Your Survival Guide to Balancing Work and Grad School


To stay on top of your game in public relations, you’ve got to keep learning. Whether it’s a professional development conference, certification or a master’s program, it’s absolutely necessary to continue education…and achieve some semblance of balance so you don’t drive yourself insane.

I’m in the home stretch of my master’s program in integrated marketing communications and with this just about wrapped up, I’ve learned through trial and error what works best to keep growing professionally and also have time to sleep. Here are a few tips to survive and thrive while you balance work and school.

Do Your Research

Programs range in length, flexibility and cost. For me, flexibility was most important, which is why I selected an online program. This allowed me to extend a two-year program to three by taking summers off—a much needed solace I needed in order to be successful in school. Cost was also a factor and I compared many programs and chose an in-state program at Eastern Michigan University.

Apply Strategy

Each class required work around a “client” of my choosing, which I used as an opportunity to do work for my employer. I’ve developed marketing plans, privacy policies, crisis communications plans and more that I’ve been able to repurpose for my employers or career interests. I found that when I chose clients I cared about, I made more of an effort, resulting in better grades and added value to my employer.

Plan Your Schedule

It’s hard to fit everything in when you’re combining your career, school and a social life. Planning out your calendar in advance and blocking off specific times for school establishes a routine and helps hold you accountable. For example, I block off two to three hour increments at least three nights a week so that I don’t over schedule myself and have time to dedicate to class work.

Reevaluate Your Responsibilities

You may have been able to play on a softball league, volunteer with multiple organizations or have more free time for weekend getaways. That all changes when you add in graduate school. You have to set realistic expectations for yourself and allow yourself to cut back, otherwise you’ll stretch yourself too thin and be unable to perform well for work and school, which need to be your top priorities.

Communicate Your Needs

I’ve realized that a lot of people including friends, family and colleagues completely forget that I’m still in school. I’ve done a poor job of communicating my schedule and responsibilities. It’s okay to let people know you have school work to do and make plans when it works best. If they know, they will understand. This might mean turning in early from a work happy hour, asking for help from a colleague when you feel creatively drained or skipping a family function. You simply can’t do it all, and if you can communicate this clearly and in a timely manner, you’ll be surprised by how understanding everyone can be.

But DO Make Time for Fun

It’s surprisingly easy to get too caught up in work and school and forget to make time for anything else. For me, I make time to work out at least three times a week. It’s my space to see friends, work off those donuts I ate and feel good about myself! I also make time for binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix because I need that couch time alone to feel re-energized.