Tips for Balancing your Life as a Busy Adult Student

By January 27, 2016Students

Union Institute & University students are extremely busy adults who must manage their limited time carefully and balance a variety of responsibilities. Juggling work, school, family, volunteer, and social life activities can be a challenge. To find out how they manage it all, we asked a few Union students to share their secrets for succeeding as adult students.


Bachelor's in Leadership

Angie Brown
West Chester, Ohio
B.S. with a major in Leadership 

These are the things that help me remain balanced and true to myself.

1. Faith: My faith is extremely important to every aspect of my life. I spend time daily reflecting, praying reading my bible and seeking guidance and wisdom to live the life I was born to live. I expect the best out of life.
2. Family: My husband of 31 years keeps me grounded, and makes me believe I’m still that 19-year-old he first met. My adult children, watching them achieve their advanced degrees with honors, makes me grateful that I was able to remain at home with them during their younger years. My family is my encourager, I look at them and know that I can achieve.
3. Fun: I truly believe that laughter, fun, and fellowship are essential to balance. I run or ride my bike every weekend during the spring and summer. We spend time with friends at dinner, discuss world events, travel and sometimes just enjoy being still and reading books.
4. Focus: To remain focused I keep post it notes and pictures around my house of my dreams and goals. I keep a jar on the left side of my desk, and add small gratitude notes to it daily. At the end of the year I empty the jar and read every note. This allows me to see what I’m thankful for.
5. Future: Reminding myself what I want my future to look like. Asking myself the tough questions: Will I leave a legacy? Am I walking in my purpose?
6. Freedom: The freedom to work as a consultant for the 8th largest school district in Ohio. The freedom to help others in my job. The freedom to take on new challenges by utilizing what I’m learning in class. The freedom that my education is now catching up to my life experience. The freedom to make new friends in class from different parts of the country and accept the fact that we may disagree but still want each other to achieve.

When I decided to return to school, I was excited, somewhat fearful of the unknown but I knew this was something I had to do. I chose Union Institute & University because of the initial contact I made with the school. I love the fact that my adviser sat down with me and guided me through the process of enrolling and made sure my past credits would be honored. I love all of my professors; they have brought out the best in me. I laugh and say my education is catching up with my life experiences. I am honored to be a part of the Union family. Something great is happening with my life, and Union is playing a major role in that greatness!


Ph.D. Public Policy

Purcell Dye
Smyrna, Delaware
Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Cohort 20)
Public Policy & Social Change Major 

1. Getting adequate rest is important and making sure that the quality of sleep that I receive is maximized. I use ear plugs and eye patches.
2. I’ve become selfish with my respite. The quality time that I need to replenish has become mandatory.
3. I dedicate my early mornings to my studies. I am at my mental peak first thing in the morning and I use that time for my classwork.
4. Eat right. A poor diet makes me sluggish and tired. I maintain a diet that’s high in protein and low in fats.
5. Exercise daily. Even if I am only able to do simple stretches, it counts.

I selected Union Institute & University because of the focus on social justice and the flexibility to maintain my lifestyle. Union’s principle foundation of personal accountability and building change agents to impact community were also points I considered when making Union my #1 choice.

Returning to School

Deb Pinger
Cincinnati, Ohio
B.A. Psychology
Holistic Psychology Concentration

1. Try to do a little each day.
2. Call it. If you need to take fewer courses at some point because of increased work load or personal reasons – do it!
3. Get interested in the work of one other student in the class so that you want to know what they have posted. It will help you stay motivated.
4. Use the courses as a chance to develop your writing skills…these skills will sustain you throughout your career.
5. Be brave in your opinions. Put it out there. This is actually a low-stakes environment. You’ll learn from mistakes so make them here and move on.

Union Institute & University was a great choice for me. I knew I needed a school that would work with my full-time work load and still be demanding. I also wanted an online institution that is well-respected. I’ve been very happy with the quality of this phase of my education and recommend it heartily!


