Pursuing a graduate degree after years away from school: Helpful tips

If you are working as a registered nurse (RN) and are interested in developing your career further, one path to consider is becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP). According to a fact sheet from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, professionals in this field are able to provide a full range of services similar to those of a family physician, including diagnosing and treating health problems, providing counseling and health advice, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests and prescribing medications. FNPs are required to obtain advanced clinical education along with a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.

Returning to the classroom after a long absence, however, can be a challenge. Perhaps you have been working as an RN for many decades and are anxious about the demands returning to higher education can bring. This article provides effective strategies for helping you prepare to return to school to become an FNP after years away, as well as set yourself up for success.

    1. Consider how you’ll achieve a healthy work-life balance
      Will you continue working as an RN while you complete your master’s or doctoral degree? Or will you return to school as a full-time student? Furthermore, how will you juggle any non-professional responsibilities you have?You should ask yourself these questions before you begin your application. After all, planning for graduate school involves more than ascertaining whether you can cover the cost of tuition. Incorporating full-time study into your schedule, whether you are working simultaneously or not, can present challenges to your non-professional life. A full schedule that balances study and professional commitments also can take a negative toll on interpersonal relationships, Liz Ferron and Julie Boertje argued, writing for American Nurse Today, a publication of the American Nurses Association. The best strategy, therefore, is to plan ahead, by yourself or with your partner, and pledge to maintain healthy relationships throughout the duration of your studies. Ferron and Boertje suggested designating time in your schedule each week that is focused on others, as well making the effort to address calmly any issues your schedule presents for your partner. Ensure that returning to the classroom is feasible and that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is possible — before you submit your application.
    2. Prepare for the admissions process early
      Begin your application process as early as possible. According to an article that appeared in Idealist, this step is especially important if you are located out of state or working abroad. In general, beginning the process early is beneficial, as you’ll be faced with a less stressful time crunch as the deadline approaches. Be sure to double-check all the crucial deadlines for the program you are interested in applying to and aim to have all the necessary paperwork completed well in advance.

Students in group discussion

  1. Seek advice and guidance from other students
    Once you have been accepted to your program, an effective next step is to reach out to students currently enrolled in your program or to those who successfully have completed it. According to an article that appeared in Idealist, those individuals who already are balancing work as an RN and graduate-level study likely will be able to advise you on how best to approach your studies and develop your schedule. This contact also helps from a social standpoint, as getting to know your peers — in person or online — can create a beneficial support system. You likely will be able to reach out to other students via your professors or special groups on social media.
  2. Understand how you learn most effectively
    The efficacy of learning techniques, such as reading and repeating or learning visually, varies among individuals. As advised in “Tips for mature students” published by the University of Calgary, you may find it helpful to ascertain which learning strategies work best for you prior to the start of your program — particularly if you have been out of education for an extended period. By doing so, you can help ensure that you are studying the most efficient way possible from the outset.One method you could try is setting yourself a small project or goal — perhaps one that involves completing some helpful background reading. Then, experiment with various study strategies to gauge which option suits you best.
  3. Involve friends and family
    According to Deanna Bland Hiott, writing for Nurse Together, enlisting the help of friends and/or family is an effective way to remain levelheaded and ensure that you achieve your study goals. For example, manage expectations with your loved ones and let them know that you will be less available than you were previously. Also, do not be afraid to ask for assistance from your partner or family members when it comes to demands on your time such as cooking and cleaning.
  4. Obtain course schedules ahead of time
    As detailed in the article published in Idealist, if you are hoping to return to graduate school and maintain your career as an RN, your schedule will be tight at the best of times, with the threat of conflicts between educational and professional commitments increasing. Although opting to study online can help mitigate some issues with scheduling conflicts, it still can help to plan strategically. As explained in the Idealist article, this strategy means requesting course schedules from professors before your classes begin. This early access will enable you to develop a more effective schedule that balances both work and study. For example, knowing when essays and other assignments are due can help you to plan when not to schedule your shifts at the hospital.

Consider Bradley University
Returning to the classroom after years away is demanding in many ways. One way to overcome some challenges posed to work-life balance is to study online, especially if you intend to continue working as an RN full-time. Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) or Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP-FNP) program offers students an education with the flexibility to study at a time and pace that suits them best.



Achieving a work-life balance