Back to School?: 5 tips to surviving graduate school as a working professional

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As the use of social media and web-based PR tactics grows, current public relations professionals may consider earning a master’s degree to keep up with current trends. Working a full-time job and managing a home life can be challenging enough, so is it possible to add graduate school onto your plate and survive? It is. Here are a few tips to make the process more manageable:

1. Do your research.

Not all graduate programs are created equal. For the working student, a distance learning program might make the most sense. But even some online programs require a visit to campus once a semester. Be sure to research admission requirements and curriculum to determine where you’ll be most successful, and reach out to enrollment counselors with any questions. Thebestcolleges.org recently put out a list of the seven best online PR graduate programs. It might be a good place to start your search.

2. Build a support system (and use it).

Doing school assignments during the work day usually isn’t an option, so be prepared for your home life to get a little hectic. If you’re having trouble balancing your school work and home responsibilities, don’t be afraid to accept help. If a neighbor offers to drive your kids to soccer practice, take him up on it. Your support system should also include your instructors. They are there to guide you, and they want you to succeed. If you’re struggling with something, reach out and ask for assistance.

3. Set a routine.

Most graduate programs that cater to working professionals have developed their course schedules to give students a fair amount of flexibility. During your first course, get a feel for the format, schedule, and pace, and then set a routine for yourself. For example, do reading assignments on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and then work on any corresponding writing assignment during the rest of the week. Sticking to a routine will keep you from falling behind in your work load and having to fit a cram session into your already busy schedule.

4. Don’t forget to take some personal time.

If you work full time and have kids, you already have little time to yourself. Add graduate school into the mix and your “free” time is now non-existent. But it is still important to carve out some personal time, even if it is ten minutes a day to walk around the block and decompress. If your stress levels get out of hand, you’re likely to want to throw in the towel. It is much easier to take the occasional time out than it is to melt down and quit.

5. Cut yourself some slack.

You’ll be devoting roughly two years to earning your graduate degree, and you may have to bump some things down your list of priorities. If you don’t have time to make your signature hand-crafted cards this year, Christmas will still be just fine. If you’re ordering pizza rather than cooking a little more frequently, at least dinner makes it on the table. Don’t beat yourself up about taking some shortcuts at home in order to fit graduate school into your life. It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but what you’re doing is far more impressive than building outdoor furniture from wooden pallets.

It won’t be easy, but earning your master’s degree is an impressive accomplishment. In the grand scheme of things, the amount of time you’ll have to deal with a crazy, stressful life is short, but the accolade of having your graduate degree will last forever. In the end, the feeling of accomplishment and the relationships with instructors and peers will make it worth the effort.

Are you considering a graduate degree? Have you completed one while working?

Materkoski HeadshotJennifer Materkoski is a graduate of Kent State University with a Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications with a specialization in Public Relations. She has worked as a writer and editor for both newspaper and television and as a member of a non-profit marketing and development team. Materkoski recently opened her own boutique public relations firm, Songbird Public Relations. Materkoski resides in Wheeling, West Virginia with her husband and son. You can find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @MrsMaterkoski. She can be reached via email at jen@songbirdpublicrelations.com.

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