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The School-Life Balance: How to Manage Competing Priorities

September 21, 2021

Education is arguably one of the best investments you can make with your time, money, and effort. Then again, so is family life and the pursuit of a career. How can we manage competing priorities and maintain a healthy, happy school-life balance?

Finding that right balance is a worthy, even joyful, challenge. Going back to school as an adult demonstrates motivation and dedication.

According to an article in EdTech, non-traditional adult learners are more satisfied with their college experience than their more traditional peers. These are people building families and careers who know what they want from college.

Nonetheless, juggling work, family, and school isn’t easy. Far from dissuading dedicated adult students, it helps clarify what’s important and why maintaining a healthy school-life balance is critical for achieving their goals.

Managing a Healthy School-Life Balance

Sustaining long-term success in any endeavor requires focus and balance. Individual circumstances and responsibilities may differ, but they are all rooted in our humanity. A balanced life in any situation addresses our physical, emotional, psychological, and intellectual well-being.

We can adapt these general concepts to our experience as adult college students in the following ways.

Physical Balance (eat, sleep, exercise)

Eat (Healthy)

To be sure, there will be inevitable circumstances where a pre-packaged food item is a logical choice. Keep those to a minimum. Success depends on a well-functioning body and mind, so eat a well-prepared nutritious meal every day.

Sleep Well (and long enough)

Pulling an all-nighter to prepare for an exam is a quintessential college experience. As a returning adult student, it’s also one to avoid. Don’t try to cheat a good night’s sleep. Like eating, sleep is critical to a healthy mind and body. Be your best for the challenge you face.

Exercise (at least a little bit)

Regular exercise is an essential component of overall health throughout life. The benefits extend beyond physical health—years of research show how exercise improves brain health and cognitive function. Instead of cramming all night for that test, go for a brisk walk.

Emotional and Psychological Balance (staying grounded)


Too often, we attempt to hold all the things we must accomplish throughout the day, week, or month in our heads. Trying to commit to-do items to memory nearly always leads to forgetting something. Taking the time to plan your days, weeks, and months is time well spent.

Embedded within your top-level priorities of school, family, and work is a mountain of minutia requiring your attention. Without a planning routine, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed by it all. Keep a handle on it by listing your tasks for each time frame (daily, weekly, monthly, and beyond) and each category (personal, work, school, etc.).

Breaking larger goals and tasks into smaller ones helps maintain forward momentum and reduces overwhelm.

Write it all down and stay on schedule. Adhering to a daily written schedule may feel confining, but the organization actually frees you to stay focused on what is essential.

Life will, of course, conspire to disrupt those written plans, so be willing to iterate. Having the framework of a schedule makes it easier to adjust as new priorities and unexpected situations arise.


Meditation doesn’t have to be a formal practice (though it might not hurt). Take a few minutes throughout your day to sit quietly, disengage, and focus on the moment. Doing so can relieve powerful negative emotions, anxiety, and stress. The trick is to do it consistently.

Any technique you can employ that helps you slow down a racing, reactionary mind is beneficial to your overall mental and emotional well-being.

When all else fails, try counting to ten.

Enjoy Friends and Family

The human bonds of family and friends are a primary source of meaning and balance. Don’t ignore it. Take time to enjoy and engage with the ones you love most.

Manage Your Expectations

“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything,” says productivity guru David Allen. You’re a student; you have a family and a job. There’s a lot on your plate. It shows ambition and drive. Remember, however, to be realistic with your goals and the pace you can achieve them.

Don’t Go It Alone

Cultivate your support network, from friends and family eager to help, to college resources assisting adult students. If you can, find a degree program designed specifically for returning and non-traditional adult students. It’s easy to get caught up in your tasks and responsibilities, forgetting there are people who want to help you succeed and support services designed specifically for busy adult students.

We all succeed when we allow ourselves to accept help when needed and offer to help others when we can.

The Degree Completion Program Designed Just for You

The Pathway Bachelor Degree Completion program from Merrimack College is for returning adult students finishing their degrees. Merrimack built the program for professionals of all levels and backgrounds, leveraging prior study and work experience to earn your degree faster.

Key features include:

  • Career-focused: Core classes focus on applying what you learn to decide or advancing your career path. Students have the option to pursue specializations in Business Studies, Communication Studies, Health and Wellness Studies, and Psychology Studies.
  • Simplified tuition: Merrimack College offers a simple, three-tier payment structure. Additionally, a convenient payment plan is also available.
  • Personal success coach: Your success coach is an integral part of your support network. Your coach works with you from day one, guiding you through the process and helping keep you on track.
  • One hundred percent online: The online curriculum and format are flexible, interactive, and engaging.

Many of us begin our degree studies as newly minted young adults. Then life happens. One year passes to the next, and our goal of finishing our degree moves further down the to-do list.

If you’re ready to put earning that degree up on your list, the Pathway Bachelor Degree Completion program is for you.