Professionals working double duty to earn an advanced degree

While many marvel at those who work full-time while also working on a master’s degree, it isn’t that difficult or uncommon a feat to accomplish. Jeannette Kimmel and Ruzan Sarwar are two young professionals working towards an advanced degree and learning how to balance work and a personal life in the meantime.

Kimmel, 26, is an editorial business manager at National Geographic Traveler Magazine and is working on a master’s in writing at Johns Hopkins University in Dupont Circle. Kimmel chose her program because she wanted to develop her craft. 

“I chose Hopkins because it has one of the best programs in D.C., and because it offers night classes for professionals like me,” she said.

Kimmel works 40 hours a week at National Geographic, yet she wasn’t concerned about her workload and her job. “My only concern was being able to afford it,” she said. “My employer covers a percentage, but I’m also applying for financial aid and scholarships to help pay for my classes.” 

“I love my current job, but I also really want to become a great writer,” Kimmel said. “I don’t know yet how my master’s degree will help me professionally, but right now personal enrichment is more important to me than sticking a master’s degree on my resume.”

For those thinking about post-graduate work, Kimmel argues against getting a higher degree just for the sake of having one. “If you want a degree that applies directly to your current job, talk to your employer — they may be able to help financially, or if not, they should at least support your decision to want to further your education and make you a better employee.”

Sarwar has different interests than Kimmel, attending Georgetown University’s conflict resolution program. Taking all of her classes in the evenings, she also interns for the National Endowment for Democracy, where she writes briefs, conducts research and analyzes proposals. 

“I knew I wanted to go into international development with a focus on human rights,” Sarwar said. “The CR program seemed to be a perfect fit because it allowed me the flexibility to craft my own focus.”

Sarwar admits it’s difficult balancing work and school at times, especially during finals. She recommends taking classes that don’t have a lot of in-between work to ease the stress a bit. “It’s not possible to read everything for class,” she said. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to end up skimming a lot so you shouldn’t lose sleep over it — also, finding a study buddy helps a lot in terms of motivation.”

“From what I’ve seen, D.C. has a vast array of master’s degrees at a number of relatively well-known schools,” she said. “The majority of these master’s degrees focus on international affairs and government — these two fields are basically why students come to D.C. for school, and there’s never a shortage of people to talk politics with.”