Career Advice Professional Development

Balancing Grad School and a Job

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By: Kaylyn McKenna
Sep 15, 2020 • 7 min read

Balancing Grad School and a Job

Congratulations, you’ve finished college and landed your first fulltime professional job! And to top it off, you plan to continue your studies at graduate school! With online education becoming more widely accepted and more graduate programs being offered remotely, even from prestigious universities, graduate school is more accessible to working professionals. Continuing your studies while entering the workforce is quite a balancing act, but it’s far from impossible. With a lot of organization, planning, and proper time management, you’ll able to successfully complete coursework while also being a star employee. Below are some things to consider as you begin your grad school journey as a full-time employee.

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Review Program Requirements

Make sure that you thoroughly review the graduation requirements of any programs that you are considering. This is important for any degree program, but particularly important when you are planning to work while attending graduate school. Some grad school programs require practicum hours, which can be hard to schedule around traditional work hours. If this is a component of the program you plan to attend, speak with the practicum coordinator to discuss what placements they have that can accommodate non-traditional internship hours.

Meet With Your Grad School Advisor

Also, look over the course requirements and meet with your advisor to plan your course sequence. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses and try to distribute your courses so that you maintain a manageable workload. For example, if you struggle with math, you may want to spread out the math or statistic based courses so that you are not overwhelmed. Even non-STEM degrees will generally have a couple of math courses as graduate degrees typically include some research-focused courses, which may include the study of statistics and data analysis.

Communicate with Your Job 

It’s best to be upfront with your employer about your educational pursuits. Most employers will respect your choice to learn and grow in your chosen field. Remember, if you’re currently in an entry-level role, your employer isn’t expecting you to stay forever, so don’t worry about them taking your graduate studies as a sign you’re not in it for the long haul. You’ll grow in the company or leave for another one, and they’re aware of that. Letting them know about your educational focus and career goals can help them provide you with appropriate support, development, and growth opportunities. Emphasize that you are pursuing graduate studies to grow in your career and mention how your studies correlate to your current role or a desired role in the company if applicable.

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Understand the Workload

Talk to your enrollment or academic counselor. They’ll be able to tell you what tends to work best for employed students. They may recommend attending part-time at first. There are a lot of online programs that are geared towards working professionals, though, so if you are enrolling in an asynchronous program designed to accommodate full-time employment, then you may be able to complete the program with the standard course load. Just be sure to understand your options and the time commitment and choose the option that works best for you. 

Be Organized

If you haven’t already, you’ll want to invest in a planner or get comfortable with a phone or digital calendar. When you get your course syllabuses at the start of each term, note all test dates and assignment deadlines. Keep track of weeks with increased workload such as finals and midterm weeks, and also note down any work events that may limit your study time, such as conferences, product launches, or year-end reconciliations. 

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Establish A Routine

Figure out what routine works best for you and stick to it! Everyone has different study habits, and it’s essential to dedicate the right time to your studies in a manner that also fits with your work schedule. If you feel that you do your best work in the morning, you’ll have to get up earlier on weekdays and make use of your weekends. If you’re more evening or night inclined, you’re in luck as that tends to fit better with traditional work schedules. Establishing a routine that works well for you will help you stay on top of your schoolwork without getting behind. It’ll also help you do your best work at both work and graduate school.

Don’t Procrastinate

Avoiding procrastination is easier said than done, but it’s especially crucial during graduate school. Graduate school assignments can be lengthy and more time-consuming than undergrad assignments, and if you didn’t work full-time during undergrad, you’d have quite an adjustment on that front as well.  In theory, you’ll have plenty of time to work on assignments and study after work and on weekends. However, your energy will be drained after a full day at work, so it’s best not to plan to write a full paper on a Friday night after work to meet a midnight deadline. Break large projects into smaller parts and work on them a little at a time. Look ahead at your midterm and final projects or papers at the start of the term and work on it as you work your way through the course.

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Draw From Your Job For Inspiration

One of the greatest things about online classes is getting to engage with students from different backgrounds, experience levels, and regions! Feel free to use examples from your job when discussing concepts in class. Of course, you can also apply concepts from class directly into your work as you are learning. This is truly one of the main educational benefits of working while attending graduate school. 

Schedule Self Care Days

You’ll likely be quite busy while balancing graduate school and full-time employment. So, don’t forget to leave yourself some free days for rest and self-care. You will do your best work when you are well-rested and taking care of your mental health. Never feel guilty for giving yourself a day to rest. It’s a great idea to work ahead when you have a lighter week at school or work. However, sometimes it’s best just to rest. Understand your personal limits. Check-in with yourself to make sure you aren’t getting overwhelmed.

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