Finding a happy balance between your studies, work, and social life has always been a challenge, but when students move on to graduate school, they’re often surprised to find the difficulty level rising by a post-graduate degree. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to allow for the countless demands on a student’s time, and inevitably some things are going to fall through the cracks.
The first thing you need to do is accept that you can’t have it all. It simply isn’t possible to work a job, keep up with your studies, catch the latest season of your favorite show, and maintain a rich and satisfying social life all at the same time. However, while some sacrifices must be made, that doesn’t mean that balancing your work/personal life as a graduate student is impossible. It just means that you have to scale back your expectations and make time for what’s truly important.
Here are just a few pointers that might help you come out the other side of graduate school with money in your pocket, friends who still speak to you, and at least a fraction of your sanity intact.
Be a Lone Wolf
Most of us hope to find love, settle down, and raise a family one day, but if you want any hope of balancing your schedule you should wait until you’ve graduated before you begin. No matter how important graduate school may be, your kids will always come first. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a partner who volunteers to shoulder the burden of caring for your children while you study, the late night feedings, financial burden, and countless demands on your time will make it almost impossible to do justice to your studies.
So, if you’re hoping to get your graduate degree it’s probably a good idea to hold off on the dreams of a white picket fence, a cozy home and a rabble of rug rats for at least a few more years.
Put Your Job First
It may seem counter-intuitive to prioritize anything above your studies, but the fact is that without an income, most graduate students wouldn’t last beyond the end of the semester before they’re forced to drop out and find a job.
All graduate schools understand that their students may face financial difficulties, and while only a few may be able to help out directly they’ll all do their best to support you when times are tough. If you’re struggling to earn enough to put food on the table it may be possible to defer your studies for a year, giving you enough breathing room to set aside savings.
After a long day of study or work it can be tempting to plant yourself in front of the TV the moment you return home, but while it’s vital to make time for leisure activities, it’s just as important to structure your down time just as you would your job and classes. Try to use an hour of TV as a reward, and record your must-see shows to give yourself something to look forward to after a hard day.
Plan the Occasional Pressure Release
Incessant studying, part time shifts at the local coffee shop, and precious little time to kick back with your friends can leave you incapacitated with stress more quickly than you think. A few times a year, then, you should set aside a weekend to get out of town.
Escape the campus, book some time off work and gather a few buddies for a trip somewhere you’ve never been before. You’d be amazed at how much pressure can be relieved with a single 48 hour period away from the stresses of your studies, and if you schedule your trips every three or four months you’ll always have something to look forward to when you’re buried under a pile of textbooks.
Keep Your Eyes On the Prize
Finally, you need to remember one simple fact: this will all be over soon. Graduate school is tough. It’s supposed to be tough. Heck, if it wasn’t a challenge everybody would be doing it. But it doesn’t last forever. One day in the near future you’ll leave the campus with your mortarboard and gown and that all important graduate degree tucked under your arm, and suddenly all those late nights, compromises and sacrifices will seem insignificant compared to the bright future ahead of you.
So, when you find yourself struggling to strike a happy balance between your studies, work and personal life in graduate school just picture the steadily approaching graduation day and soldier on just a little further. It’ll all be worth it eventually.