Grad School Survival Tips for Families

Last month we traveled back to Tennessee to see my husband graduate from Seminary. Four years ago, we left our jobs in Indiana to work on getting Masters degrees. It only took me one semester to figure out I would rather be working on a MOM degree than a Mdiv. That December we found out we were expecting our first child, Will.

Thankfully, Will was born right before Alex started his second year. He started school a week after he was born, but we were able to make it work. One year later we were expecting again, we thought it would be nice to have two close together since we didn't know what the future would bring. Well, we ended up getting three close together as I was pregnant with twins! They were born right before the spring semester of Alex's third year at school.

Since having kids, I have been an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes crying at the drop of a hat. There is rarely a wedding I can attend with out balling my eyes out. Imagine my surprise when I started to cry as Alex walked in with the graduation procession, overwhelmed by what he had gracefully accomplished.

Alex's time in grad school was a fun and trying adventure for our family. He did an outstanding job. It's hard to believe he graduated in 3.5 years with a near 4.0, even with assuming both of our job responsibilities at the church we worked for when I could no longer work and helping me care for three babies at home. He is amazing!

If I had it to do over, I wouldn't change a thing. We learned so much, not just from the school but also from the challenges we experienced during that time. Here are some tips I would give to a family or couple considering graduate school.

  • Save money ahead and look for scholarships- Alex was a recipient of a full tuition scholarship, and that really helped us out. But even with tuition covered, the cost for graduate school are still pretty high. Before we moved and during Alex's first year we tried to save for the full amount of his school in a special account. Alex took on a second job at a bagel shop downtown and we saved all of his earnings for school. When Will was born he stopped working there and we had funded the account enough that his extra school costs wouldn't be coming out of our weekly budget.
  • Prepare to live on a Budget - We had a tight budget and eliminated extras like cable and land line phones to make it work. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University if you need a place to start. If possible consider going to one car for your family.
  • Take your time- If you need to take breaks or lower your course load, do it! The stress of trying to make it all work can be bad for your health, performance at school, and family.
  • Create a Good Support System -  There is no way that we would have made it without the help of our family, friends, and church. You will need cheerleaders to help you get through and also people who are willing to pitch in and help when things get tough. We were so blessed to be a part of a loving church who helped us when I was hospitalized and after the twins were born, especially because our families were miles away. Our parents were supportive and did everything they could to help us too. I was also amazed how the community at the school came around us as well, we were so blessed.
  • Patience is Key- Things are not going to be perfect, so if you can get that out of the way you will be much better off. You may have to stay up all night to write a paper, or take care of the kids all day by yourself. It's not ideal, but sometimes that is what it takes. The best thing to get through these times is to be patient with one another, and the demands from the external world. Work together as a family to find a workable balance, but know that sometimes it's just not going to happen.

Have you gone through this experience or something similar? What helped you make it through?

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