Balancing Work and School: How to Succeed at Working Full-Time While Earning Your Degree

For adults who are going back to school to start or finish a degree, quitting their job is often not an option. With family responsibilities on top of a school bill, you need to keep working, – often full-time, – in order to manage going back to school.

Yes, it is, but you are going to need the right plan to make it work.

Juggling full-time work while pursuing higher education can be an incredibly rewarding yet challenging experience. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 40% of undergraduate students work at least 30 hours per week. With proper planning and self-care, it’s completely possible to excel at both work and school.

This comprehensive guide covers tips strategies and advice for balancing full-time employment with academic studies. Read on to learn how to make the most of your time, energy, and focus, so you can achieve your career and education goals.

Why Working Full-Time and Going to School Makes Sense

Here are some of the major benefits that make the work-school balancing act worthwhile for many students:

  • Avoid student debt – Tuition is expensive Working full-time allows you to avoid taking on as many student loans and graduate with less debt

  • Tuition assistance – Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that cover some or all of your academic costs.

  • Career development – What you learn in class can be directly applied at work, enhancing your job performance.

  • Network expansion – Classmates may lead to valuable professional connections and opportunities.

  • Increased earnings – Combining work and school can significantly boost your lifetime earning potential.

  • Flexible scheduling – Online classes allow you to complete coursework on your own schedule.

Clearly, there are multiple financial and career incentives that make juggling work and academics a smart choice. The key is having the right strategies to make it feasible.

Tips for Balancing Full-Time Work and College

Managing the dual demands of work and school requires organization, self-motivation, and self-care. Here are some top tips to balance both successfully:

Optimize Your Schedule

  • Take online classes – Online degrees offer maximum flexibility to complete coursework around your work schedule. Many programs now feature 8-week course sessions for faster completion.

  • Use your calendar wisely – Schedule class times, study sessions, and assignment due dates well in advance. This helps you plan work obligations around school needs.

  • Take time off for exams – Ask your manager in advance for PTO to study and take important tests.

Adjust Your Academic Load Strategically

  • Take fewer classes – Consider a part-time course load of 1-2 classes per semester if your work schedule is inflexible. This prevents overloading.

  • Enroll in summer sessions – Use summer semesters to supplement fall and spring terms and make steady degree progress.

  • Leverage credit for prior learning – Many colleges offer credit for work training, certifications, military service, or experience that counts toward your degree.

Communicate Proactively at Work

  • Discuss goals with your manager – Share that you’re in school and request accommodations like flex scheduling when needed.

  • Negotiate for work-life balance – Set clear boundaries about after-hours contact, extra projects, and travel during intense study periods.

  • Request a modified workload – Ask to scale back responsibilities temporarily when course loads are heavy. Most bosses will be supportive.

Adopt Productivity and Time Management Habits

  • Tackle toughest tasks first – Use mornings or times of peak energy for demanding cognitive work.

  • Set school deadlines on your calendar – Treat school projects like work deliverables with defined due dates.

  • Batch similar tasks – Group readings, assignments, errands, etc. together into focused blocks of time.

  • Stick to a routine – Having set days and times for schoolwork creates structure and discipline.

  • Limit distractions – Disable notifications and avoid social media when studying to maintain focus.

Leverage Academic and Social Support Systems

  • Connect with professors – Build relationships with faculty and utilize office hours for help.

  • Form study groups – Fellow students can provide motivation, accountability, and collaborative learning.

  • Use school tutoring services – Take advantage of academic assistance like writing centers and math labs.

  • Join student organizations – Finding community creates a sense of belonging critical to student success.

  • Share your goals with friends and family – Help loved ones understand your priorities and need for their support.

Prioritize Rest, Nutrition, and Self-Care

  • Protect sleep – Lack of sleep severely impacts productivity, focus, and learning. Do everything possible to get 7-8 hours nightly.

  • Exercise regularly – Physical activity boosts energy levels, mental clarity, and ability to manage stress.

  • Eat nutritious foods – Fuel your demanding schedule with protein, fruits/veggables, and whole grains. Avoid sugar crashes.

  • Unplug and recharge – Make time for hobbies, friends, and activities unrelated to work or school to avoid burnout.

  • Celebrate milestones – Recognize achievements like good grades to stay motivated.

