Greta O’Keefe By Greta O’Keefe • July 10, 2020

How to Stay Motivated While Earning Your College Degree

So, I was supposed to write this some time ago, but needed to find the motivation, and, well, here we are…

You are probably reading this in hopes that you will learn something new about staying focused while in school, especially if you already have a career, a home, a family and other countless responsibilities. I can relate, as I had a baby while still in my bachelor’s degree program, and then my son was busy with homework, scouts and band when I started graduate school. Throw in a social life with family and friends and a job that keeps you on task, and it may seem as though it’s impossible to do it all.

In these trying times, it may feel more overwhelming than ever. We are all having a different experience right now, some living alone, some living with others, which requires its own adjustments, and it may be difficult to gain space to think, let alone to study.

That said, you may be in the consideration phase of deciding if you should go to school and get a degree, whether it be a first or an advanced one. Or, you may have been accepted and about to start your first course(s). Maybe you are already in the weeds and trying to figure out a new way to make this easier. And I get that.

Here are the five strategies that worked for me, and hopefully, in some way, they will resonate and help you too.

Track Your Progress

First things first, get a calendar and a bulletin board! This is so incredibly important and helps you monitor your progress. Hang that calendar wherever you spend your time studying the most and mark down course beginning and end dates, assignment due dates and perhaps, the most exciting one, the program end date. This one may take a couple years, but that is absolutely okay. As each week progresses, you cross it off. Done! Woo Hoo!

Take those syllabi for each course, keep them with all of your course materials and cross out each assignment and project. The more you see the progress you are making, the more you will realize you can and ARE doing it. Most courses range from six to 15 weeks, depending on where you go, and if you break it into terms, rather than years, it will feel a bit more manageable.

Build in Free Time

I found that building in free time really helped me to not feel so overwhelmed. I worked full time, had to take my son to activities and also had family commitments like birthdays, showers, holidays, etc. It may not be possible to participate in everything, but if you can clear just two days a week from school work, you will be able to clear your head and recalibrate. It helps you to refocus if you take some free time for family engagements, the kids’ plays and sports, and spend time with friends or even be alone with the remote.

Learn What Recharges You

What helps you to relax? Netflix binges? Cooking? Gardening? For me, I found playing Candy Crush did wonders for clearing my head. Taking those 15-20 minute play breaks throughout my day would allow me to then go and absorb new material, do my discussion board or continue work on a school project. A movie night here and there and some good comedy could help get me back on track, too.

Ask for Help

This is crucial. Not everyone has the same support system, but asking for help is imperative. Perhaps a friend could watch the kids for a few hours. See if your partner, kids, or anyone other than you, can make dinner a couple of nights a week. Maybe someone you know is familiar with the subject matter if you are struggling and frustrated. I had an incredibly difficult time with data analytics, but found a colleague that managed this at my place of employment, and he was a life saver. When I couldn’t understand project management in any way shape or form, my mentor really came through for me. It was, indeed, the most difficult course for me in my program, but with his help, I learned more than I could have imagined, and made it through. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as most people around us want us to succeed and will certainly step in to see that it happens. But sometimes we have to get the strength to ask.

Celebrate Your Successes

This one is a must! I found that after a big project or a finished term, I would celebrate with something, however small. A trip to the spa. Dinner and a movie. Girls’ night with cake! Night out with the guys! These celebrations all help to keep you motivated and gain a feeling of completion. This aids in the willingness to push forward. And don’t forget the most important moments of program completion - commencement and graduation parties!

These are just some ideas that could work for you to gain the success you are working to achieve, so if you have suggestions, please comment and share.

And remember, be proud of what you are accomplishing, even though it is hard at times. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Greta O’Keefe

Written by Greta O’Keefe

Greta O’Keefe is the director of graduate recruitment. Prior to her joining the University in 2007, she worked for NJN Public Television in production, editing, event planning and fundraising. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and an MBA from Thomas Edison State University. Connect with her via email at

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