When Pamela Black-Colton, the executive director of admissions & student services for University of Rochester’s School of Education, was earning her MBA at night, she never went anywhere without her textbook. She would use any spare minute she could find to keep up with her homework.
Black-Colton is not alone in the local area in noting the challenge in balancing an existing career and other responsibilities like a family with continuing education.
But local educational leaders and students say that the challenge can be met.
David Kunsch, program director of St. John Fisher College’s MBA program and assistant professor of strategy, says that he also earned his master’s degree part time at night.
It’s important to set aside the nights you are not in class or one of your weekend days to keep up with the demands of a part-time program like the MBA or the Masters of Science in management offered at St. John Fisher, Kunsch says.
Being able to juggle work and continuing education, whether it’s a degree or some other form of training, “boils down to determination and dedication and discipline,” Kunsch says. “If you don’t have those three things, it’s going to be a tough go.”
Having an understanding partner helps a lot too, Kunsch adds.
Aparajita Verma, a Rochester-based MBA student at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, has been working at local startup, Phello, while attending school. Verma agrees with Kunsch about the importance of having a strong support system in terms of family and friends. “Whenever you are down, they are the people you need to go to,” Verma says.
Verma also says it’s important to keep in mind that the most successful people did not get to their level overnight. “You have to realize it all comes in phases,” she says.
Lindsay Christensen, a mother of two from Geneva who is studying mechanical engineering at RIT, says that the key to her success is time management.
“A lot of times I am left with not being able to start homework or study until after my kids go to bed,” Christensen says. “The sacrifice of sleep really is crucial at this point. The biggest thing is I am very determined and want this for my life and my kids’ lives. I am determined to get my degree and start a profession and be financially stable and happy for our future.”
Christensen also recommends that students consider undertaking some of their continuing education first at a local community college as that was a money saver for her.
Nicole Viggiano, director of the Greece Central School District’s Office of Community Education, recommends that students get their plans in place before they begin their continuing education and know what their schedule is going to look like and what the expectations of their coursework is going to be. The office offers programs in adult education, workforce development and community programs like cooking.
It also is essential to communicate ahead of time with course instructors about other life responsibilities like family duties, Viggiano says.
Diane Ellison, associate vice president of RIT’s graduate, international and part-time enrollment services, recommends that students who are worried about how to juggle continuing education and existing responsibilities sit down with school administrators before assuming that nothing can be adapted for their situation.
She notes that RIT offers certificate programs as well as graduate degrees such as a newly developed graduate program in business analytics. There are short-term programs in which there is an in-person component for one week and the rest is done online, Ellison adds.
Black-Colton suggests that students first take a course as a non-matriculated student to test if they are ready to take a more intensive graduate degree or certificate.
Black-Colton and Kunsch both note that their programs are designed for students to be able to work and take classes at night.
Local educational leaders and students also say that rising to the challenge of working while undertaking continuing education is worth the challenge.
Black-Colton said the value of attending school while working professionally cannot be overestimated because “the things you learn you can put into practice right away, versus things seeming more theoretical until you get into the field.”
Verma says that being in the classroom alone is a safe cocoon. But working, while studying, means “you don’t know what is going to happen in the next hour. You have to be multitasking. You have to be pushing yourself to be better the next day,” Verma says.
Black-Colton also says that, in the crucible of continuing education while working, students often form a group of friends that they never would have met otherwise.
“It really expands your world view,” Black-Colton says.
Undertaking continuing education while still working is a signal to employers that someone is a “cut above in being able to manage a number of things at the same time and do well in all of them,” Kunsch says.
Christensen says that she was miserable working at the job she had before going back to school even though she was paying her bills and things were fine for her family financially. But there is a way forward to juggle the financial burden of college and having a family and a career, she says.
“A lot of people get stuck in their routine and think it’s too late to change it,” Christensen says.
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.