Most people register for baby gear when they are six months pregnant—I registered for an online master’s degree.
Sleepless nights, learning more each day about something you love, re-assigning all of your free time to your new priority: Becoming a parent and becoming a graduate student are more similar than you think. I’m reflecting on the parallels because tomorrow will be two years since the birth of my daughter, and I am currently enrolled in my last class to complete my degree.
What advice would I give the 2016 me who recklessly? wisely? brazenly? decided to tackle two life-changing (and possibly competing) opportunities at once? As a mom and graduate student, pretending to have all the answers is what I do best, but honestly, the below advice is much like the random toys I picked up last night behind the sofa ... under the crib ... and inside my left slipper (a favorite hiding place)—items that I’ve gathered to hopefully clear the way. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
You can do it all — with a plan.
The flexibility of online learning and the ability to learn from anywhere (yes, even in your pajamas with a glass of wine) is one of the main appeals. That said, it’s not all yoga pants and rosé. For me, it was setting my alarm an hour before the house was awake, finding time during my lunch break to read case studies, and forgoing Netflix until my weekly discussion post was done. If you take your studies seriously, it’s like a part-time job that you pay to work (oh, the parallels to parenting are endless!).
Besides the many reasons a degree is worth it, there are also ones that no nationwide study will ever capture: being there for bathtime, to read a book before bed, when your child cries and only you will do. Time management is key, but if you plan ahead, you’ll never fall behind.
Ask for help.
At Johnson & Wales, students have numerous success support systems, whether it’s a dedicated online academic advisor, writing specialist, or 24/7 tutoring. Online learners can still have access to similar or identical academic resources as their peers who attend on campus. During my time in graduate school, I have always been quick to reach out to resolve issues or questions I had about my courses. But more than that, I leaned on the support of my husband to jump in when I needed to meet a deadline or was feeling overwhelmed. He completed his MBA the spring after I started my program, so he knew the grad-school journey firsthand. Surround yourself with family and friends who can give you the space to focus but also, just as important, help you disconnect from your studies for a much deserved break!
Expect the unexpected.
If you have a child, you know that they can be fine one day and wake up the next with a fever. Signing up for online classes meant I would have to balance these unexpected events around my studies—I knew that going in. What I didn't know is that I would spend a week in Paris for a class or make friends and professional connections around the country. I also didn’t know that I would feel extremely connected to a campus that I’ve never set foot on, or that I would buy plane tickets to attend graduation this upcoming December and walk in the ceremony.
A coworker once told me that earning his master’s degree made him ask better questions that lead to better solutions. When you start out working towards your degree you may think that you are working for a piece of paper . . . but it is so much more.
Remember who you’re doing it for.
I have big dreams for my kids, which involve the best schools, opportunities to do what makes their souls sing, autonomous cars, and never having to remember or change their passwords again (civilization will have arrived when the last two happen). I know that a master’s degree can increase your potential lifetime earnings, which could translate into more Legos and video games for my littles. But I honestly don’t think you can pursue a degree and get anything out of it unless you are doing it for you.
Self-improvement and self-awareness are incredible byproducts of advancing your education. After all, you will be the one taking notes from textbooks, summarizing theories into coherent thoughts, and formatting your final paper in APA, the glow of your laptop shining as bright as their night lights.
Your name will be printed on the diploma.
It may not seem like they respect you when they sneeze on your shirt or throw a tantrum in Target, but they do. This will (one day) make them even more proud.
In the meantime, own it—you earned it.