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How to Balance Work and School: 11 Tips to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Published on: July 6, 2023

Illustration of a scale balancing coins and books.

When you're already working 40+ hours per week, finding time for anything else can be challenging. But if you're looking to take the next step in your career or are interested in a total career change, pursuing a college degree or certificate is often the way to go. 

Interested in pursuing a college degree but worried about balancing the demands of work and school? There are some practical tips and tricks worth keeping in mind.  

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Can You Work Full Time and Go to College? 

First, understand that working full time and going to school is absolutely possible. In fact, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 40% of undergraduate students also hold full-time jobs. While it's true that attending school while working full-time does require a great deal of planning, dedication and time management, it is 100% possible. 

Challenges Faced by Working College Students  

Before you enroll in a degree or certificate program, however, it is vital to consider some of the realities and challenges that you may face as a working college student. In doing so, you'll have more realistic expectations going into your college program and can plan to overcome these common obstacles. 

One of the most prevalent challenges faced by working college students is that of managing time responsibly. When you're working a full-time job, finding a few hours each day to study and attend classes can be a major obstacle. 

Cost is another common barrier for working college students. Even if you're working full time and making decent money, a good chunk of your income may already be going toward rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries and other essentials. With the average cost of a four-year degree now totaling more than $100,000 in the United States, it's easy to see how cost can be a barrier to working students.  

Benefits of Maintaining a Healthy Balance  

Ultimately, the key to success when working and going to school is finding a healthy balance between work hours and your coursework. By doing so, you'll be able to keep up with your responsibilities at work and at home without being too overwhelmed by classes, exams, studying and completing assignments. From there, you can maximize your performance at both work and school without sacrificing your mental health and wellness.  

How to Balance College and Work  

Whether you plan to enroll in school part time or full time, there are some practical tips you can keep in mind to balance your responsibilities more effectively.  

Prioritize Tasks and Commitments 

Start by honing in on your prioritization skills. You'll likely have many projects on your plate at once when you're working and attending school simultaneously, so it's crucial that you learn how to prioritize these tasks in order of importance, due date or whatever system works best for you.  

Create a Weekly Schedule 

Deadlines, meetings, exams and due dates can creep up on you quickly when you're busy working and pursuing a degree at the same time. With such a heavy workload, it can be easy to miss a deadline or appointment if you're not careful. This is where it can be beneficial to create a weekly schedule that details precisely which commitments you have each day. This will allow you to see your week at a glance and plan accordingly, so you don't miss a thing. You may even want to consider setting email reminders or alerts for important deadlines on your phone. 

Utilize Time Management Tools and Apps 

Time management is essential when you're trying to juggle work and school. The good news? There are plenty of free and inexpensive time management tools that can help you make the most of your limited time. Consider, for example, using a productivity method known as the Podomoro technique to maximize your study time with short work and break intervals. You can find free Pomodoro timers and apps online to help you use this strategy to your advantage.  

Seek Flexible Work Hours 

If there is any flexibility in your work schedule, take advantage of this as you complete your degree or certificate program. Speak with your employer about your enrollment in school and your goals for the future; you may be surprised at how willing they are to accommodate you and work with you to help you achieve success. 

Maintain Communication With Your Employer 

In addition to asking for flexible scheduling while you're in school, it's also important to maintain regular and open communication with your employer about your progress in school. If you have an exam coming up that you know you'll need to study for, it never hurts to let your employer know. Likewise, remember to ask your human resources department about possibilities for tuition reimbursement. If you're seeking a degree in a field related to your work, there's a chance that your employer may help pay for it. 

Set Realistic Goals 

One of the biggest mistakes working college students make is setting expectations for themselves that are simply lofty. If you’re working 40 or more hours a week, for example, enrolling in school full-time on top of that is probably not a realistic goal. Instead, you may be better off enrolling part-time so that you don't become completely overwhelmed and burned out. Yes, it may take you a bit longer to complete your program, but at least you'll be able to stay focused and keep your head above water. 

Create a Dedicated Study Space 

Having a dedicated study space can make all the difference in your success, especially when you're busy working and attending school at the same time. Make sure that you have an area (even if it's just a corner with a desk) at home where you can focus 100 percent on your studies. Try to eliminate distractions in this area as much as possible. This means no televisions, phones or anything other than the essentials that you need for studying and completing your coursework. 

Celebrate Your Progress 

A little celebration and recognition of your hard work can keep you motivated, even during the most challenging of times. Don't wait until you've completed your degree program to celebrate your victories. Instead, allow yourself to acknowledge small wins, such as submitting a big assignment on time or passing an exam. It doesn't have to be an extravagant celebration, but an evening with friends or a special treat can be an excellent reward and keep you motivated. 

Practice Self-Care 

Self-care is always important, but when you have a lot on your plate, it's easy for it to fall by the wayside. Find practical ways to incorporate self-care into your weekly (and daily) routines. This could be something as simple as making sure you have time to watch an episode of your favorite show each week or that you squeeze in a 15-minute workout each day. Self-care is crucial not only to your mental health but your physical health as well.  

Learn to Be Adaptable 

You're going to run into challenges and unexpected obstacles while you're juggling school and work. Being adaptable and flexible will allow you to overcome these challenges more easily when you encounter them, so keep an open mind and get creative with your problem-solving. 

Recognize the Signs of Burnout 

Burnout is a very real possibility for those who are working and attending school at the same time. Be on the lookout for signs of burnout, such as: 

  • Feelings of self-doubt 
  • A sense of detachment or disassociation with reality 
  • A loss of motivation or focus 
  • An increasingly negative worldview 

If you notice these signs of burnout, it may be time to reevaluate your time management or even the load you've taken on. 

Start Your College Journey Today  

Committing to college when you're working full time will require a lot of motivation, focus and perseverance on your end. However, with the right support network and a great degree or certificate program, you'll be set up for success. At Husson University, we're proud to offer a wide range of online degree programs to help working students pursue a quality education on their own time. Explore our online degree and certificate options today to learn more or reach out to request more information! You can also get started with your application in just a few simple steps. 

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