Some students work while in school, others have a family or plan to have a baby, some are taking care of parents, and almost all have other responsibilities, obligations, or stressors that make a full-time (or even part-time in the case of our Distance Ed programs), rigorous, and challenging program quite a commitment. As I reflect on my past 5 semesters in this program (I am a Distance Ed-er, myself) – with this past semester easily being the most difficult with juggling 5 classes (totally did that to myself and it is not typically), an especially challenging field placement, some health difficulties, and WEDDING Planning – I would like to share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered from others or from doing the opposite of the following advice:
1. Set Realistic Expectations. Do not plan to fill up every waking moment with some task or commitment. You NEED time to rest.
2. Intentionally Schedule Self-Care. Self-care is a topic that is literally preached in nearly every class you will take because as social workers it is not just recommended but absolutely necessary to your efficacy (and survival). Find the self-care activity that works best for you and put it on your calendar, carve out time, and commit to it regularly.
3. Find a Support System. At field, in class, with your cohort, in student organizations, within your friends and family circles, wherever. Having someone to vent to, problem solve with, and distract you will be invaluable.
4. Develop Time-Management Skills. Start papers early. Break assignments up into smaller tasks. Get places on time so you don’t feel guilty. Read an assignment during your lunch break, in your child’s school car line, while waiting for your inevitably late partner. Let your friends and family know you can’t host this year’s potluck and you might not be able to attend every single event like you typically do. Be realistic about how much time you should devote to school and guard your free time!
5. Reach Out! The school has LOTS of built in support and has intentionally hired very supportive and understanding faculty and staff (I mean they’re social workers, for crying out loud!). These people only want you to succeed and become the best social worker you can be. Your field adviser, your professors, your program coordinator, the administration, basically everyone who works in the Tate-Turner-Kuralt building is more than happy to lend an ear, a shoulder to sob on, advise, and some leniency and grace. You just have to ask for it!
6. And lastly: Remember the Goal. I tell myself all the time, “this is a temporary sacrifice to reach my dreams.” After all the learning and growing and networking, grad school is really just a means to an end. Its short-term and eventually you will once again (or maybe for the first time) have an income, have benefits, and have a life!
YOU CAN DO IT! So many people have before you and so many others will after you. And it is beyond worth it to know you will be more than qualified to go out and tackle the evils of this world and support those who need it most!