Seven Tips for Managing Your Time While Earning a Master’s Degree
Earning a master’s degree is a daunting endeavor. Whether for financial, career, or personal reasons, some of us choose to start this journey while already living an extremely busy life. I recently finished my journey of earning a Master’s of Computer Science degree. Along the way, I learned a lot about managing class while working full-time. Instead of keeping those ideas to myself, I thought that others might benefit from some of the most valuable lessons that I learned.
1. Take one class per semester
Although I consider this tip to be a luxury since not all will be able to take a single class per semester, I consider it to be the most important. Some of the classes you take may require 20+ hours of work a week to pass. Sometimes you will have circumstances in your personal life that prevent you from working on homework. When events like this happen, you will be incredibly glad that you only have one class. I heard many stories of my peers dropping a class mid-semester because they simply didn’t have enough hours in a day to manage two classes, a job, and everything else. Additionally, one class per semester is much less taxing to your mental health. You won’t work as effectively if you’re constantly stressed or anxious.
2. Learn as much as possible about the classes in your program before you take them
When you start your program, you will be given a list of requirements for your degree and a list of courses that you can take. Research each and every class that you are considering. Use Google to find reviews for your courses. Talk to classmates and alumni in your program. And talk to advisors to get the inside scoop. Then, you should pick courses that fit your personal interests and have a practical workload. Figuring out the potential time commitment and difficulty of a class will help you make an informed decision. You may not want to take a time-consuming class when you know that you will be exceptionally busy at work or in your personal life.
3. Work on class a little bit each day (aka avoid marathon study sessions)
I found this strategy to be helpful for avoiding burnout and for managing large amounts of work. No one likes a three-to-five-hour long study session. No one can work at their best for that long either. I recommend working in several half hour to two-hour long study sessions throughout the week instead of a three to five hour marathon study session. In the long run, you’ll find that this actually saves you time too.
4. Tell yourself that due dates are earlier than they actually are
This tip takes more discipline than the rest to accomplish. But I have found that imagining and setting an earlier due date saved me from some very long nights! If I had a significant assignment, I would set my due date a week before the actual date. In other words, I tried to keep myself a week ahead. Starting assignments early made me less stressed about deadlines and gave me extra cushion when an assignment took way longer than expected. If you’re like me and don’t like to work at the edge of a deadline, then tell yourself that assignments are due a week early!
5. Play the syllabus game
By playing the syllabus game, I mean learning how to do the least amount of work to get the grade that you want. The syllabus should have a breakdown of every assignment and the percent of the final grade that each assignment is worth. If your goal is to get an A or a B in a class, then you should figure out which assignments you should do and which ones you should skip or put less effort into. For example, I chose not to watch the lectures of one of my classes because everything except the midterm and final could be 100% completed without them. I didn’t do great on the midterm and the final because of this, but I saved at least 30 hours of studying and still managed an A. The syllabus game is a calculated risk, but it can pay off tremendously!
6. Strategically choose your courses
Strategically choosing your courses can help save you an enormous amount of time and stress throughout your degree. For example, you may be able to cut the total number of courses that you need to take by picking courses that fulfill more than one requirement. Another tip is to try to pad your semesters by taking an easy course between your difficult ones. Sometimes, this may not be possible because most graduate level courses tend to be difficult. However, if possible, avoiding consecutive semesters of difficult courses can help you avoid burnout.
7. Prepare for taking online proctored exams
This tip may not save you a lot of time, but preparing for an online proctored exam can save you a lot of stress and possibly a failing grade. If you’re unfamiliar, online proctoring entails a person monitoring you through your webcam, microphone, and screen-share while you take an exam. Your workspace must be in a quiet room by yourself with no unpermitted materials around you. Some exams have specific rules such as allowing you to have a piece of scratch paper or a calculator. If something goes wrong during your exam that makes you suspect of cheating, then you may get a zero. All of this probably sounds stressful! But if you prepare for the exam rules and set your workspace in advance, then the online proctoring should be a breeze!
Overall, these tips helped me feel refreshed, positive, and productive while earning my degree. Since everyone is different in how they approach grad school, I don’t expect that all of my tips will be useful to everyone. But I hope that you learned something from this article. Grad school is a long and challenging journey! Make the most of it by managing your time well.