Adding college courses to a schedule that already includes a career and family is a step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The demands of the workplace and home won’t ease up just because you’ve got a paper due.
Even with the added convenience and flexibility of pursuing a degree online, educational success requires planning, realism and discipline.
Ask Herlende Saint-Phard, a single mother who earned her Master of Science in Health Informatics online from USF Health’s Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida while working full time and caring for her daughter.
The experience of earning an advanced degree “really helps you with taking on other challenges in life,” she said. “Because the challenges are not going to stop coming.”
Here are 11 tips for balancing work, family and school.
- Know your goals: Considering the investment of time and money, your academic pursuit should have a specific aim. Know what you want professionally and ensure your degree program is designed to get you there.
- Set expectations: Just because something is convenient doesn’t mean it’s easy. Reputable and accredited degree programs should be rigorous, whether offered on campus or online. Know what will be expected of you as a student and plan for those obligations.
- Work with your employer: Keep the boss in the loop about your schoolwork. She or he likely will be supportive, particularly if what you’re studying relates to your current or prospective role.
- Apply classroom lessons on the job: Tapping into your new knowledge in the workplace can demonstrate your value to your company while bolstering your coursework with real-world applications.
- Make a flexible schedule: You stick faithfully to your schedule. Life, however, doesn’t. Sick kids, flat tires and overtime at work happen without warning, eating into your study time. Budget extra time for schoolwork as a precaution.
- Control what you can: Whether it’s designating your study space as off-limits during certain hours or researching your instructor’s background, take command where and when you can to increase your comfort level and let you perform at your best.
- Manage your time: It’s difficult to overstate the importance of planning and scheduling, so flex those time management muscles. Create a daily time for schoolwork, plan ahead and don’t hesitate to ask a professor or classmate for help.
- Dedicate a study space: You need somewhere quiet and distraction-free, where everything you need – laptop, books, pencils, etc. – is within reach. Cut the clutter: Searching for study materials amid piles of paper and empty Red Bull cans wastes valuable time.
- Utilize work breaks: Although your workplace may not lend itself to serious studying, you may be able to use your lunch hour to do some research, check the classroom message board or email a question to your professor.
- Decompress: Take your kids to the park, have lunch with friends or hit the couch for a Netflix marathon. Taking time away from the books can help you recharge and then return to your studies at your best.
- Build camaraderie: “Find a study buddy or two,” advises Elsie Gori, who earned her MS in Health Informatics online from USF Health’s Morsani College of Medicine. “I found it easy to connect with people whose discussion posts I could relate to and [we held] virtual study groups throughout the entire coursework at USF.”
Sure, the prospect of juggling a job, family and school can sound like a tough proposition. But successful graduates like Gori and Saint-Phard are proof that it can be done.
“Sometimes you have to take risks,” Saint-Phard said. “In life, there is no roadmap.”