Tips to Survive Working Through Grad School

Balancing 40-hour-plus work weeks with a personal life is a challenge. Add graduate school to the mix, and finding time to fit it all can seem impossible.

With hopes of enhancing their resume and expertise and garnering a higher earning potential, many workers head back to graduate school while working full time.

According to a study conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), grads from two-year full-time MBA programs reported a 73% increase in their post-degree base salary compared with their earnings before beginning their studies, an increase from the 64% average salary boost seen by the class of 2010.

Click here to read: Anemic Labor Market: Time for Grad School?

Grad students who work their way through grad school will be faced with challenges, frustrations, and hopes of more hours in the day, but with the proper planning and time management skills, fitting it all can be done.

Find the Right Program. Interested students have a variety of graduate school opportunities available to them, ranging from part-time graduate programs, evening MBA programs, and online degree programs that can make juggling obligations more manageable.

Working students need to research all their potential offerings and find a program that best suits their lifestyle.

“Holding down a full-time job and taking two or three classes at the same time will put them in a situation where, at any minute of the day, they will always have something they could be working on,” say Scott Shrum, director of admissions research at Veritas Prep.

Prepare for the Application Process. Remember how stressful applying for college was in high school? Well, the graduate school admissions process is also cumbersome and lengthy.

Applicants should consider the daunting task of gaining admission as a practice run for keeping up with both work and school schedules, says Diallyo Diggs, 35 year-old MBA@UNC student and entrepreneur.

Click here to read: Remote MBA Programs: Are they Worth It?

“Prospective students should view the application process as a first take on what they’ll be up against once they begin attending classes,” he says. “It’s a great time to start getting used to always managing time wisely and staying organized.”

Depending on the program, applicants will likely need their undergraduate transcripts, personal and professional references, and be able to relay relevant experience and academic credentials, says Patrick Osmer, graduate dean of The Ohio State University.

Shrum says that working students should demonstrate their understanding of how challenging the next few years will be in their application.

“Admissions officers want to see that applicants aren’t just applying on a whim, without really being prepared for the commitment they need to make,” he says.

Schedule Any Standardized Testing. Some schools may call for standardized test scores like the GRE or the GMAT, and applicants should research the average scores accepted for their particular program to make sure their scores will be competitive enough before spending time and money for the application, says Diggs.

“It’s important to know ahead of time, or have an idea, if your credentials are on par with what is required for a certain program or school.”

Start Managing Your Time Full Time. The biggest mistake that grad students make when juggling both work and school simultaneously is failing to properly organize their time, says Diggs.

He suggests student employees to sit down at the beginning of the week to plan out the entire week for both school and work—be sure to include deadlines, upcoming tests, projects and personal life commitments.

“There are only a certain number of hours in the day, so by mapping out a schedule and making the commitment to really manage your time will help things run a lot smoother,” he says.

Communicate with Your Employer. Emergencies happen, and even the most organized person can overlook a scheduling item.

Experts recommend that employees be upfront with their school plans and course load. Keeping them apprised about the workload will limit miscommunication and show  respect for the employer’s time and position.

“When it comes to scheduling issues and school/work deadlines, you want your employer to be understanding and give you leniency when necessary,” says Emory grad student Lola Ogunyemi. “I always tell my employer when I have projects, tests, etc. or when my school schedule changes.”

Use Campus Resources.  Working students should use their on-campus resources to their full potential, particularly the academic advisement department.

“I’m a big believer in interactions and meetings [with advisors],” says Osmer. “It’s the most effective way to get questions answered and make sure people are on the same page--both sides should be confident that this can work out.”

Students should not hesitate to reach out for help if they are having a hard time balancing work and school, says Shrum.

“If you find that you’re falling behind or need to cut back your academic workload for some reason, err on the side of sounding the alarm early, so that an academic advisor can help you work through it,” he says. “Remember that they’ve already admitted you, so they do want you there, and they want you to successfully complete the program.”