The Juggling Act: How One Man Earned His MAT TESOL Degree

James Winter is a graduate of the MAT TESOL program and a proud alumnus of USC. Currently he lives in Sao Paulo, SP Brazil and is currently applying to doctoral programs.


From paying bills and working part-time, to getting married and having a family, I had no idea how I was going to manage everything while earning my master’s degree. I quickly learned that time management was, and still is, key to being successful.

During my time in the program, I was a full-time student living off of student loans, grants and the GI Bill, and working in my spare time. My wife and I were married while I was still in school, and in addition, I traveled to Brazil during the school year.

I had previously worked for nine years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a yeoman, performing various clerical duties. Living a military lifestyle taught me to utilize my time wisely. I learned how to properly schedule time for classes, presentations, readings, papers, my wife, children and personal matters, and somehow find additional time to eat and sleep without losing sight of my goal of earning a master’s degree.

One of my first priorities was school and the assignments that were due on any given day. I made sure to take a close look at my syllabi and pencil in all the due dates for various assignments. Once I did that, I took into account the personal expectations of my wife and children, and planned quality time with them. Other tasks and responsibilities that were less of a priority to me, I gave less attention to. In retrospect, I did what most people do. I organized my time, finances and efforts to match the priority level of daily living requirements. Then, I threw a wedding, took a trip to Brazil and attended school, doing the best I could to be successful in all three.

By working with my placement coordinator on a bi-weekly schedule, working with my professors, rescheduling classes and getting occasional extensions on assignments due to unexpected circumstances, I was able to earn my degree.

When we sign up for school, we also sign up for a mixture of priorities and schedules that are not our own. We are going outside our personal comfort zones of casual reading, working and, for what it’s worth, a social life. All of these things are replaced by the rigors of a program that requires all of our attention and effort, which often times means having to sacrifice the aforementioned things in the wake of a course’s requirements.

I had a rule though, to not study on Sundays. For the most part, I was able to follow that rule by adjusting my schedule to ensure I completed all my work before Sunday.

Time management and hard work in all areas are required for daily life to go smoothly. It takes self-discipline and dedication in order to make everything tick the way we want it to. But some concessions need to be made and certain things should not be given time at all. If you are unwilling to make these types of sacrifices, a master’s program will be the toughest challenge of your academic career.

Pursuing any master’s degree is tough, but if you schedule your time accordingly, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish. The whole process demands attention and an extensive amount of work, but the end result is worth every bit of effort and sacrifice made along the way!