Ph.D. Leadership

Gus Otto
Leavenworth, KS
Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Cohort 18)
Ethical & Creative Leadership major

  1. If you pursue a Ph.D. thinking it will make you rich, you’re wrong – data supports this. A Ph.D. must be something you’re truly passionate about. It is this passion that will keep you company in the cold loneliness of the early mornings, late nights, and weekends of studying, reading, and writing. Put it on your bucket list, commit to it, and understand how darned hard it will be.
  2. Understanding tip #1. Your education is important, it will make you more successful in the future. Life-long learning is important to all of us. Prioritize though, because your family will always be there, successful or not. If you’re lucky enough to have a job, remember that’s how you pay your bills and care for your family. Sometimes you need a sick day to get your Ph.D. work done. Sometimes you need a break from studies to take the kids to the park on a gorgeous spring day. Don’t forget date night with the person you love!
  3. There’s no such thing as balance every day, so when you look back over the week or month make sure you have something close, knowing it will never be perfect. Be the “scheduler from hell” and covet every free minute jealously. Never go anywhere without something to read or listen to for school. Follow your priorities from tip #2.
  4. Social Life? Don’t give it up, just prioritize differently. Tell your family and friends you’re on a journey, you hope to see them, though you won’t have much time until the journey is over. Get their support in advance, and THANK THEM FOR IT regularly. Prioritize time to spend with people including being social and decompressing – you’ll need it now more than ever.
  5. Have fun! Despite all the tips listed above, I’m really in love with the studies, the people in my classes, and all they teach me. Union is special and if you’re here you’ll have an experience no one else will ever have – take advantage of it and have fun while you grow.

I selected Union Institute & University for several reasons. I’m fortunate to have the GI Bill and good enough grades from my master’s that I could have gone to any college in the United States – I chose Union. I chose Union because it is a non-profit school interested in community, social justice, and the student as a person.  As a 30+ year student of leadership, I needed an interdisciplinary degree in leadership allowing me to be myself, and explore more than organizational management or design methodologies. I chose Union because of the curriculum in the Ethical & Creative Leadership major and the hybrid approach to teaching (distance + residence) was the ideal route for me. I chose Union because my mother, Dr. Sharon Ellis Trekell, received her Ph.D. from Union and suggested I’d like it; she was right. Finally, I chose Union for all these reasons above, I stay at Union because of the people! No place else on the planet will you find a more loving community of people. I get hugs from my classmates and professors. Professors who don’t have me in class anymore will send me information related to my topics of interest. They really do want us all to succeed and to go out and change the world. I hope you’ll join me in this quest.

PhD in Leadership

Maurice L. Harris
Cincinnati, Ohio
Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Cohort 20)
Ethical & Creative Leadership major

This will be the third degree I’ve earned as a working adult. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things—the hard way—about balancing academics with a busy life. So, for what it’s worth, here is my wise advice:

1. Make time. If 24 hours of your day are already booked, clear your schedule. (For me this literally meant changing jobs.) Ask your professors and former students how much study time they recommend. Don’t worry about the activities you turn down. Even more doors will open once you complete your degree.

2. Read every day. It may sound corny, but I carry books—both paper and Kindle—everywhere I go. Reading fills idle time, and you’ll be amazed at how much progress can be made with very little effort.

3. Abandon fear. Procrastination is a common symptom of anxiety. This is no time for cold feet. Start your written assignments as far in advance as possible, and write just a little each day. (See tip #2.)

4. Practice self-care. I’m not just talking about basic hygiene. I’m talking about healthy food, physical fitness and spiritual practice. Maintenance of the body, mind and spirit can prevent major break-downs on the academic highway.

5. Involve your loved ones. If you sacrifice family and friends to the gods of academia, your journey will be hard and lonely. Communicate to your supporters what you need—meals, chores, a hug—and thank them with what limited free time you have. Godspeed on your journey!

When someone offers wise advice, take it. In my case he was an Ohio senator. We built a rapport doing mission work at an orphanage in Honduras two summers ago. Some weeks later, I mentioned that I wanted to pursue my Ph.D., and Senator Eric Kearney suggested that I apply to Union Institute & University. Truth is, I had driven by the national headquarters for years without taking notice. Now when I pass the building, it is with a sense of pride and expectation.