By Camille Hall, Higher Education Administration Intern, Starr Career Development Center
Separately in their own categories, graduate school, a career, and family each demand a significant amount of time and effort that can be challenging to manage for any person. For a number of individuals, like me, you may find yourself at some point in your life having to juggle all three at once. This is not an easy balancing act; however, it is possible if you choose to undertake it.
As a graduate student finishing up my Master of Science in Education in Higher Education Administration course work at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the journey has not been easy and I would like to share some lessons learned from my experience.
1. Plan Ahead!
Before applying to graduate school, take the time to do the following.
1. Find programs that offer courses at time frames that accommodate your work schedule.
2. Consider how many courses you plan to take each semester.
3. Plan your commute not only from your job to grad school but also your commute from grad school to home.
If you are a resident of New York City, you may live in one borough but work in another borough. In addition, depending on the location of your graduate school, you may find yourself traveling through three boroughs each day that you have class. When I was accepted into the School of Public Affairs, I was pleased that all of the courses required for my degree began at 6pm. This offered me enough time to commute from my previous employer located in Jamaica, Queens (at the start of my graduate experience) to Manhattan. However, I live in the Bronx. Therefore, I developed a true appreciation for the MTA’s unlimited metro card.
2. Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate!
Communicate with your spouse/partner: It is important to share your higher education pursuits with your spouse or partner. This was critical with my husband because my school schedule affected his schedule, especially since we are both working parents with a young child. Having a conversation and implementing rearrangements and/or adjustment to various home responsibilities will allow you both to continue meeting the needs of your child and home life.
Communicate with your employer: It is important to inform your employer of your goals to grow professionally by pursuing a higher degree. This is critical because your employer may offer you more flexibility in your work schedule, tuition reimbursement, or a promotion after you complete your degree. With my current employer, I was given flexibility in my work schedule to complete my internship at the Starr Career Development Center at Baruch College which I value greatly.
Communicate with your professors: In some cases, informing your professors of your student/parent status in advance may allow him or her to be more accommodating to you if your personal schedule conflicts with your academic responsibilities at some point. For example, a couple of weeks after I gave birth to my son in August 2010, I chose to take a fall semester course. However, with new motherhood, I had to reach out to my professor and inform him that I would miss the first class. He was perfectly fine with it and appreciated my dedication to my course work as I transitioned into a new personal responsibility.
Grad school is expensive! You may be able to find ways to reduce your cost or receive full funding. However, for a number of individuals, paying out of pocket is their reality. In addition, when that reality includes raising a child and maintaining a home, financing your education is even more challenging. Therefore, smart financial planning and budgeting will be essential to staying on track with your course work goals. My graduate school progression was delayed due to my poor financial planning. As a result, I experienced semester breaks in course work and found it difficult to afford summer course work.
4. It’s All About Time Management
I’ve found that it is extremely important to enhance your time management skills. Learning to manage your time efficiently and effectively will assist with completing various tasks. However, throughout the juggling act, it is imperative to schedule in some down time for yourself. Even if it is simply making sure to sit down and watch your favorite TV show or DVD, you will feel recharged afterwards.
5. It Really Takes a Village: Develop a Support System.
Depending on your situation, seek assistance from your spouse or partner, family, friends, neighbor, or a combination of all. Keep in mind that your graduate school may have child care services and other parent resources available to you. Baruch College has an Early Learning Center that offers childcare and education to children ages 2 ½ – 5 years old. Even if the child care services are not feasible on your end, it’s helpful to stop by the Center to receive any information that you may find useful.
6. In the End It’s Worth It!
As I stated before, the journey will not be easy. However, it will be worth it. As I reflect upon my own experience, my goals to better myself have been met. With more education, I am confident I will find more opportunities for career advancement or successfully transition into a new field. In addition, I am pleased to be creating a strong academic foundation for my child to later use as inspiration for his own future academic and career endeavors. I’m sure you will find your current balancing act is worth it for similar reasons.