Nursing MSN & DNP, Editorial

Are You Working While Earning Your Advanced Degree? 10 Tips for Keeping It All in Balance

Earning Your Advanced Degree
Work hard, play hard and balance life – all while earning your advanced nursing degree.

If you’re like many nurses, you’re thinking about earning your advanced nursing degree because of the doors it could open in your career. Unfortunately, your work schedule can be restrictive, and you don’t want to have to sacrifice income or your position. How can you keep working while earning your Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice—and manage to still have a life? Do you need superhero powers to do it all?

Fortunately, many nurses have blazed this path before you, and they are not superheroes—just hard workers. They will tell you that this will be a busy time of your life, and you will have to make some choices. It will also be a rewarding time – one leading to opportunities that make it all worthwhile.

How to Maintain Balance While Earning Your Advanced Degree

  1. Find a program that supports balance. Online nursing degree programs are designed with working people in mind, allowing you to complete coursework on your own time and with no commute.
  2. Clarify your long-term goals. Take a few minutes to write about why you are going back to school to earn your graduate nursing degree. Does it feed your passions and sense of purpose? What financial objectives and career ambitions could you realize from earning this degree?
  3. Set short-term objectives. Once your program begins, get out your calendar and your course syllabi and make projections over the term. Get a clear picture of what you will need to accomplish in each class over the course of the term.
  4. Create a study plan. Map out your schedule on your calendar and determine how many hours you can set aside for study time per day, week, and month. This will probably vary from day to day. Write in specific assignments you need to complete by certain deadlines and make sure you are reserving enough time to meet those goals. Every Sunday night or Monday morning, look at the week ahead and make adjustments as needed.
  5. Prioritize. Spare time won’t come out of nowhere. What will you need to give up in order to make room for earning your degree? Lower priority items will have to be put off during this busy period of your life.
  6. Identify obstacles and strategies for overcoming them. Write down the obstacles that could get in the way of you accomplishing your long-term and short-term goals. These can include everything from work demands to family needs to the ramblings of your inner critic. Then, write down strategies you can employ to counter these obstacles.
  7. Form a small study team. It’s a great strategy to form a study team of between one and five classmates so you can keep each other on task. Each member shares their weekly and monthly goals with the team and, in weekly check-ins by phone or email, you report on how you are doing with your goals. These groups can be a vital support system, giving you the sense that you’re all in it together.
  8. Give yourself rewards. What rewards can you give yourself for achieving your short-term objectives? Post-exam happy hour with friends or family, date night with your significant other, a massage at the end of each term? A hike in the forest to get away from it all?
  9. Ask for help from loved ones. You can ask for support from your partner, children, coworkers, and friends. Explore where they can pitch in more (cooking, dishes?) and demand less of your attention for this limited period of time. Explain your long-term goals and the benefits that earning your degree may have for you and possibly even for them. Also, plan times when you will focus your energy on your loved ones and cultivating those relationships.
  10. Take care of yourself. Don’t neglect sleep, exercise, or fun too much. Eat healthy foods, take baths, work in the garden… and take mini-breaks to breathe and stretch. And remember: You can do it all!

While we can’t promise that balancing work and school will ever be easy, once you arrange your schedule with the help of long and short-term goals, you will be able to successfully embark on your journey to earning your advanced degree.  When you have that degree in your hands, you will realize it was well worth it!

“No matter how difficult the days may get, never forget why you became a nurse.”

Learn more about our graduate nursing programs and how USAHS works with YOUR schedule so you can achieve your career goals, on your time.


The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers online MSN and DNP programs designed for working nurses, with optional on-campus immersions and an annual interprofessional trip to Europe. Complete coursework when and where you want and earn your advanced degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

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