How Adult Students Can Balance School, Family and Work

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 Friday, October 8, 2021 10:00 AM

Angelo Ramos, 34, of Allentown, wants to advance in the corporate information technology (IT) world. Rachelle St. Pierre, 28, of Bethlehem, wants to be an IT project manager who helps teams succeed using Agile software development methodology. Both needed to earn their bachelor’s degrees to reach their goals.

But both also lead busy lives. Even though they both work full-time and both are raising their own families, they took the plunge in 2019, enrolling in the Information Systems Management accelerated bachelor’s degree program at Muhlenberg College’s School of Continuing Studies. Now, they and the other four members of their cohort are on track to graduate this October.

Getting there took lots of juggling. Here are seven ways Ramos and St. Pierre balanced life as a part-time adult student, full-time professional and full-time parent. 

1. Agree on goals at the start.

“Jumping all-in was kinda scary for all of us,” Ramos says. To make it easier, the cohort scoped out a charter to guide its work.

The charter spelled out the roles and responsibilities for each cohort member (in the accelerated program, cohorts stay together throughout their entire two-year educational journey). They decided which times worked best for group study and meetings, and which times wouldn’t work. “We tried to stay away from weekends,” Ramos said. They also agreed on which online channels they’d use. They often communicate by text message and work to schedule around any important family events that might pop up.

2. Rely on your cohort.

 When St. Pierre comes across a stumbling block, a difficult problem or when she just needs to vent, she turns to other members of her cohort. “You have to leverage your team, because they become your family.” All students in the cohort share similar experiences—they all work full-time jobs and have families. Most volunteer with various community services or organizations (Ramos, for example, serves as president of the Bethlehem Steelers Athletic Association, a local youth sports group). 

“It helps to know that you’re not the only one going through this,” St. Pierre says.

3. Grow comfortable with multitasking.

 For many adult students, multitasking becomes second nature. “My full-time job as a service desk incident coordinator requires me to multitask, so I’m used to it,” Ramos says. “It’s common for me to be emailing and chatting with other students while I’m also helping my children with their homework.” 

The same is true for St. Pierre, who likens being an adult student to training for a marathon. “You don’t have any time to waste,” she says.

4. Carve out distraction-free time.

 While multitasking helps adult students balance day-to-day tasks, so too does keeping to a regular routine, one that reserves some distraction-free time for studying. 

Ramos, who works from home full-time and starts his weekdays at 7 a.m., uses the relative quiet of his home office on Saturday mornings to review his course workload for the week, read and catch up on assignments.

St. Pierre takes a different approach. She cracks open her books after her children go to bed each night. “I keep up by doing little by little every single day instead of cramming,” she says. When she takes her kids to the park, she’ll bring a book and catch up on reading while her children play.

5. Ask your school for support.

 At Muhlenberg College, adult learners rely on their mentors. For Ramos and St. Pierre, their mentor, John Flamisch, helped them deal with an unexpected surprise—the withdrawal from classes of one of their cohort members. In addition, Ramos and St. Pierre count on their academic advisor, Lisa Lewis. “She’s our right hand whenever we have any questions,” Ramos says. Adds St. Pierre, “Whenever you need anything—even help with financial aid—someone is there for you.”

For example, when seeking a summer internship, St. Pierre turned to Samantha Hof from The Career Center at Muhlenberg College, who helped her rebuild her resume. “Now I’m starting an internship with PPL in May,” St. Pierre says.

Muhlenberg’s professors also provide guidance. “They make it manageable for me because I can meet with them any day of the week,” St. Pierre says. “There are no ‘office hours’ here.”

6. Build in some “me time.”

 Even the busiest of adults need time to decompress. When Ramos seeks a little break, “I head to the football field and engage in what I’m passionate about,” he says. St. Pierre reserves a little time for herself at the start of each day. “I meditate for 20 minutes every morning,” she says. “It gives me a source of energy that has helped me with this journey.”

7. Remember the End Goal

 Balancing school, work and family takes some sacrifice, but Ramos and St. Pierre get through it by keeping their end goals in mind. When he graduates in October, Ramos will be the first person in his family to graduate from college. “Graduating is a personal accomplishment that took precedence over feeling scared or overwhelmed,” he says. 

Interested in learning more about the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies?

Set up an appointment with a Graduate Studies advisor.

Set up an appointment with a Continuing Studies advisor.