If you’re like many graduate students, you’re working a full- or part-time job in addition to attending college. How do you go to class, study, and complete projects while working (and possibly caring for a family or serving in the military, on top of grocery shopping, laundry, and the myriad other responsibilities of daily life)?
We asked a few of our grad students how they do it:
Ousmane Balde G’19, logistics-operations manager for Von Roll; MBA candidate
Yashna Saxena G’20, quality-assurance analyst consultant to the New York State Department of Health; M.S. in Information Technology candidate through Saint Rose’s hybrid online/on-campus program
Maria Vincent G’20, coordinator of prospect development for The College of Saint Rose; M.S. in Business Analytics candidate
Talk to your employer
Many bosses are supportive of graduate school – some even help pay for it! – as long as you don’t let your work slide. (Not all bosses are equally supportive of education, so tailor your approach to your situation.) Explain to your employer how your education will benefit them: Can your studies improve your work, introduce you to industry peers, expand your department’s scope, or even tackle some of your employer’s current challenges?
Vincent is studying business analytics to become a “translator” between traditional business people and the brave new world of big data – a big benefit to her department. “My boss is very aware of the impact that data-driven strategies are having in institutional advancement,” she says. Her coworker, Akporode Esha G’19, is working on the same degree, and the two are planning to collect historical data to establish important benchmarks. They’ve already been able to use data analytics to quantify return on investment for some of the College’s new hires.
School may make you a better worker in other ways, too. “Coming back to the academic exercise sparks your critical thinking and engages you in an intellectual way that doesn’t always happen at work,” says Vincent. “And it makes you happier and more productive.”
Balde was already a full-time student, full-time employee, and father of three young children when he interviewed for his current position. Since his previous work experience clearly showed that he was a star player even after starting grad school, he got the job.
If your boss is leery of your taking on the added obligation of school, you could start slow – say, with a single class that doesn’t interfere with your work schedule. At the end of the semester, you can casually mention the 4.0 GPA you maintained without missing a single deadline.
Fit schooling to your schedule
Many graduate programs offer flexible options, such as attending night classes or studying online. Saxena found the Saint Rose hybrid program, which is conducted mostly online, was perfect for her work schedule. “We attend classes in person only once every eight weeks, on a weekend – from Friday evening through Sunday morning,” she says. “I chose this program because it was the only program that allowed international students like me to continue working full time while simultaneously attending school.”
If you have to attend class during work hours, consider asking for a modified schedule. Can you make up time by working later or working through lunch on some days?
Allot time for studying – and put it front and center (save video binges for holiday breaks)
In meeting the challenge of adding studying to your work schedule, you’ll probably discover reserves of creativity and discipline that you didn’t even know you had.
Strategic planning is vital. “I work on my coursework and watch lecture videos after I come home from work, as well as all day on the weekends,” says Saxena. “I distribute the workload by doing small portions every day, and then spend the weekends finishing the work so I can submit it on time – there have been times where I had to spend hours and hours struggling with a homework assignment. I plan grocery shopping and cooking to leave ample time to finish assignments. If I travel on a weekend, I’ll try to finish the work before Saturday.”
Balde, too, sits down to homework as soon as he arrives home from the office. Then he gets in a couple of hours of time with his kids before their bedtime.
When Vincent started grad school, she found she became more disciplined and efficient at work, school, and home. “I trimmed out the dithering,” she says. “I wake up earlier, get out the door earlier, get to the gym earlier. When I get home from work, I’ll work on schoolwork while eating dinner. In the evenings and on the weekends, classwork is a priority.”
Call on your resources
Your professors and classmates can provide you with more than classroom learning: They can be excellent sources for industry knowledge and connections, from listserves to prospective employers (if you’re looking for a change).
If any of your coworkers are graduates of your program, tap them for guidance on navigating school systems. How many different sites (with how many PINs) do you have to log into to register for classes, access your assignments and reading, check your email? Is the computer lab open on the weekends? Can you save assignments to the school’s shared drive from home or should you email yourself assignments to upload when you’re on campus? “Especially if you haven’t been a student in a while, these logistical issues can be challenging,” says Vincent.
When the pressures of work and school get to you, remember that you have the discipline and fortitude to do this. “Keep in mind that, when you have more skills, you’ll be able to put them to use in real-world situations,” says Vincent.
“Don’t be scared: It’s doable!” says Saxena. “It may feel a bit overwhelming at first, but gradually, you’ll be able to sail through fairly smoothly.”
Still think graduate school is impossible? Hear stories from graduate students who figured it out.
|Our grad students’ favorite time savers|