Graduate Admissions Blog

How to Survive: Tips to Keep Your Sanity Through Grad School at Bank Street

Sometimes it all seems overwhelming. Life is a big ball of rubber bands -a messy looking sphere comprised of many strands of experiences. The rubber bands cross each other intertwining -they’re stretched or relaxed -sometimes they snap. These individual experiences making up the whole may be strained and filled with tension like a stretched rubber band, or steadier and pliable – docile like a relaxed one. My life is currently a stretched rubber band, quite thin some days, more relaxed others. Graduate school, if you have a full life beyond it, can add to the stress of attempting to manage it all. It is important to find your sense of center, quiet, peacefulness or happiness as much as you can during this time. We give too much of ourselves sometimes – and it’s okay to take bits of you back. You can lose yourself in an undulating sea of papers and projects, meetings, events – challenges leading to a great reward.

I am constantly looking for time. It vanishes and escapes me too frequently. There doesn’t ever seem to be enough. Time is a precious commodity. I am sure many other people feel the same way for reasons both complex and simple. As a teacher, graduate student, and blogger, aside from the day to day work of these occupations, there are many words and ideas that somehow have to sinuously find their way from my brain onto a clean white sheet of paper – many times over. When I find a pocket of time I usually write – there is always something to write – my students’ reports, lesson plans, activities, an assignment for class or an article to name a few. I understand some other graduate students have children and additional obligations, which makes time management significantly trickier.

I had to, for the first time as an adult, juggle school work, with work work and all other aspects of my life as a wife, daughter, sister, friend etc. I find that, one of the things that make me really just insanely happy, is sleep. And down time. And nothing at all to do. That’s rare if non-existent these days. Due to this shattering self-realization, I heartily attempt to give myself the illusion of this sense of rest by managing my time. I have an unspoken rule I’ve self-imposed that I’m not sure I ever even noticed until I began Bank Street. This simple rule – I complete a lot of my work during the day so I can maybe have an hour or two of uninterrupted nothingness when I get home – has been essential in my survival of graduate school.

Here are more time management strategies I have found help:

Use a calendar – a lot

As soon as you make or learn of a dated commitment, write it in your phone’s calendar or a planner to help you accurately keep track of where you need to be, when. It also helps to know what you will be doing in order to best prepare. Check your calendar every morning and in the evening or night, so you know what’s happening the next day and in the coming days.

Make a weekly plan

This tip goes hand in hand with using a calendar. Compose a list. Note what do I need to do? What do I want to do? And What should I get a head start on? Try to break up your assignments and other work into different days or time pockets. Color code urgent things to do in a vivid color.

Ask for help

Often, we are real life supermen and superwomen. Although super-people roam the planet in various capacities – even heroes need help sometimes. This was actually one of my biggest hurdles in beginning graduate school. I (maybe naively) didn’t expect the added workload to the degree I was presented with. Yet when it got to be too much to handle – I didn’t ask for help. Consequently, I was sad, resentful, frustrated and tired. It took some conversations with my spouse, family, classmates and co-workers to realize they were there to help me, I just needed to learn to ask for it. Becoming comfortable in asking for help from anyone – your professor, advisor, classmates, family, co-workers, whomever – is by far one of the most important time management strategies. It not only helps to delegate work or obligations so you have time to do assignments, but it facilitates the notion that – you are not alone in this. I vent to my Cohort members and spouse maybe more than I should, but it really helps to know someone is listening and can empathize.

Build a support system

Just like the tip above notes, we need to make sure there are people who can help us when we need it. Bank Street’s staff – from instructors to advisors, program directors and a hundred others have all been some of the nicest, most obliging people I have ever met. They are a huge network of support and have many resources at their disposal, which as a student, in turn become yours.

Work now, play later

This tip is a nod to my own time management philosophy, which I noted above. I prefer to do as much work as I can before I rest and genuinely enjoy something. If I’m thinking that as soon as I’m through resting for a few minutes I have a paper to write, I just can’t enjoy the time off as much. I attempt to take advantage of any momentum I have throughout the day and work hard in that time, then wind down.

Always keep your goals in mind

Remember that this stress and this lack of time – the feeling of being overwhelmed with work – are temporary! You are doing something amazing! Getting your graduate degree is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself, your family, and community. You are in the midsts of an incredible feat not everyone even has access to. Yes, there are challenges – but the rewards will render them worth it. Come graduation day, I’m sure you’ll be proud of yourself and loved ones will be too – so keep your eyes on the prize and don’t give up.

Once you’ve done plenty of work throughout the day, remember to reserve time specifically designated for rest and relaxation.

Do something fun or peaceful for a few hours—  something you love

Read a chapter or two of a book you’re reading for pleasure. Watch a comedy. Talk to friends or family. Eat something really delicious. Anything you find even slightly hedonistic—  do it. But make sure you don’t feel guilty about it. It’s part of the process—  taking care of ourselves is the only way we’ll make it through graduate school sane.

Also, check out my post on places to relax around the city if life becomes too stressful!