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5 Tips for Balancing Grad School and Life from SPS Student Mike Powers

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Wake Forest is committed to providing all its students and staff with the support and resources to be successful – academically and mentally.

May marks the wrap up of school and the start of a much deserved break for students. But for most of us at the School of Professional Studies, a pause in coursework does not come with a pause for the rest of life. We still have responsibilities to navigate including full-time, professional jobs and families we’d like to see from time to time. For many SPS students, the break is also minimal as they gear up for the summer semester.

As part of the original cohort for the Masters in Project Management program, I know this all too well. 

I can see the finish line of my degree at this point, but since starting in January of 2022, my plate’s stayed consistently full. I got married, moved across the country, bought a house, and changed jobs – within eight months of starting the program. 

Throughout all of this, I never lost sight of the ultimate goal: complete this graduate degree, advance my career, and better serve customers. To achieve this (and maintain my sanity), I’ve developed some habits that have allowed me to achieve balance while navigating the many different responsibilities that come with being a full-time employee, husband, dog dad, homeowner, and grad student.

Here are my top five:

1. Have a Plan

At Wake, we’re lucky to have access to courses a week before they officially begin. I’ve found it helpful to go through the syllabus and plot out on my calendar when assignments are due. For this to be effective, you’ll also need to note on the same calendar your life events: work meetings, special occasions, social gatherings, etc. Look at each task for what it is, and don’t let them blend together. It also helps to put due dates against each other and schedule a time to complete assignments.

2. Leave a Buffer 

Even with a well laid out plan, things are bound to go wrong from time to time – it’s inevitable. I tend to always have a million things going on, and the only way that I can be successful is if I make sure to give myself a cushion to land on. If an assignment is due Thursday at midnight, and you have time to do it Tuesday, do it Tuesday. You never know what might happen Wednesday that could derail things. Plus, early submissions free up your mental bandwidth to focus on other tasks you need to complete. 

3. Take the Time to Speak to the Important People in Your Life. 

If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that taking 20 minutes to speak to your spouse, parent, child, partner, etc. is never a bad idea. If it cuts into another planned activity, it doesn’t matter. This is not just about you, your education, and your career. You will never regret taking the time to check in on someone you care about. It’s important to understand what’s going on in the lives of the people who are supporting you through this journey. Without them, everything you are doing will feel like it’s missing a link.

4. Share Your Newfound Knowledge. 

In my courses, I’m constantly learning things that I can immediately take to the workplace. It also allows my company to see the benefits of me pursuing this program and as a result, provide more flexibility. If you can display that what you’re learning is adding value to your organization, I can almost guarantee your boss won’t have any issues with you declining an evening meeting to attend a live session for class.

5. Remember, You Aren’t Perfect.

A major part of balance is having the right mentality. It means knowing (and accepting) that you won’t do a great job every day. No matter how well you create and execute your plan, there are days or even weeks where things will simply feel burdensome and overwhelming. This is a normal part of the process of juggling major obligations in your life. The best thing to do here is take a breath and get through one hour at a time (or even five minutes at a time). 

Don’t forget: if working a full-time job, raising a family, and progressing through graduate school were easy, it wouldn’t be a monumental accomplishment worth pursuing.

Mike Powers, SPS online project management student


Mike Powers is in his last semester of Wake Forest SPS’s Project Management Master’s Program; he is an experienced product manager with an extensive background in financial analysis and business development. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Iowa.