If you’re going to make the grade, you have to know how to balance school and work. Before you start your degree program, take advantage of these six tips for successfully balancing your workloads.
We’ve all heard the stories of students who are also balancing a career and family—in most cases, they seem to have boundless determination. These tireless students talk about how they start work at 4 a.m. and study until midnight on weekends. While inspiring, their experiences can make such a path seem intimidating.
The truth is, you don’t have to be superhuman to achieve that balance. Of course, it’s going to be challenging, but it’s not impossible—and you don’t have to become a sleepless zombie to go back to school while working.
Whether you’re going back for another degree or itching to complete your first one, these six tips will help you figure out how to balance school and work. (Click here to tweet these tips.)
1. Talk frankly with your boss
Don’t try to keep your school secret or even downplay the time commitment. That will only result in an eventual breakdown. You’d be surprised how open your employer might be to the idea of you going to school. Depending on what you are studying, they might even help you pay for it.
Can you work earlier or later, work from home, or pick up hours on the weekends? Yes, even your boss might be into your schooling, if not to potentially benefit the company you work for, perhaps just because seeking a degree shows initiative.
Sit down with your employer and explain the benefits of going back to school, and he or she might give you some help you didn’t expect.
2. Take only as many classes as you can handle
If you take night classes, you’re likely to max out at two classes each semester. That’s probably more than enough schoolwork to keep you busy.
Online classes may provide more flexibility. One of the wonderful things about online classes is that you don’t have to take on as much of a course load to be considered a student.
Does your job have a busy season and a slow season? Maybe amp up your course load when your work is less hectic, and don’t plan on taking as many when things are crazy.
Your degree doesn’t have to be complete by any specific day. But try not to take a semester off entirely—once you lose momentum, it can be difficult to get back up that hill.
3. Exercise your time management skills
Time management is the most important things to consider when you’re trying to juggle work and school (and your own life, too). Make sure study time is dedicated and that you establish a space just for your educational materials. Eliminate distractions like your cell phone or email notifications.
Don’t forget: apps can help you be more efficient and limit your time on social media.
Be sure to schedule some time for yourself, too. Focusing on work and school all the time is not sustainable, and you’ll eventually face burnout.
4. Use your school’s resources
Whether you’re in the classroom or online, get to know your school’s libraries, tutors, and study prep programs. There are probably lots of tools hiding right under your nose that can help you get your work done.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t wait until the last minute contact your professor. Instructors take their jobs and their students very seriously, even if they’ve never met face-to-face.
And when it comes to managing your schedule, be sure to speak with an academic advisor to create your own personal, manageable degree completion path.
5. Make connections
Connecting with classmates (online or in person) will help you stay motivated. Reach out to cohort members or potential study buddies — not only will be good for you emotionally, but it will also help you network while you earn your degree.
Even online, you can make friends who will help you with the next step in your career.
6. Remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel
Though it may seem like forever, juggling working and going to school won’t last forever. So if you lose some sleep in the short run, consider it payment toward a better future. Maybe mark down how many days of school you have left on a large calendar, and take it one day at a time.
No one said it would be easy, but take a deep breath — and don’t overdo it. The right mindset will help the whole circus make sense, and you’ll cross that wire and get your applause (and diploma) in no time.
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s and EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.