One of the most common questions I get after telling someone I’m in school is “How do you find the time?!” It’s a fair question. I work (more than) full time as a communication director of a national nonprofit; my husband and I are rebuilding a house ourselves; I do freelance web design. And let’s not forget all of the everyday family obligations!
Finding the time wasn’t easy. I delayed applying for graduate programs for ten years after getting my BA because I thought I’d never have enough time. Then one day I woke up and realized that the longer I deferred my graduate school dreams, the more likely I’d never achieve them.
Budgeting Time for Communication Graduate Programs
Before I began the MS in Communication program, my advisor told me to budget 15-20 hours per week to schoolwork. That’s been accurate, and not as large of a burden as I thought it would be. I’ve gotten better at optimizing my time. For example, I’m a morning person. I’ve found that if I arrive to the office early, I can do more in that hour than in three at home in the evening, with its distractions of family, pets, chores and more. With structure and consistency in my schedule, I can balance academic, professional and personal projects in a way that lets me do well at all of them. Perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned in this program is graduate-level time management! I’m in my eighth class right now, and so far I’ve been able to structure every week like this:
- Monday: The class week begins today! Time to do the assigned readings and take notes.
- Tuesday: Draft a response to the week’s assigned writing prompt (usually about 500 words) and post it for my classmates to see.
- Wednesday: I generally take this evening off to relax. A mid-week break can re-energize me to tackle the second half of the week!
- Thursday: We’re required to respond to at least two of our classmates each week. I’ll respond to at least one tonight. If this week has a larger assignment due (typically Sundays), I’ll start it this evening.
- Friday: I respond to the second (or optional third) classmate to complete the discussion aspect of the week. I dedicate time to larger upcoming assignments, or take the evening off of schoolwork, depending on what the class syllabus looks like.
- Saturday: I spend half of the day on large assignments and half on personal projects. If there is a large assignment due on Sunday, I finish it this day and sleep on it overnight.
- Sunday: Review whatever assignment is due that day in the morning. Turn it in, and enjoy a day of personal time!
Keeping Your Schedule Flexible
There’s always an element of flexibility to consider. For example, if a long research paper is assigned, I’ll break it up into work over two or three weeks – sometimes more, depending on the structure of the class. If there is a lot of reading and I can’t finish it on Monday, I’ll finish reading on Tuesday and sacrifice my Wednesday evening to writing my discussion post.
I could never maintain this busy schedule without my amazing support network. My boss provided the kick in the pants I needed to start applying to schools in the first place, and is behind me 100% of the way. My coworkers like to drop little chocolatey surprises on my desk as “study fuel.” My friends swoop in on weekends to take me out to lunch when they see I’m feeling overwhelmed. My parents and sister call with words of encouragement when they know I’m hitting the books hard. And most importantly, my incredibly supportive husband has taken on all the cooking and household chores to give me time to work on my degree. Best of all, he knows exactly the right moment to hand me a beer when I’m editing my papers! When I stand up at graduation in six months, I’ll have gotten there thanks to these people.
If you're interested in continuing your education and advancing your career, find out more about a Master of Science in Communication with Purdue University online. Request more information or call 877-497-5851.
About the Author
Catherine (Cathy) Whitlock joined the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) in 2010. As Director of Online Communications, she directs and executes the digital communications strategy to further the mission of the foundation and increase awareness of Parkinson’s disease. Prior to working at NPF, she worked as Senior Editor, Latin American Markets at PR Newswire Association, LLC, focusing on financial, medical and nonprofit news of the region. She also served as a design software teacher at the University of Miami Digital Media Lab. Cathy is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication from Purdue University and anticipates graduating in December 2016.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.