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Balancing Full-Time Work with Graduate School
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Photo © by Laura Grier for ArcVida - all rights reserved.


For most getting a second degree, graduate school is an intense learning experience. And even though you may be in school, you still have bills to pay. This is why many graduate students stay in, or wind up, working in a full-time job.

For some, it is the right call to get to the next chapter in their life. However, graduate school is a serious commitment, with a prodigious workload. It’s a proposition that means little time for frivolity. You can complete your degree, though, and with the right actions you’ll be much better off when you do. Many of ArcVida’s leaders and mentors and have worked through graduate schools.  We’ve put together a list of recommendations guiding you to excel and thrive while you work and go to school.

1. Prioritize Sleep and Exercise

Your health is everything. As a young undergraduate student, you might have gotten away without the healthiest behaviors.  And now that you’re a more mature, you can appreciate that taking care of yourself is key to getting through school and work.  

To do this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep your body needs so that you feel well-rested. Put your phone on “airplane” mode, and try to get those seven-nine hours of sleep that the National Sleep Foundation recommends for the average adult.

You also want to do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Trust us, this isn’t about exercising more so you’ll look good in your jeans. This is about stress management. Graduate school can be a pressure cooker, and you will need a way of blowing off steam—or you’ll blow a gasket. In addition, graduate school tends to be very intellectual, very “head-oriented.” Exercise is a great way to clear your head and reset your brain for your next intense study session. Make sure that you carve out enough time for both sleeping well and exercising every week—you will be glad you did.

2. Outsource

To have the time you need to sleep, exercise, go to work, and study, you’ll likely need to outsource a few tasks. This could entail a few things. Can you have your roommate walk your dog? Can your partner prepare your meals for the week, or pay a company to send you pre-prepped meals? What can you offload from your own busy schedule and have someone or something else do?

Creative thinking and/or a small personal investment may be required for this. But ask yourself, “Is my time worth the extra effort or money?” Cooking, research, shopping, making appointments, planning vacations and driving are all easy to outsource in today’s gig economy.

Parents are already familiar with bartering, swapping or paying for childcare.   What about adding a dry-cleaner delivery service, laundry drop off, or occasional organizer (especially for kids toys and clothes!)  No one else can raise your children or nurture your family, but outsourcing other tasks to create quality time is a YES in our advice list.

3. Devote a Full Day Every Week to School

We don't advise this day instead of consistent, daily study. This means on a day that you’re not working, you're prioritizing study. You’ll want to be undistracted so that you can study, research, etcetera. One full day will help you stay on top of what you need to do, and if it means giving up that Sunday sleeping in and relaxing—then so be it. Your future is more than worth the investment of this time.

Now, that said, while it is great to dedicate one day a week to schoolwork, don’t be fooled—graduate school is a time hog! You will NOT get by on one day a week. You need to recognize early on that you must commit yourself to consistent, daily work. This isn’t an undergraduate program where you can cram for an exam or bang out a paper the night before it's due. Try that in graduate school and your professor will chuckle gaily as they send you packing.

4. Dial in Your Study Planning

if you’re bored while listening to a lecture, work on your weekly and quarter/semester study plan instead of doodling.  If you’re watching a class group present the 5th marketing presentation on the same case study, you might also have brain space to outline the key points in a chapter or case. Later, when you’re study – refer back to these notes, rather than starting with a blank-screen.

Create digital calendar appointments. Make it a point to keep track of everything. When you’re zipping through work or school, it’s easy to forget that really important item that you were meaning to do. If you track it through your smart device’s calendar, you’ll get the reminders you need so you don’t forget. And make sure that you set your reminders well in advance so that you have time to get that task done AND you don’t miss the final that was inconveniently scheduled on a non-typical class time.

5. Say No, for Now

At the bottom line, graduate school is about a consistent, discipline that leads to a cumulative acquisition of knowledge. And that means that you are going to have to learn to say “no for now” to anything that doesn’t help you succeed in your program. Postpone long weekend trips.  Schedule big family reunions for after your program.  Weekend trips with your college friends should be between, not during your classes.  Do show up for family weddings and funerals, (If/as COVID or other pandemics allow!)

This will be a challenge and a sacrifice; staying focused on your goal and socializing with other motivated working students will help. Smile—graduate school may be intense, but it doesn’t last forever.

6. Socialize with your Classmates and Professors!

Graduate school is a constant learning experience, with little time to chat. And yes, it’s true that you won’t have much free time between working and studying. But those few moments you do have, you need to enjoy to the max. When you get a bit of social time during studying, you’ll find that that makes a huge difference in how you see the study materials. And this will get you through those periods where you don’t get to talk to a whole lot of friends or family.

So make your fun with your classmates while you’re working or having a cup of coffee! Or take that cool professor out to lunch so that you can learn more about their research and industry trends they are tracking.

Pro-Tip:  Cultivate “study buddies” to help you get both through your studies. Find someone in every class reliable, who is willing to take the time to share notes or help you with that research paper. You’ll find that the power of two minds can get a lot more work done.

7. Intentionally strengthen and build your network.

Lastly, make sure that your loved ones don’t feel neglected. They want to know how you’re doing and are rooting for your success too. A WhatsApp text group or Facebook family group is a great way to efficiently share quick updates.

Your network is good for your emotional health and your future profession.  You won’t regret building your network with classmates and staying connected with your other natural communities.

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Now What?  


If you're trying to decide whether you should go to graduate school, schedule your free strategy call to learn about ArcVida's Bridgebuilder career track.  Or, if you're needing to find your next great role, so you can work during or after graduate school, schedule a free strategy session >> to find out more about which ArcVida program would be right for you.

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Published on 6/4/2021