Family. Family are likely going to be your most significant source of support and distraction from your school work. Often family are very excited about the idea of someone going back to school, yet when reality sets in on how that effects the family routine and your ability to meet their needs, some of this excitement can wear off. Two recommendations are to make sure your family has clear expectations about how you returning to school will affect them and what you need from them to ensure your success.
Friends. Your friends will be an essential support through your graduate education. Sometimes when students start graduate school they feel like their life will be on hold until they are done with my graduate degree. If you are feeling this way, keep in mind that it is essential to find ways to take breaks from academics to have fun and keep living life, otherwise you will quickly burn out. Your friends can be a great support in this area. Make sure that you continue engaging in your friendships, while also making sure that they are aware you may be less available. Friends can be great distractions, people to process your experience with, and to call on when you need help in other areas of your life.
Local spaces to work. Most of your school work will likely occur in the comfort of your own home. However, you might find that sometimes this space is not conducive to learning because it can hold many distractions (e.g., that sink full of dishes or your children arguing). This makes it crucial that you have a back-up quite space that you can use to when getting work done at home isn’t feasible. Some common ideas might be your local library, a friend or family member’s home that is quieter, or a local coffee shop. While sometimes this can be more difficult to coordinate (e.g. setting up child care), it can help you be more efficient in getting work done. For example, you might be able to get the same amount of work done in 1-2 hours that could take twice as long with distractions at home.
Coworkers. You may or may not already work in the field in which you are getting your degree. Either way, your current coworkers can be a great resource for support. If you work in a similar field as your future degree, consider which coworkers may be able to offer insight or advice related to your experience. Have any of your coworkers been to graduate school? Does anyone have the degree you are seeking? Identifying people to discuss the graduate school experience can help you feel less alone and identify more clear expectations. If you are in a different field, does anyone have similar experiences. Maybe you are currently in sales, but seeking a degree in marriage and family therapy. None of your coworkers are familiar with your new area of study, but do any of them have grad school experience or experience with a family member returning that you can discuss?
Peers. When in an online program, at times you will feel like you are the only person completing this degree. However, don’t forget that there are many others working on the same degree at Northcentral University. The primary way to connect with other students is through The Commons, an NU social networking site. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisor or professors for ideas unique to your school for connecting with other students. For example, in the MFT program there are state-specific groups that you can access to connect with students that are in your state.
Child care. It is important to be realistic about when you will need child care to complete your work and what is feasible financially. While it may not be realistic to set up weekly child care to complete assignments, consider if there are times when this occasionally will be useful. For most of your courses there is a longer signature assignment at the end of the course, this might be an assignment that child care might help you get done more quickly. Again, a few hours of focused study can be much more efficient that a whole day where you have many distractions.
Professional organizations. While there is a lot of support for your degree virtually, don’t underestimate the benefits of connecting with other in your future profession locally. Consider if there are local chapters of a national professional organization that holds meetings, conferences, or trainings. This can be a great way to network and find mentors in your area.
Other supportive organizations. This might be a faith-based organization, an organization where you volunteer, or an interest group. These types of groups can be a great outlet for you to share your challenges and successes in graduate school. They can also provide other important sources of meaning and breaks outside of graduate school. You may also consider how you can use your new knowledge as an active member in your organization or how your participation in these organizations can be a positive influence on your role as an emerging professional in your new field.
Yourself! It may sound a bit cliché, but you are one of your best resources for support. You know best what you need and when you need it. Don’t ignore signs that you are exhausted, need a break, or need emotional support. Taking care of yourself, being kind to yourself, and validating the challenging experience of grad school will be vital to your persistence in your program. You are also your best advocate, make sure to stand up for yourself and ask for what you need in each of your important relationships.
Advisors. Don’t forget that your Academic and Finance Advisor (AFA) is there to support you. They can provide a wealth of information about financial aid, your program, and they can serve as an advocate for you. If you are having difficulty in a course or with a personal issue, make sure to keep them updated.
Faculty. In an online program, you may run the risk of feeling like your faculty is just there to grade your papers. However, their role is so much more than this. They are available to mentor you through content, clarify instructions, and support you in planning your future as a professional in their field of study.
Administration. Do you know who the key administrators in your program are? If not, find out! If you ever find that you have accessed the supports that we’ve listed here and you still haven’t had your resources met, keep in mind that are multiple administrators who are available to support you. Some examples include:
Associate Dean of Students
Skills for leveraging support in all areas:
Delegating and asking for help clearly.
Throughout various areas of your life, consider what tasks you can delegate to others. This might apply to family or work. For example, can you ask your partner to take over a household chore for a week? Is there a coworker whose job responsibility better aligns with tasks you complete?
Communicate what you want and need assertively. Assertiveness is a middle ground between passivity and aggression and is the most effective communication style for getting what you want.
Tips for assertiveness
Be concise and clear
Ask kindly, yet firmly
Explain the benefits to you and to others
Explain consequences of not having your request followed
Be willing to consider what others also want and need