How to reach your educational dreams while juggling multiple responsibilities
Tracy Hernandez is a wife, mother of three, a full-time financial analyst, the president of two non-profits and she serves on the board of several others. In what little time she has left in her jam-packed schedule, Hernandez is also a full-time University of Phoenix student, pursuing a dual master’s degree in business administration and health administration.
Needless to say, Hernandez knows how to manage her time wisely.
The 37-year-old Phoenix-area resident and former nurse said that people often ask her how she does it all. Non-traditional college students like her are going back to school in mid-life, at a time when they are also often juggling responsibilities at home with their children, spouses, aging parents and on top of that, they are often also likely to be working full-time. Managing all of these schedules and priorities is an education in itself.
For anyone considering going back to school as an adult and wondering how they can manage being a parent, student and having a job, too, Hernandez offers the following tips.
A lot has changed since Hernandez first went to college. So much of the work is done online, she said, and gone are the days of the four-inch-thick textbook. If you haven’t taken college courses recently, Hernandez recommends setting aside some time before classes start to get familiar with how your classes will work.
If there is a computer lab, go check it out. If the classes are online, find out what resources are available to you to become familiar with the system. She said this can make the transition into your new academic career much less stressful.
Set a schedule and expectations
When Hernandez explained to her children that she was going back to school, she talked to them about what that would entail, which included setting a weekly schedule and expectations of her available “mom time.” She suggests that parents going back to school follow in her footsteps and lay out their weekly schedule and let their children know exactly when you will be busy doing schoolwork and when you’ll be free each week. She said to made sure that they understand that even though you may be home, you are unavailable. Explain to them that when you say you can’t do something because you are busy with schoolwork, it’s not because you don’t care but because that time is dedicated to school.
Equally important, she said, is making sure to set aside specific times in the family’s schedule for when your kids need you. Look at their school obligations, extracurriculars and family time and plan to fit that into your schedule around your dedicated homework hours. When everything is on the schedule, time can be easier to manage and expectations easier to meet.
Use an app
In order to keep this all straight, Hernandez found a family organizer app that allows each family member to see the schedule and add to it or change it, as needed. The app she uses is called Cozi, but there are many others out there. Some families use Google Calendar and others borrow from the business world and tailor project management software like Trello or Asana to get the job done.
Hernandez said using an app to organize her family’s schedule opens up very clear, transparent communication because everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
“It is extra time to put in, but the calendar is what we live by,” Hernandez said. “Everyone puts our information into it, and we stay organized and make sure we don’t miss those special moments and we make sure that we celebrate those.”
While Hernandez has set times when she does schoolwork, she also recommends fitting it in whenever you can. She does her study questions whenever she has a break at work or a moment of calm at home. Whenever and wherever she can sneak away and answer a discussion question, comment on a class forum or respond to an email, she does it.
She suggested to always have your computer with you, just in case. She said to consider using any time that you are free to make time for school. Over time, she said, you get “nifty and creative about when you can get a little bit of work in.”
The frenetic pace of life when juggling multiple responsibilities can seem overwhelming, but utilizing these tips can make time management much easier. Hernandez said that it took some trail and error during the first month, but that she quickly set a routine that helped her manage her family time, school responsibilities and workload. It took some trial and error; I thought I was going crazy the first month. But you get a routine down. Once I got into a groove, you never stop. It is go-go-go.
UOPX student, full-time financial analyst, wife, mother of three, and president of two non-profits