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Achieving Balance:


When school, work, and home life collide, it’s no minor task to keep them all in harmony.

By Haley Shapley, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania

When you’re juggling a dozen balls, it can be tough not to feel like you’re going to drop one every now and then. And if anyone knows what it’s like to keep a complex juggling act going, it’s students who are trying to get an education and manage a career and family life. Here, three students share how they balance school, family, work, friends, and all of life’s other obligations.

Eight Is Enough
The Situation: Brent Barlow is the father of eight children, seven of whom live at home; works 30 to 40 hours a week; and is pursuing a nursing degree at Everest College in Salt Lake City, Utah. His wife, too, is back in college, also studying nursing.

The Challenges: If you thought the Brady Bunch household had a lot going on, add in a couple more kids and subtract housekeeper Alice. On top of that, Barlow runs a handyman service that keeps him consistently working. He also edits the newsletter for Everest College and is president of the nursing association on campus. Of taking on extra responsibilities, he says: “The job market is competitive now, hugely competitive, and you have to show something on your résumé that not everybody across the country has. You have to set yourself apart.”

How He Manages: To make sure that he spends time with his kids—whose grandparents have stepped in a lot to help, Barlow makes every effort for the whole family to sit down to dinner together each night. “It’s almost like you’re planning every hour; there’s a lot more planning involved with my time [than there used to be],” he says. “Keeping that tradition of sitting down to dinner every night has helped a lot.” To make sure he doesn’t forget anything, Barlow has e-mail
reminders set up that go off 24 hours and four hours ahead of an appointment or meeting. Words of Wisdom: “The biggest thing is dedication. If your priorities are getting through school and getting that education, there’s always a way to get it done.”

In the Army Now
The Situation: Kimberly Byers is in the U.S. Army and is pursuing a master’s degree at American Military University. She was deployed in Afghanistan and Qatar while getting her bachelor’s degree and has a six-year-old son.

The Challenges: When deployed, “sometimes we didn’t have Internet connectivity, and that was a little challenging,” Byers says. “When I figured out the connection dropped now and again, I tried to do my homework ahead of time as much as I could.” Now that she’s living in Virginia, it isn’t always easy to juggle time with her son, going to school, and working at her job.

How She Manages: Byers spends time studying after her son goes to sleep, and she used to often work late into the night while overseas. “When you’re deployed, you’re always doing something,” she says. “Your free time is not necessarily your free time, but you make do.” Still, she’s found that being back home with life’s day-to-day obligations has made going to school even tougher. Using a planner to keep track of everything has been a huge help. “I think there are a lot of people who still don’t use them, but I’m surprised because they really do work,” Byers says.

Words of Wisdom: “Find the best time for you to study—it may not be during regular daytime hours. Organize your time to make sure that you don’t slip on your assignments, and never get behind. Once you get behind, it’s very difficult to catch up.”

Bills, Bills, Bills
The Situation: Kevin Howe is working on his associate’s in business management at Kirtland Community College in Roscommon, Michigan. He and his wife, who is also a student at Kirtland, have four pets to take care of, and he works the night shift at a home improvement store.

The Challenges: On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Howe has a class that begins at 8 a.m.—but with his job doing night freight, he’s often not home until after 5 a.m., which leaves no time for sleep before going to class.

“I’d shoot myself in the foot if I’m like, ‘I can’t work those hours.’ A job is a job, and it’s a wellpaying job,” he says. “We have our mortgage, car payment, insurance on both vehicles, property taxes, house insurance, utilities—stuff that most traditional college students don’t have. [They’re usually] living in a dorm or still home with their parents or they have two or three roommates, and we don’t have that.”

How He Manages: Howe tries to set aside an hour every day to devote to studying, and he finds his ability to adapt to an unorthodox schedule helps. He’s made great friends at school who help push him along, and he and his wife both support each other. “When things start getting tough, I look at our game plan for five years down the road and say, ‘This is where we will be in five years, but to get there, I’ve got to do all these steps first,” he says. “My wife and I both are in total agreement on the steps to get there and where we’re going to be, so we both kind of give a nudge to each other when we need to.”

Words of Wisdom: “I’m a very firm believer that in the long run it will be worth it. It may be sheer craziness right now trying to juggle full-time school, work, family, and everything else, but when you look where that can take you long term when you’re done, stick with it.” For older students who are working toward a degree while handling a job and dealing with issues at home, keeping up with academics can be especially challenging. But by learning to manage time and turn to family for help, you can make it through, reach your goals, and have a better future.

Haley Shapley is a freelance writer based in Seattle and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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