How to Maintain a Work, Life, Grad School Balance

Balancing school and work is no easy task, but it is a reality that many college students, and particularly graduate students, face during their programs of study. Graduate school is already an overwhelming prospect to most pursuing their post-graduate education.

Whether focused on the arts, humanities, social sciences, or professional programs, like nursing and business, graduate school is demanding — and that’s before broaching the topic of how to pay for it!

But some of the issues can be addressed simultaneously. For example, some graduate schools include tuition remission as a part of their standard financial aid package. In addition, some schools also offer a stipend as compensation for departmental work. This work often comes in the form of a lectureship or teaching assistant position.

Research positions are also common. The benefit of these in-house forms of funding is that they provide individuals with practical work experience, whether teaching a class alone, a section of a larger lecture class or the skills inherent in research (cataloguing, recording data, often with some administrative tasks), and often allow students to buff up on their academic studies while simultaneously working.

Even in programs that don’t include “in-house” work-based funding of this sort, it is usually possible for students to seek stipends in exchange for work through other departments or academic units at the university housing their graduate program.

So what are some other ways to gain work experience and manage a job (not to mention a personal life), while in graduate school? Look for any opportunities you can to develop skills outside your area of study. Work on a magazine or journal related to your field to develop ancillary skills, like Photoshop, web design, copyediting, etc. Proficiency with common office programs will at least prepare you for some form of administrative work.

Consider taking elective classes in subjects like grant writing as well (which can be very lucrative if you’re good at it). It’s a good idea to interface with your department or program’s job placement coordinator to figure out what kinds of jobs your degree is preparing you for, so you know what other skills might be useful for you to work on. Before finding a job, determine whether you just need funding for school and living expenses, or if you need a little extra for shopping and going out, and plan accordingly.

Beyond this, time management is particularly important, especially if you find you have to work more than one job to live comfortably. Balancing different jobs is important to maintaining stability in your academic program; if one job has a fixed set of hours/salary, supplement it with something more flexible in terms of time and money, like freelance writing or tutoring.

Create a schedule (on your phone, via Google Calendars, etc.) to keep track of your work and academic commitments — and make sure you schedule down time for yourself. This helps to prevent burnout, a common problem for graduate students who overextend themselves in order to keep up with work and school.

This article is supported by our friends at New England College

Photo credit: phi1317 on Flickr

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