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Overcoming the challenges of college as a working professional

professional student holding books

More people are making the decision to go to grad school, in fact, current statistics from the United States Census Bureau show that the number of people with master’s degrees has doubled since 2000. The number of people with doctoral degrees has more than doubled, highlighting a strong trend toward obtaining graduate degrees.

While the motivation to earn a master’s or doctoral degree varies by person, the result tends to be higher earnings and lower unemployment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), someone with a master’s degree has median earnings nearly 20% higher than someone with a bachelor’s degree. An additional study by BLS show that those with a doctoral degree have higher median weekly earnings than those with a master’s degree.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s easy to see that earning a graduate degree can have a positive impact in one’s life. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that returning to school is challenging. This can be especially true for working professionals that have to fit school into a busy schedule of family and work obligations.

If you’re interested in returning to school, but aren’t sure how to make it work in your life, the following tips may help.

Build a network of support

You’ll have less free time as a student, which means you will be less available to spend time with friends and family. Although this is a temporary situation, it can still be difficult for everyone to accept. You can make it easier by letting everyone know that you’re working toward your dream of earning a graduate degree. Let them know that you have big plans and this is a stepping stone toward making them happen. Not only are you likely to find an instant network of support and encouragement, you may inspire others to follow your footsteps.

Embrace planning

If you’re already a planner, you’re in luck because it takes a lot of organization and planning to juggle work, life and school. For those that aren’t used to planning, going back to school is the perfect time to learn. One method of keeping everything running smoothly is to keep a master day planner. This is a single day planner that includes every obligation for all aspects of your life, from birthdays and extra school activities to school assignments and work deadlines. By keeping everything in one place you’ll have a more realistic snapshot of your life, allowing you to more effectively prioritize your time.

Pencil in study time

Making time to study is often the most difficult part of returning to school, especially for working professionals. Some people sneak their coursework into their schedule by taking advantage of every free moment they can find before work, on breaks, over the weekends or while everyone else is asleep. This method doesn’t work for everyone though, so you may want to consider making an appointment to study. Placing it in your day planner just like any other appointment can help make studying a priority.

Manage expectations

Being successful in school requires a time commitment, so it’s important to give yourself a break on things like housekeeping and yardwork. You may not have a perfectly manicured lawn or a house fit for the cover of a magazine, but that’s okay. Going back to school is part of a larger plan, so keep your focus on the goal and remember, your time as a student is limited. Once you graduate you’ll be able to reset your priorities, but until them, give yourself permission to leave a few dishes in the sink.

Fortunately, working professionals can overcome the challenges of being a student with a bit of planning and patience. And when things get hard just remember, the short term inconvenience of being a grad student is outweighed with the benefits to come.


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