So you’ve been thinking about returning to school to earn a graduate degree, but you have to (or want to) continue working at your current job — your only option is to give one up, right?
Not at all! Many Sacred Heart graduate students successfully continue to pursue their careers while taking classes to complete their degree. With some planning and determination, it’s absolutely possible, although not always easy.
That’s why we asked two current SHU graduate students about their experience juggling it all. We want you to have real insights into how it’s achievable, what they do to make it work, and what challenges they’ve faced along the way.
We spoke with Winnie Victor, currently pursuing her M.S. in Exercise and Sport Science, and Charles Secrease, an M.A. in Strategic Communication and Public Relations candidate, and asked them to share their experiences. Read on to learn what your life could be like as a working graduate student at Sacred Heart!
Describe the search and decision process you went through when you chose to earn a graduate degree while working full-time.
[Winnie] I narrowed down my choices to two schools: Merrimack College and Sacred Heart. Location was a definite deciding factor. Although Merrimack was closer to home, having completed my undergraduate degree in Athletic Training here at SHU, it was an easier transition academically and professionally to stay in the SHU family.
I had built a network during my undergraduate years and thankfully was able to find a job as a Certified Athletic Trainer before I even graduated. I was also able to land a Graduate Assistant position at SHU Fit where I worked during undergrad. To make the process easier, the Masters of Exercise Science courses here at SHU are in the evening so it was a perfect fit for a busy bee like me.
[Charles] In all honesty, I did an online search for good graduate programs in communications and SHU came up along with a number of other institutes nationwide. When I saw where SHU was geographically relative to my home, I couldn't ignore the convenience thus warranting further investigation.
What was your motivation for taking this route?
[Winnie] My motivation to pursue this journey, began with self-reflection. I assessed my professional strengths, and evaluated what I enjoy doing the most and where I’ve been most successful. I have a love for getting and keeping people healthy when it comes to injury rehabilitation, exercise, and fitness. What better way to enhance the skillset I had then by adding another layer. I wanted to be able to graduate my athlete/patient from rehabbing an injury to strength and conditioning—bridging the two professions. My Athletic Training background compliments my Exercise Science knowledge and vice versa.
[Charles] For the last 25 years, I've had a duel career in the performing arts in both music and theater. In the last few years however, I have had the opportunity to engage in a more administrative direction which, along with some other civic minded passions, have let me to feel it was time for a career pivot. I wasn't then (nor am I yet) sure what that pivot will ultimately look like, but I feel strongly that communication will play a significant role in whatever pursuits may come.
Did you have any initial hesitations or fears? How were those resolved?
[Winnie] With the current social climate, it was hard to believe that I could succeed beyond an undergraduate degree. It felt like the odds were stacked against me and I didn’t know or feel like I could achieve more. Just as quickly as the self-doubt came in, my self-confidence came even quicker.
What helped resolve these feelings was making a decision. I decided that I was capable of breaking every glass ceiling, I decided I was worthy of achieving whatever I set my mind to, and I decided that I deserve a seat at the table. If no one else thinks so, I’ll just pull up a chair.
[Charles] Not really. The idea of completing graduate school (even perhaps through a doctorate) has always been of interest and in the world of the arts, one never really stops studying. So, the idea of continued learning was not particularly daunting. Classroom learning, on the other hand, did give me pause, but not in any real way. It's just been a while since I last had a due date on a paper for a grade! But, we adjust to that for which we are asked...or required!
Describe your work and grad school routines, and how you balance it all!
[Winnie] Throughout the week, I wear many different hats. As a full-time graduate student I am in class three evenings a week. I am a Graduate Assistant at Sacred Heart’s SHU Fit, a faculty and staff gym where we promote employee wellness and fitness. On top of working at SHU Fit every day, I am a flexologist at Stretch Lab a couple times a week. My favorite hat to wear is as an Athletic Trainer for the Darien Youth Football league. I cover their practices during the week and their games on the weekend. When the season is over, I keep busy by doing per-diem Certified Athletic Training work throughout Connecticut.
[Charles] Ideally, I try to be up by 6am. Morning chores (dogs, coffee, child, etc...) done and dusted by 7am to then spend an hour on class work. By 8am, I refocus on work and other responsibilities for the day. At the end of the day, after addressing the evening responsibilities (supper, dogs, child, etc...), I then try to spend another hour on school work. Done 5-6 days a week, that's 10-12 hours per week made available for school work outside of class time. Thus far, that's been more than enough.
How do you juggle personal, work, and school routines? What systems do you have in place to help you manage your time and responsibilities?
[Winnie] My schedule is written out in different places. I use my iPhone calendar, my whiteboard calendar, and I have a planner as well. I write down where I am supposed to be (work or class), what deadlines I need to meet, and any tasks that need to be completed. Because I am always running around, I also set reminders on my phone so I don’t miss anything important.
I even schedule personal time, time with friends and family. This is a good way of setting boundaries for yourself and others so you respect your time and others respect your time as well. Scheduling free time doesn’t sound conventional, but it keeps my attention and focus on one thing at a time.
[Charles] Admittedly, I am not the best at organizing my time. I do fall into that category of "works well under pressure." After all, isn't that where diamonds come from?! However, I do have my other responsibilities to attend to, so I try to know what the weeks "load" will be and spread it out into manageable amounts each day. I don't always succeed, but I haven't missed a deadline yet!
What advice would you give to a future full-time work/full-time grad student?
[Winnie] My biggest advice to future full-time workers/full-time grad students is that time management is key. Manage your time according to your responsibilities. But most importantly, make time for yourself. Make use of your downtime, prioritize your mental and physical health, and stay positive! Grad school is challenging on its own, and adding full-time work makes it difficult. However, with the right tools and mindset, anything is possible.
[Charles] There being no wrong answers, know what you're doing this for. What is your goal or purpose? Define that and stay committed to it while remaining open to life’s unknown possibilities. There is no problem without a solution. We just have to work hard and follow the directions life gives us and the answers will present themselves no matter the question: Work... life... anything. Just keep moving forward.
Want to Learn More about Earning a Grad Degree?
These are just two of the many successful students at Sacred Heart who are juggling working and earning a graduate degree (along with many other personal responsibilities)! We’d love to help you figure out which degree and degree plan will fit your needs and propel your career forward. You can contact us to schedule a meeting or request more information about your program of interest.
You can also learn more about how to successfully juggle a degree and work by accessing our free resource below. We’re excited to meet you and help you on this journey!