How to Balance Work & School

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The vast majority of college students choose to work while they’re in school. Balancing work and school is not easy. In fact, many students see their grades drop because of the added load.  Also, for adult students, it’s not uncommon to abandon a program entirely because of feeling overwhelmed between juggling work, family, and getting a degree.

However, by being strategic about how you approach work and school and some support, you can make it through and getting the degree will be all the more rewarding. Here are some tips to help plan for success while you’re still looking for the right school to attend and for after you’ve already been accepted.

What to Consider when you’re choosing a school

If you’re still evaluating your options you can check out these general considerations and use  college search tools to help you get an idea of what colleges are in your area and schools with online programs that may make sense.  You can then narrow that list down to a list of schools that may be a good fit and start digging into the details on the colleges websites before applying.

Here are some factors that may be a consideration for working students after narrowing down a list of schools:

The Proximity Factor

Working close to school will be a big help when those high-stress weeks come around. Having a job that is physically close to colleges that you’re interested in will allow you to spend less time and money travelling between places you have to be, and more time getting things done. On-campus jobs through work-study are a great way to stay in the same area, and can also be well paid for students that qualify.

Consider Online Classes but Tread Carefully

Most schools offer online classes throughout the semester. These are great because they provide the same credit as regular classes but allow you to work on the material on your own time. This means that while they give you more liberty to “make your own hours” but watch out, they’re harder they sound.  On general, online classes tend to demand more responsibility and sometimes more work, as well. Also, if you’re looking at an online program vs. local community colleges or state colleges, make sure to check if the college in your area offers online classes, this may mean savings in tuition versus some online only programs.

Check to see if any of the programs rewards your experience

Working in an area that relates to your academic pursuit will help you get more out of both your job and your classes. Take a look at the program requirements and course catalog and see if there are classes that you can easily apply on the job or for which you can use your job for credit.

What to Consider After You’ve Already Been Accepted

If you’re accepted to school, the real heavy lifting is about to begin. It will not be easy, but you’ve got this! Here are the biggest things to consider to plan for success.

Identify roadblocks early  

This may seem like stale advice but writing down your schedule for the semester will allow you to plan ahead and foresee any overlaps between your job and school-work. You can use a paper planner or an online calendar to help visualize where you may run into snags, during the semester.

A lot of jobs will have some kind of seasonality throughout the semester, which means you’ll have to spend more time, or at least more energy, on that. The same is true of school. Also, as soon as you get your syllabus, take a close look at milestones when you may need extra time, such as midterms or finals. In these cases, it may be useful to take some strategic time off of work to give you time to focus on school at critical points during the semester.

Be Open to Your Company

You should be open to your bosses about your schedule and responsibilities outside of your job, they’ll (usually) be understanding. Giving your manager a heads up to plan for your absence ahead of time, ideally shortly after you get your syllabus, will make things a lot easier for both of you.

Consider Getting an Easy Job for While You’re in School & Doing Full Time

For students thinking about a full-time program, who can’t find any jobs that relate to your interests, consider an easy job where you won’t have to spend too much time or energy and that has flexible hours. The reality is that most students will be paid only minimum wage for part-time work they do, so if you’re not gaining any valuable experience, you might as well look for jobs that won’t drain your energy throughout the week. Working at a reception, library, or office will usually allow for some down time to study while you’re on the clock. Also, some students also explore gig economy style jobs for the added flexibility

Protect Your Weekends

For many students balancing work and school, it is really tough to get work done during the week after you come home exhausted from work, which results in spending the whole weekend doing school work. Although doing all the school work on the weekend gets the job done, after weeks of doing this, it’s easy to end up feeling socially isolated and burnt out. Even though it’s difficult, try to at least get any class reading done during the week.

It’s A Marathon

College is a marathon not a sprint. There are around 8 semesters you have to get through to get your bachelor’s and 4 semesters for an associate’s, burning yourself out quickly will do you no favors in the long run. Set expectations, for both yourself and your boss, at a level that can be maintained throughout your time in school. If you over-promise, you may find yourself letting your boss down, or stressing yourself out because your grades aren’t where you want them to be.

Use your support system

Between work and school, there will be limited time for other activities, including responsibilities at home. If you’re living with a partner or have a family, engage your family in a proactive way to free you up and give you the support you need while you’re in school. Support may come in many forms, such as your partner helping more around the house or being able to call or text a good friend to talk when you need that extra push to get through.

Don’t Forget to Sleep

This may seem straightforward, but sleep is possibly the most subversive factor that ends up breaking a student. Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every night to be at full capacity the next day. If you start cutting your sleep to make up for lost study or personal time because of work and classes, you’ll see your mental agility debilitate quite rapidly. You won’t be as attentive during classes, and your quality of work will diminish. Setting a strict sleep schedule can help you stay healthy in the long run.

…And Finally, Don’t Forget Your Why

Everyone’s reason for pursuing school is different ranging from external such as toughing it out because school is so expensive to deeply internal and personal, such as turning a passion into a profession. When getting through the semester seems tough, don’t for forget your why’s – keep your goals in mind and stay true to them, they’ll help remind you of why you’re working so hard and why it’s all worth it.