The (Im)possible Juggling Act of Grad School: Four Tips for Finding Balance

By Stephanie Alder

How do we manage all of our commitments as Graduate Counseling Students? Attending class, completing coursework, determining (and then completing) our Masters’ Thesis/Projects, while commuting, fulfilling family commitments and dreaming of a social life is no simple feat. In addition, there are the Saturday COUN 520/521 classes, and then the demands of Field Placement and Tape Supervision. For me, units of time have become so much more valuable, as has my mental and emotional energy. Working on other necessary projects, such as scholarship applications, volunteer work, and networking for opportunities after graduation apply even more stress. Below I suggest four tips that may help in this whirlwind experience.

  1. Make time for Self Care. As hard as it may be to find the time for you, the benefits can be exponential. Meditate, run, play sports, listen to music, journal, have a Friday night out with friends, lose yourself in Netflix, get up early on a Sunday to hike, or get in touch with your spirituality/religion. Sometimes the only time I get is blasting the music in my car on the way to and from Saint Mary’s, but I always feel refreshed after having even a few moments for myself.
  2. What do you do when everything seems like a priority? I make lists and prioritize by deadlines and the amount of work that may go into the project. Can it wait? Does it require research? Is there something I can do for even 15 minutes? In what ways can I multi-task? Is it a school priority, or a social one?
  3. Know when to say “No.” It’s painful to let people down, and to turn down great opportunities. You have to ask yourself: How long can you keep up that pace? How well can you do all of it? Have you determined what is the most meaningful? Practical? Necessary for school? Necessary for family? Will it help your future career? Can someone else do it? How much time do you have left in the day?

Set yourself up for Success. Do you have a routine or set schedule? Time management can do wonders, if you know what you are working with. The only way that I have balanced my many commitments is by using a time-management grid.   Monday through Sunday, 5am to 11pm, I block off the hours I’m in class, commuting, at my field placement, tape supervision, and the chunks of time I need for getting ready and getting my daughter to school/home. How much time is left? How many hours are free to complete assignments, spend time with family, have self-care, attend meetings, or do anything else?

These are only four suggestions to help improve your experience of our graduate school balancing act, but they are four that have helped me immensely. Using the time management approach helped highlight how little time I had left- especially this semester- after the basic commitments. Now I know that I only have x amount of time to get certain things done- helping me prioritize and say no to things that may be important, but are just not a priority.

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