banner image

Finding Balance in the Pursuit of Your Educational Goals

Completing a Master’s Degree Program as a Working Adult

Graduate school can be challenging, whether your program is in-person or online, and continuing to work while pursuing your degree can make it even tougher. If you’re preparing to start a graduate degree and plan to keep working at the same time, you’re not alone. In fact, 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week. Graduate school can be stressful; 75% of grad students report feeling stressed, 50% feel overwhelmed, and 40% are frequently or always exhausted. It’s difficult to excel when you’re exhausted and stressed! Don’t panic, though. Finding balance is possible; that’s why we’re sharing 10 tactics to help you find balance as a working adult. 

Master's degree image - female


1. Consider Your Motivations and Challenges 

What’s motivating you to go to graduate school? What might be challenging about pursuing this degree while continuing to work? Many prospective students worry about the time it will take to finish the degree and the cost of the program. On average, a graduate degree takes about 18 months to two years, while the average cost is around $65,000. With a flexible, fully online, part-time program like those offered at Palo Alto University, you can earn your master’s degree in Psychology in a timely and cost-effective way. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over a 20-year period, having a master’s degree will earn you $205,000 more than just a bachelor’s. 

2. Hone Your Time Management Skills

As a working professional, you likely already know how crucial time management is to getting things done. Creating and sticking to a schedule, making to-do lists, and carving out time can help you stay focused as you navigate work and graduate school. Digital tools like calendars, task managers, or project management apps can help you stay organized. Some great tools include TodoistAsana, and Notion, or you can keep it simple and use the Reminders app on your phone. 

Creating a weekly routine that allocates time for coursework can be useful. For example, perhaps you work 9am-4pm Monday-Friday. You might spend an hour studying every Tuesday and Thursday evening, recharge on Saturday mornings with a favorite activity like brunch or yoga, then dedicate Saturdays from 2-5pm and Sundays from 10am-1pm to studying.

In general, calendar blocking can be a helpful tool for setting aside that time. Treat a studying time block as seriously as you would an in-person meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Fitting studying into the in-between moments of your life also helps. Whether it’s getting some reading done on your commute or in a waiting room while getting an oil change, anything goes! 

3. Define Objectives and Set Realistic Goals

What’s the difference between an objective and a goal? A goal is a bigger picture outcome you aim to achieve; an objective is a specific action or measurable step you’ll take in pursuit of that goal. You may have heard the expression: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s setting objectives to attain a goal! 

You might have a goal of getting your master’s degree, opening your own private practice someday, or researching a topic you’re passionate about. Smaller, more manageable tasks can pave the way toward achieving those exciting goals. For example, a smaller goal on that path could be “Have a successful first semester in my master’s program.” To achieve that, you could set objectives like:

  • Attend office hours once a month. 
  • Complete all required reading. 
  • Go to two networking events.
  • Start a study group and meet weekly.
  • Get As on all my exams. 

Accomplishing these manageable tasks keeps you on track toward achieving your goals.


4. Choose a Program that Fits Your Needs

There are many factors to consider when picking a graduate program that suits your needs. You’ll want to research things like the reputation of the institution, availability of internships, outcomes for alumni, how well aligned the faculty’s values and research areas are aligned with your own, and more. 

The programs at Palo Alto University were specifically designed with the working adult in mind. Palo Alto University created the Master of Science in Psychology to educate students in preparation for careers in teaching, research, and related business and nonprofit fields. With a choice of four tracks, students select the course of study that best prepares them for their future goals. Program costs are kept low and programs are offered part time, entirely online, creating flexibility for students. There is no need to upend your life by relocating. You can easily fit our program into your life, not the other way around.

5. Identify Your Support System

Everyone’s support systems look different. Take some time to identify who your main supporters are. It could be an understanding partner, helpful neighbors, close friends, nearby family, caring coworkers, and more. It’s important to be proactive, too–don’t wait until the semester is nearly over and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Reaching out and letting folks know you’re enrolling in graduate school and sharing your hopes and expectations can help them be prepared to support you on your journey. Having an excellent therapist you can rely on for support and insights is another great tool to keep in your toolbox.

6. Talk with Your Employer

When it comes to support from your current workplace, many employers are eager to support individuals who show the desire for growth and improvement. Having a conversation in advance about what flexibility they may be able to offer will help set expectations before your program begins. Many employers also offer some form of tuition reimbursement or assistance, so make sure to inquire about what benefits might be available!

7. Take Advantage of Flexible Programs

While traditional, in-person graduate programs can require huge life changes such as having to relocate and drastically shift your schedule to attend classes, online degree programs offer tons of convenience and flexibility that’s crucial for working adults. With a fully online program, you can follow at a pace that works for you. The program is at your fingertips via smartphones, tablets, and laptops, allowing you to complete coursework in small doses while creating big change in your life.

8. Find Your Community

Though online programs offer amazing flexibility, it is important to create a sense of community with your instructors, mentors, and peers, even while scattered across the country. Attending online lectures and creating collaborative study sessions or group projects can be beneficial and provide a support system. This will help you stay on track, navigate your program and supplement your learning through a sense of community. It will also lay the groundwork for expanding your circle of business and academic relationships, setting you up for networking in your future career.

9. Plan for the Investment

If affording your education is a concern, there are many possibilities to investigate. Loans, grants, savings, and even contributions from your current employer are all ways to help afford your investment in a graduate degree. Make sure to research financial aid options and submit your application on time.

10. Prepare to Tackle Obstacles

Even in the most well-designed programs, graduate school is a balancing act and there will inevitably be obstacles. If you’re feeling stressed or burned out, now is not the time to buckle down and work harder. Taking time off, exercising, or meditating can be great tools for carving out time for yourself and recharging. Rest is essential, so you can also try to get a better night’s sleep. When obstacles arise, you can also touch base with your instructors, support system, and your therapist for guidance and support. Ultimately, taking care of yourself is critical so you can take care of your graduate work–as they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. 


Invest in Yourself

You’ve thought long and hard about this big decision to enroll in an online master’s degree program. Pursuing a graduate degree isn’t always easy, but the community you’ll create, the things you’ll learn, and the relationships you’ll build along the way will shape you and your path for decades to come. Palo Alto University’s online master’s programs are designed to fit right into your life as a working adult, helping you further your career through excellent courses, engaging professors, meaningful internships, and more. Ultimately, this decision is an investment in yourself and a strategic move toward creating a more fulfilling future. You’ve got this!