The Art of Balance: Going Back to School in a Recession

Earlier this year, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions in my young professional career.  Upon being accepted to two programs, one a full-time PhD and one a part-time MBA, I  had to decide how to proceed.  The economy, having dove headfirst into a recession, didn’t offer me any comfort when considering the possibility of leaving my job to become a full time student.  However, the decision to take on both school and work full time seemed a bit daunting.  Both programs were distinct and unique and both offered me new opportunities and yet presented very different paths.  In the end, mine was a decision that many professionals, both early career and seasoned have found themselves considering in some capacity.  

Ultimately, I chose the MBA program with a concentration on sustainable business for a variety of reasons; but mainly because it offered me the opportunity to advance my degree and knowledge in a growing field while staying at my job.  It can be an overwhelming feeling, taking on more debt and going back to school, even after being out of college for less than five years.  I settled quickly into the pace of being a full-time professional and adding school into the mix has proven to be a juggling act. 

The recession has presented some unique challenges to our agency and our clients and we are working now more than ever to deliver results and display our talents.  Our expansion into new markets and building bridges across industries has everyone growing their knowledge base and discovering new fields of interests in order to evolve with our profession.  I find that working, now more than ever, is giving me a chance to truly grow as a professional.  But at the end of the day, I have to find time to focus on schoolwork – papers, studying, reading, researching – and it can be tricky.  Though I’ve only just begun my journey, I’ve already learned some key points that have made the transition that much easier.

  • Let your employer know you are going back to school.  It’s important to be upfront about your committments while still maintaining your workload and assuring your employer that you intend to utilize your new skills in your current job.
  • Set up a work space at home that allows you to concentrate and focus.  It is very easy to become unmotivated after work 9 hours in front of a computer to go home and continue work well into the evening.  Setting up a space allows you to separate relaxing at home from doing schoolwork.  The two should be separate entities.
  • Stay on top of your coursework and set aside certain days of the week to complete assignments.  I have found myself having to turn down social invitations in order to complete work – but I know on Sunday and Wednesday nights, I have to do school work and therefore no longer make plans for that timeframe. 
  • Research grant and fellowship opportunities – the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act provided a decent amount of funding to federal and state agencies for higher education initiatives, particularly in the green sector. 

Being back in school is certainly adding a new factor of business to my life but one that hopefully will payoff in the long term and increase my opportunities and skill set down the road.  Stay tuned for (many) more blog updates on my adventures as a grad student!

Posted by: Ashley /follow me on Twitter

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