Key Time Management Strategies for Working Students

Perfecting your time management skills is essential when juggling a full class load and 40+ hour work weeks. Adopting proven strategies can help maximize your efficiency.

Create an Integrated Master Schedule

  • Block out your complete work and school obligations in one calendar, including:

    • Class times

    • Study sessions

    • Assignment/project deadlines

    • Work hours, meetings, travel

    • Personal commitments

  • Identify daily productivity blocks to tackle schoolwork.

  • Schedule time for meals, errands, commuting, exercise, etc.

  • Adjust and update your schedule regularly.

Prioritize Your Tasks Strategically Using the Ivy Lee Method

The Ivy Lee productivity method has three simple steps:

  1. Each morning, write down your 6 most important tasks for the day.

  2. Prioritize those 6 tasks in order of importance.

  3. Focus on accomplishing each task one at a time until completed.

This prevents you from becoming overwhelmed and guides you to tackle top priorities first.

Use the Pomodoro Technique for Intense Focus

The Pomodoro technique uses timed intervals to maximize focus, then incorporates short breaks. Follow these steps:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes of distraction-free work.

  • When the timer ends, take a 5 minute break.

  • After 4 “Pomodoro cycles”, take a 20-30 minute break.

  • Use Pomodoro bursts for cognitively demanding tasks requiring deep concentration.

Batch Similar Tasks to Boost Efficiency

  • Group related tasks together in blocks:

    • Respond to emails

    • Complete math homework

    • Run errands

  • This allows you to get “in the zone” on a specific category of tasks.

  • Switching between disparate tasks reduces overall productivity.

Keep a Daily To-Do List

  • Maintain a running daily checklist of small tasks and responsibilities.

  • Crossing completed items off provides a sense of progress.

  • Add any unfinished items to the next day’s list.

  • Seeing your completed tasks in writing is motivating and helps identify time waste.

Maximizing Work-School Life Balance

Achieving true balance between demanding work and school schedules isn’t easy, but possible with intention. Here are some key principles for maintaining equilibrium:

Be Disciplined About Scheduling

  • Consistency creates healthy routines. Determine standard days/hours for schoolwork and stick to them.

Set Clear Boundaries Around Your Availability

  • Don’t let work infringe on designated time for your education and self-care. Learning to say no is essential.

Manage Expectations Proactively

  • Don’t overcommit at school or work. Communicate needs clearly. Ask for help when overwhelmed.

Prioritize Sleep

  • An hour of sleep equates to 2-3 hours of lost productivity. Do whatever it takes to get 7-8 hours.

Allow Time for Loved Ones

  • Schedule quality time with family and friends outside work/school obligations.

Monitor Stress Levels

  • Take breaks as needed. Take a semester off if burnout risk gets too high.

Celebrate Milestones

  • Recognize achievements like completing a difficult course or work project.

Learn When to Outsource

  • Order takeout, hire a cleaner, enroll kids in camp – outsource tasks unrelated to work/school.

Keys to Overcoming Common Work-School Challenges

No matter how organized you are, juggling work and academics presents unavoidable challenges at times. Here are some common hurdles and how to tackle them:

Limited Free Time

  • Consolidate errands to free up blocks of time for schoolwork.

  • Wake up early to study before work.

  • Drop optional commitments that waste time.

Lack of Energy

  • Maintain workout regimen for increased stamina.

  • Ask doctor about vitamin deficiencies making you tired.

working full time and going to school

How Do I Go to School and Work Full Time?

Father helping his kids with their homework.If you are going to go to school full-time while working, you are in good company. As many as 70% of college students enrolled in full-time degree programs also work at least 20 hours a week. Many of those employed college students will work full-time jobs. The cost of education and your daily needs make working a necessity.

Is it possible to go to school and work full –time successfully, or will one of the two have to suffer?

It is possible to succeed in school while working, but it takes a little bit of creativity and a lot of hard work. Today’s higher education environment makes it possible with online courses for certificates and degree programs, but you are still going to need to be very structured and deliberate in the choices you make.

Here are 11 proven strategies you can implement to go to school while you work a full-time job:

  • Pursue a Job with Flexibility

Flexibility is the name of the game when you’re going to school and working, so look for a job that offers scheduling flexibility. Full-time jobs do not have to be 9-to-5. Sometimes, overnight shifts or project-based jobs can give you the flexibility to complete schoolwork and attend classes while also working. Consider a position that may allow you to do some schoolwork on the clock, such as childcare that offers nap time or overnight care settings.

