Back to School: Juggling School and Work Can be Stressful But Manageable

Back to School: Juggling School and Work Can be Stressful But Manageable

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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University of Arizona employees are joining traditional students in the classroom, as they work toward their degrees.
University of Arizona employees are joining traditional students in the classroom, as they work toward their degrees.

Angelica Robison has a lot keeping her on her toes. Between her full-time job as communications coordinator in The University of Arizona's International Studies Association and three little ones – ages 5, 3 and 1 – at home, she's got no shortage of responsibilities on her plate. Add to that the fact that she's also working toward a degree at the UA and life can sometimes get a little hectic.

But it's worth it, says Robison, who hopes to use the bachelor's degree she earns in either communication or entrepreneurship to help give her the background she needs to help her open her own business, working with youth.

Robison is one of many campus employees who have chosen to continue their education at the UA, taking advantage of reduced tuition available to benefits-eligible employees. 

For her, and others like her, the end of an eight-hour work shift often marks the beginning of a new school day.

Working and going to school at the same time, in the same place, can be a challenge, especially when an employee has family obligations as well, says Dave Swihart, a licensed professional counselor and employee assistance coordinator for Life & Work Connections, a Human Resources unit that offers "whole person" support for UA employees through services like counseling. 

"I admire those employees who are going back to school to improve themselves," he said. "I think it takes a lot of courage and it's very challenging."

The first key to making it work, according to Swihart: Keep your eye on the prize.

"Keep the end goal in sight. Why are you doing what you're doing? That way you can maintain purpose. That definitely helps relieve some of the stress," he said.

Taking time to "recharge" is important too, Swihart says. Doing activities you enjoy, like hiking or even something as simple as reading a book, can help provide an escape from work- and school-related pressures.

Time management is also critical. Swihart advises employee-students to plan carefully around priorities and be willing to say "no" or "later" to things that that can wait.

Employees who have gone back to school often must come up with their own systems to help them balance work, school and personal lives.

"The biggest challenge is balancing home life with school," said Robison, who attended the UA for a year after high school before leaving to complete an associate's degree at the Art Center Design College.

Robison, who enrolls in classes that are scheduled outside work hours through the UA's Evening & Weekend program, takes the fall semester off so she can care for her children when her husband coaches youth football in the evenings. 

With scheduling undoubtedly being one of the biggest challenges facing full-time employees wishing to go back to school, UA Evening & Weekend is just one resource. The program, housed in the UA's Outreach College, is designed to help nontraditional students who can't go to school during the day secure seats in after-hours classes.

Diana Rix, UA Evening and Weekend's academic adviser, also suggests talking to an adviser about the possibilities of taking certain classes at Pima Community College and transferring them to the UA.

But when an employee needs a class that's only offered during the workday, a flexible supervisor can be the most valuable resource, Rix said.

For Claudia Arias, an administrative secretary in Career Services, a supportive supervisor has made all the difference as she works toward her bachelor's degree in family studies as a first-time college student.

"It's been tough, but my boss is very supportive of continuing education," Arias said. "She said to me, ‘You work here, but you're part of the whole picture. You represent our department, the college, the state, and you bringing that degree into your family is important.'"

"To me it's a paper for a better future, better pay, better opportunities," Arias said, adding that she would like to move into a counseling or outreach position on campus, focusing on helping middle school and high school students attend the UA.

Since UA employees may only able to take one or two classes a semester, the process can take time, making patience important, Rix said. But employees should also remember that they are in an ideal place to get an education.

"Since we're in the field of education, it makes sense to have employees with degrees," Rix said.

The following are some additional tips, provided by Rix, Swihart and working students on how to deal with work- and school-related stress.

  • Take classes on a consistent basis to help you meet your goal faster.
  • Come to academic advising appointments prepared to talk specifically about what you want to accomplish.
  • Document everything you discuss with your adviser and keep a "school file" to help you stay on track.
  • Look for classes that can "double dip," or fulfill multiple requirements, cutting down on the number of courses you must take.
  • Talk with job supervisors well in advance to make any necessary scheduling arrangements to accommodate your courses.
  • Keep friends and family connections strong. While a busy schedule can make you feel disjointed, maintaining strong relationships is important to your overall well-being.
  • Communicate regularly with professors so that they know who you are.
  • Sign up for online courses that can be completed according to your schedule.
  • Take advantage of Life & Work Connections, which offers a variety of services to help employees balance work and personal obligations, including employee assistance counseling, Readiness Tips for Back to School and other online work/life resources.

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