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How to Balance Family and Grad School

written by: Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 9/25/2010

Fulfill your dreams of higher education as an older grad student. Read on for tips that will help you negotiate a successful balance between family, graduate school and career.

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    Balancing Time Between Career and Family and Graduate School

    We all have constraints in life and maybe yours prevented you from pursuing your plans for graduate school. Perhaps you got side-tracked into a career straight out of your undergraduate education and now you want to go back to school for a master’s or PhD. Don’t let fears of not being able to fulfill your responsibilities of family and work stop you from following your dreams.

    With a little bit of strategy and a modicum of effort, you will be able to negotiate all the obstacles you perceive in your way and you will be successful in achieving all the goals you have set out to attain. Here's some advice on how to go about balancing the needs of your family, the rigors of graduate school and the long-term demands of your career.

    1. Simplify!

    As we go about our lives, we collect a lot of "stuff" (both material and otherwise) that really adds no value to all that we consider truly important to our existence. It is now time to think about getting rid of the deadwood from your daily schedule. Simplify your life. Concentrate on the essentials. Focus on what you absolutely must do and forget about the rest!

    2. Prioritize

    There are only so many hours in a day and you can't do everything you've been doing and go to grad school. So you have to manage your time in a manner that doesn't leave you feeling out of control and guilt-ridden at the end of the day. I'm a great believer in lists because they help me juggle the various hats I wear. When I make my daily lists, I prioritize all the disparate tasks I have to accomplish on that day and add a couple of "should also dos" on each list. Then I begin the ticking off as the day goes on. I really don't beat myself up if I don't get through the entirety of my lists. As long as I've done all the "must dos" and made a decent headway into the rest, I feel in control. Also, the every morning list-making ensures that I don't miss birthdays and dinners and other relationship-threatening appointments.

    3. Go Easy on Yourself

    When my son was just a baby, I remember trying to be super-mom, good wife, grad student par excellence and award-winning Teaching Assistant and failing miserably on all counts. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I always felt the guilt of needing to be somewhere else doing something else. It took me a while to get over the superwoman complex and realize that as long as I lived my life with sincerity and loved all the various aspects of my life enough to continue doing them, I didn't need to be perfect at everything. Getting an A+ on every term paper is not worth it if it causes you anxiety attacks. An A will do just as well in the long run if you enjoy the act of writing it.

    4. Find Time to Relax, Play and Have Fun

    When you're in grad school, you're only competing against yourself, so it won't matter if you get that degree a semester later than you thought you would as long as your finances are in place. You don't have to kill all the joy in your life to rush through your time in school. That way, you'll get a degree but not the education you're there to get!

    5. Build a Support System and Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

    Grad school is about classes and courses and research. But it is also about making lifelong friends and building networks for your future career. Your life and relationships shouldn't have to be put on hold while you work for your degree. Grad school assistantships or other forms of financial aid will not give you a life of luxury but campus life can be fulfilling in other ways.

    There are other grad students who are in the same situation as you. Build a support system and don't hesitate to ask for help or back up if you need any.