November 4, 2011
Work/study: Sometimes, to get ahead, you have to go back (to school)
Making school work
Include your family/support system. “Everyone has to understand that you must take time out of every weekend, so you may not be as available as you were,” says Antioch University’s Douglas Arnold.
Prepare to make sacrifices. “Many returning students start to eliminate self-care, like not sleeping or eating well,” says Stephen Coates-White, a counselor at South Seattle Community College. “Figure out what else you can cut out — maybe take one class a week instead of three.”
Sell it to your boss. “Find opportunities for your work to double as a school assignment,” says Gerald J. Baldasty, vice provost and dean of the UW Graduate School. “[See] if your employer will contribute to the cost of your education.”
A few years ago, Nicholas Bond, the town planner for Eatonville, Wash., decided he needed some stability in his highly political job, where “being fired is a fact of life.”
Around the same time, John Bruels, a case manager at Swedish Medical Center, realized he needed to take the next step and become a full-fledged social worker.
André Taybron had come to Seattle from North Carolina to work in communications, but wanted to combine his interests in social justice, architecture and urban design.
All three sought the same difficult solution: going back to school while holding down a job.
They’re not alone. Applications to the University of Washington’s Graduate School ballooned to more than 23,000 in 2010-11, a 21 percent rise over 2008-09 figures.
“People tend to go back to school when there’s a downturn in the economy,” says Douglas Arnold, dean of academic outreach and enrollment services at Antioch University in Seattle. “And those who have jobs are in fear of losing them if they don’t have the right degree.”
Working students must prepare for heroic degrees of time management.
“If you have too much on your plate, something is going to suffer,” says Taybron, who is working on a dual master’s degree in architecture and urban design from UW. Eventually, he cut back on the hours he worked at an architectural firm while he went to classes for 20 hours a week and spent an additional 15 to 20 hours at an architectural lab.
Bond endured a 130-mile round-trip commute to Seattle two or three times a week to complete a two-year program for a master’s degree in urban planning from UW. During that time, he was able to cut back his hours and take a reduction in salary while keeping his benefits and pension. Thanks to his experience, he was also able to waive some required classes.
Navigating Grad School as a Working Professional
The University of Washington’s Professional & Continuing Education department hosts a free event for professionals considering returning to school. Wednesday, 6¬-8 p.m., at the UW Tower Mezzanine, 4333 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., Seattle.
In 2010, after three years of study, Bruels earned a master’s degree in social work at UW. While working 30 to 40 evening hours a week at Swedish, he took classes on the weekend and shoehorned two internships into his schedule for an additional 20 hours a week.
Bruels’ wife cut back to about 60 percent of her work hours to make sure their two young children were looked after. “There’s no way I could’ve done it without her,” he says.
The road may have been bumpy for all three, but the trip has been worth it. Taybron says his experience has provided him with consulting opportunities and networking contacts. Bruels is now a certified social worker in Swedish’s emergency department. Bond received a nice raise and “gained a ton of skills and knowledge” about finance and budgeting.
“As a procrastinator, this forced me to set deadlines for myself,” Bond says. “I was so busy, I had no time to slack off.”
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