Juggling Act

How three professionals balanced work and school and impressed their bosses AND their teachers

The Balance of work and school in Coastal Virginia

Many students work while earning their bachelor’s degree, just as they did while getting their high school diploma. It’s not easy because nearly every nonsleeping hour is filled with something—school, study, travelling to work, actual work. But at least their jobs are often minimum wage or entry level.

That’s not to say that these student-workers slack off; it’s just that their jobs tend to be more physically demanding instead of mentally draining. What happens when you’ve earned a college degree, and you’ve made your mark as a professional, and you decide to go back for an advanced degree—while continuing to climb the career ladder? If you can take a step back, think through your choices and adjust as necessary, you’ll find success, bragging rights and maybe a bigger paycheck.

Here three professional share what worked for them:

From Erin Walsh, assistant vice principal at an elementary school, who earned a master’s in educational leadership:

  • “Going through the program with two friends-colleagues helped enormously because we were able to keep each other going. We did 95 percent of our studying and paper writing at my house together.”
  • “I found a program that offered Saturday classes. I think each course was eight Saturdays for eight hours. While it wasn’t nice giving up the weekends, it was definitely easier than taking weeknight classes, which I did occasionally when I had scheduling conflicts due to the school’s offerings. It’s so challenging to put in a full day of work and be mentally/ intellectually ‘on’ for graduate-level studies!”
  • “Indulge in simple pleasures and routines. Each Saturday before class, I would get a large cafe con leche and some wonderful Cuban pastry from the bakery near my house.”
  • “While I didn’t do so well at this, it’s advice I’d give others: Allow yourself to be just OK at either the job or the studies. Being perfect at both is not healthy. :) Seriously, no one cares if you have a 3.0 versus a 4.0.”
  • “I wish I had been better at time management and scheduling. I’d advise others not to leave everything to the last minute.”

From Nicole Benson, an office specialist in the fire prevention office at the Chesapeake Fire Department, who’s working toward a master’s in public administration from Old Dominion University:

  • “I remember to have fun. It is very important for me to take a break, go out with friends, take a weekend trip, etc. so that I am not just buried in books. It is very easy to get swept up in the work and lose perspective.”
  • “My job is very supportive of me going to school, and they are flexible with my schedule to accommodate my classes. I am fortunate to have that, and it helps with stress.”
  • “Sometimes a delicate balance of chocolate and coffee are all that get me through the day. It is challenging, but it is also great to be doing this, and when I graduate, it will be worth it!”

From Gail Kent, owner of The Buzz Factoree, a boutique public relations and marketing firm in Newport News, who earned a master’s of fine arts in writing from Old Dominion University. Gail worked several public relations jobs while first earning her degree and later made the decision to build her own business while finishing her studies:

  • “I took only one course at a time, knowing there was no way I could handle more than that with a full-time career and a family.”
  • “I completely gave up TV while I was getting my MFA. You don’t realize what a time suck television is until you just stop turning it on. With the hours I saved, I was able to carve out two or three hours a night for writing and reading. If you really commit yourself to getting your degree—or reaching some other goal—you’ll make the time to do it.”
  • “You also need a supportive spouse if you’re married. If your spouse doesn’t support what you’re doing, it makes juggling all the balls twice as hard. My husband was very supportive and proud of me!”
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