  • Find a Job with a Work from Home/Anywhere Policy

The pandemic has created a new focus on work from home or work from anywhere jobs. Many office-type jobs now allow their workers to do their jobs remotely, which can provide some flexibility. While you will still need to clock in for the required number of hours to complete your tasks, you can eliminate commuting times and squeeze in schoolwork more easily during your off-the-clock hours.

  • Work Close to Campus

If you do need to go to work, choose an employer with a location close to campus. The less time you spend driving to and from work, the more time you can spend on your schoolwork. A close location also makes it easier to take shifts that are close in time to your classes because you won’t have to worry about the time it takes to commute there.

Even better, look for a job directly on campus. Work-study opportunities are plentiful at MSU Denver and can provide you with real-world experience in your field of study.

  • Keep Your Career Goals in Mind

When working and going to school, keep your primary focus on your overarching career goals. Can you find work that would look good on your resume? If you keep your career goals in mind even while working full-time during school, you can graduate with some work experience alongside your education.

For example, if you are studying education, you may be able to find work in a daycare setting that lets you work directly with children, even before graduation.

  • Speak to Your Boss

If you are considering going back to school and already have a job, then talk to your employer before you enroll. If your education is going to serve as an asset to your company, your boss may be willing to work with you to create some of the flexibility you need to make it work.

  • Be Selective When Choosing What School to Attend

Some schools are more accommodative for adult learners and people who are working full-time, offering online and evening classes to accommodate working adults. Others are not so adaptable.

Choose a school that has these types of programs and is known for innovation and flexibility.

  • Consider Online Degree Programs

One of the best ways to get the flexibility you need to work full time and go to school is with an online degree program. These programs let you tap into the expertise of any school that has online education, eliminating the need to travel to campus. Many are structured so that you don’t have to log on at set times, giving you the ability to fit your schoolwork around your work schedule.

  • Take Time for Your Mental Health Every Day

Balancing full-time work and full-time school can be stressful. You will need to schedule mental health breaks often. Have something you do every day for your mental health, like taking a walk or working out at the gym. Find an activity that does not take a big-time commitment but commit to doing it daily to keep your mental health in a good place.

  • Ask for Help When Needed

You are going to need help from time to time when you are trying to go to school and work full-time. Whether it’s someone to help take care of some of your family and household responsibilities or help with studying for a big test, you need to be willing to ask for assistance when you need it. Surround yourself with a village willing to support your educational and career goals for this short period while you are overloaded. You can greatly increase your chances of success with a support system.

  • Create a Daily Schedule to Stay Organized

Organization and good time management are essential when balancing work and school responsibilities. One of the best ways to get through this unique time is to have a set daily schedule. Have specific times you use for study, work, and household responsibilities. By setting up a schedule in this way, you will find that you can carve out time for everything. If you just try to wing it, you will struggle to accomplish your tasks each week.

  • Make Time to Do Things that Make You Happy

All work and no play makes you a dull college student, so make sure you schedule some time for things that make you truly happy. This may be a hobby, or it may just be spending some time with your friends and family. Perhaps you enjoy reading for fun, or maybe you do best if you spend some time in nature. You are the only one who knows what truly makes you happy. Give yourself permission to do those things.

How I Routinely Study With a Full Time Job when I’m TIRED

Can you work full time and go to school?

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.

Should you work full-time if you’re a college student?

Working full-time, especially in a profession related to your field of study, provides this learning opportunity. And, even better, you can do so immediately. Many college students can do this through internships, but the opportunities may not be as frequent or readily available compared to those who work full-time.

Should you study and work full-time?

When you’re studying and working full-time, things are going to get crazy. You’ll feel overwhelmed at times and wonder why you chose to do both simultaneously. You may even find yourself wanting to quit your job, school or both. In those moments, you need to remember the end game.

What is the difference between full-time school and full- time work?

Full-time work requires a different attitude than full-time school. Those who attend school but do not work have the opportunity to take days off, might have hour-long breaks between classes and get long breaks during the summer and winter. Moving from that schedule to a working professional one can be a tough adjustment.

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