Can You Balance Work, Life, and School?


Posted by Pamela Rosen on 21 Sep 2016

Many college students don’t realize how difficult college is going to be. It isn’t the classes, the workload, or even the financial burden that causes the highest degree of stress, though those factors weigh into the problem. The issue is balancing managing work, life, and school. The problem is so prevalent that Columbia University in New York has established an Office of Work Life, dedicated to helping students juggle the competing demands of classes, jobs, and personal time.

You can have it all, just not at the same time

At Columbia, 85 percent of the students in the School of Professional Studies work full time and study part-time. While earning advanced degrees can open doors to improve the quality of life for families in the future, the time students spend in school can significantly impact both academics and relationships. Carol Hoffman, Associate Provost and Director of Columbia’s Office of Work Life, concedes that maintaining balance while attempting a graduate program, a full-time job, a family, and a social life may not be possible. “It’s never going to be truly balanced," she said. “It makes people feel bad when their professional and personal lives aren’t perfect." Instead of striving for the unattainable, Hoffman encourages students to shore up their personal and professional support systems, to prioritize their time, and to go easy on themselves.

It takes a whole family to earn a degree

Hoffman suggests having frank discussions with family members before going back to school, especially if you’re going back to school for an additional degree. It’s important that all your family members support your decision and understand why some sacrifice will be necessary. Even more important is making sure that someone is there to care for children or elders, and that a network of close friends and family members can help. Then, at work, make sure your employer knows that you’re going to school during your off hours. Help your manager understand that your new education will make you even more valuable to the company. As long as your work is not affected, your company may be open to adjusting your schedule a bit, offer you some flex time or other accommodations. Once your personal and professional house is in order, the level of stress you experience can diminish.

Strive to be a high achiever, not a perfectionist.

Johns Hopkins University’s Student Assistance Program agrees with Columbia’s. They also prescribe stress management and emphatically state that a well-adjusted student should “strive to be a high achiever, but not a perfectionist." They encourage students to exercise, practice positive self-talk, and maintain their networks of family and friends. They warn that students who put studies over their personal lives can see both academics and general health decline. A schedule like that can lead to a spiral effect that gets in the way of success. “A large focus on academics can cause strife in personal relationships, minimizing your sense of support," the school advises.

Go easy on yourself to stay present

A time management system is a key element to academic and professional success, the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program counsels. They advise planning your schedule, keeping a to-do checklistprioritizing your worksetting goals for deadlines for projects. Naturally, we recommend Evernote to take care of these vital tasks. Johns Hopkins also tells students to “honestly assess the amount of time you waste and to plan segments of time for study, family, and exercise," which are also trackable in Evernote. They encourage students to reward themselves for sticking to a schedule or completing a task list. A reward can be something as simple as allowing yourself a little time to catch a movie, an extra hour of sleep one day, or just giving yourself permission to do nothing for a small amount of time. Rewards should not be food-related too often to maintain a healthy weight. Using Evernote to track your progress will help keep a pressing schedule off your mind and keep you focused on the present.

Honestly assess the amount of time you waste

Taking good care of yourself is a theme that resonates across almost very university’s school/work/life balance program. While not every aspect of the other recommendations for family and employer assistance may be within your control, your health and well-being are. “Nothing will get done well if you are emotionally or physically drained," the Johns Hopkins program said. “Plan exercise and creative activities into your week to help keep you energized." They also encourage graduate students not to focus on getting straight A’s, but instead on delving into the learning process.

While Columbia’s Office of Work Life acknowledges balance may not be a possibility, they stress that the difficult time spent earning your degree is temporary. Understanding your priorities gives you the ability to plot and predict when to focus on work, study, or family and friends. You can see available times for rest and relaxation, and take away the additional strain of work and family as you advance your education.

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