve hopefully decided what’s going to work for you let’s focus on the things that are going to help you manage your schedule. We want you to get the most out of your time and survive your Grad Program. The last thing we want you to do is to go in unprepared and fall behind.
I started Grad school in January and although I gave up on New Years Resolutions many years ago I still had all these plans. I thought I was going to start Grad school, get back into the gym, learn to meditate, and start meal prepping again.
Little did I know, that is not how things were going to go. Let’s just say I spent the first 5 to 6 months of school eating a lot of fast food, taking a lot of naps, not working out at all, and stressing about EVERYTHING. I really had to sit down and figure out how I was going to be more proactive with my life to get the most of my time.
Below is a list of things that have helped me survive Grad school.
- Print or save your syllabus. I cannot count the number of times I had to look at the syllabus for each class. Looking up weekly readings, assignment instructions, and rubrics. And this is perfect segway into number 2.
- Get a planner or use google calendar.** I use my physical planner and my Google calendar. Without both of these I wouldn’t know what day it is half the time. Juggling so many times at once is asking for something to fall through the cracks. Add all your classes, homework assignments, tests, quizzes, presentations, registration days, etc. I set reminders on my phone for classes, internship hours, bills, homework assignments, group meetings, etc.
- Schedule EVERYTHING. Classes, your internship, homework, time to study, going to the grocery store (the only way I can remember to), and even time for fun. Managing your time will be one of the hardest parts and you will get overwhelmed if you don’t set yourself up for success.
- Save EVERYTHING. All the time. Even if you don’t think you will need it. It is better to delete it later. Between storage on outlook, dropbox, and google drive there are all kinds of free options to store your documents that sync across different platforms. This lets me access it on my phone, at work, or at my internship. I like to save my favorite articles and worksheets from my classes into my google drive to use in the future.
- Pack your school bag. I can’t count the number of times my phone was dying and I didn’t have my charger. Or I found time to fit in some homework and didn’t have my notebook and book for class. By prepping my bag in advance I know I’ll always have all my materials and supplies rather I’m at work, my internship, or stop by the library to study.
- Keep snacks that are healthy. Speaking of what should be in your bag. I don’t know about you but I’m always hungry. My schedule is so busy it’s easier to stop for fast food. If you keep healthy snacks with you can usually hold yourself over until your next meal to prevent this. I usually keep protein bars or trail mix. I also try to throw some fruit and yogurt in my lunch box.
- Register for classes as soon as possible. You do not want to wait until the last minute and not be able to get into a class that you need to take. Also, this lets you get ahead so you can order all your books before classes start.
- ASK FOR HELP.** This way my biggest mistake in my undergrad. Don’t sit around crying about something that you don’t understand. This is only going to make it harder when it comes time for a test for an assignment. Ask questions in class, email your professors, or schedule an appointment to follow up about assignments you don’t understand, ask for extensions, etc. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. You’re paying too much to try to do this on your own. Use the writing center, schedule an appointment with the librarians, reach out to your student advisor for assistance or advice.
- Check your emails. If your professors or the school contact you, it’s usually important. Also, don’t be that person during the group project that can never be reached (not a good look).
- Participate in class. The more you ask questions and participate during class the more information you will retain. Also, this will help your professors remember you more.
- Get to know your professors. Following up on professors, it’s always a good idea for you to make an effort for your professors to like you. You never know when you’re going to need an extension or miss a class. This will also be important if you need to reach out to them after graduation for advice or a recommendation.
- Set up a workspace. I always think I’m going to sit on the couch and watch Netflix while I do homework and it NEVER happens that way. It will be three hours later and I’ve written a paragraph. I get so much more work done when I sit down at my desk where I can sprawl out with my laptop, books, notepad, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.
- Create a study & homework schedule. As I stated above you have to schedule everything. In my Grad program, the homework for all of my classes is due 24 hours before the live session and big assignments are 24 hours afterward. I already know every day before class I am going to be at my desk working on something. It’s a standing appointment so I already know there is time set aside.
- Find a study group or accountability partner.** I have a classmate that has become one of my best friends and I wouldn’t have made it this far without her. We often joke that we’re going to walk across the stage together and share one degree. We make sure to take all the same classes so we can help each other with assignments and complain about everything together. I often text her when I need motivation when I am ready to give up. We are also great at reminding each other when something is due or what that thing was the professor said right before we left class.
- Rent or buy books used. Never buy new books if you don’t have to. These are options for places you can use to get cheap books: amazon.com, campusbooks.com, and chegg.com. I know in Grad school most of us want to buy our books so we can use them during practice. It doesn’t have to be fancy and you will be fine with a used book. Most of them are in great condition and come with the important stuff highlighted.
- Network. We all hate it but you need to learn how to do this. Today it really is all about who you know. 70% to 85% of positions are filled through networking. Always talk to people and try to make a great first impression. I have had old classmates reach out to me about job opportunities. You never know whose watching or who might be able to help you or work with you in the future.
- Dress the part. Networking starts at school, the office, your internship, etc. You never know when you’re going to be invited into a meeting or have a guest speaker in class. You always want to be looking your best so that you make a good first impression people will remember.
- It’s okay to scream or cry. After the first 7 months of school, I was so stressed and overwhelmed. It just kept building and building. Eventually, after I started my internship, I broke down. I remember I called my supervisor at work balling my eyes out. I can’t explain the relief that I felt afterward. Just being able to let all that out I was finally able to get focused again. Every now and then you need to let it out but after you have whipped the tears away you need to open your laptop and finish that paper.
- Find time to workout. Keep your gym bag in your car and go directly after work. But find a workout you love. Going to the gym every day is NOT for everyone and between work, school, and internship I rarely have the time. But there are SOO many options these days. Go for a run/walk at the park, run around outside with your dog (or kids if you’re into that sort of thing), Zumba, go swimming, play basketball with friends, join a recreational volleyball team, follow along to a yoga video in your living room, etc.
- Make the most of your breaks. VACATION. VACATION. VACATION. They say you’re supposed to work hard so you can play hard or something like that. It’s going to be stressful and you’re going to want to quit so it’ll be nice to have something to look forward to. I can’t tell you how much those little vacations with my friends saved me. I come back recharged and ready to learn.
Grad school is HARD but it’s not forever. Be easy on yourself, do these things, and remember to make time for self-care.
Working full time while going to Grad school can be extremely draining on your physical, mental, and emotional health. During this time it is so important that you take care of yourself. Having a proper self-care routine will force you to make time for yourself and can help you prevent burnout.
Think back to your undergrad program or maybe you have already started grad school. What do you think works for you? Any tips you think can be helpful? Let me know in the comments below.
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