How to Balance College While Working Full Time? The Dos and Don'ts
You choose to go back to college while working full time because you are an ambitious go-getter wanting to advance your career, sharpen your skills, and earn a respected degree. You are ready to accept the challenge, even if going back to school might mean doing homework after putting your kids to bed or rushing straight to class right after work.
Indeed, juggling your commitments in life, work, and school can be stressful, but it is possible to handle that gracefully and still achieve your goals in life. To help your journey of completing your degree as a busy working adult, we want to share the following tips for balancing college and full-time work.
Do: Prioritize Your Tasks
You probably already have 30 tasks on your to-do list for the day, and adding assignments and course projects to the mix might make it even more challenging. With the limited time you have, what can you do to stay organized and complete all the assignments on time? You can learn to prioritize the tasks on your plate.
Start by understanding the requirements of each course assignment and estimate the time you will need to complete it. You can then rank the importance and urgency of the assignments by due dates to tackle them one by one. It's also recommended to utilize a physical or digital planner to keep a list of the assignments and notify you when the due dates are approaching.
Do: Consider Online Courses
Nowadays, online courses and online degree programs are very common, especially among adult learners who need to balance college and work. Online courses enable you to learn and take exams anywhere—whether it's at home or on the bus to work. Without the need to attend classes in person, you can save time on your commute to campus and enjoy the flexible course schedule that can accommodate your busy lifestyle.
In addition to flexibility, online degrees from accredited universities are respected by employers. University of Michigan-Flint's Accelerated Online Degree Completion (AODC) program, for example, offering courses fully online, empowers you to earn a prestigious University of Michigan degree.
Do: Communicate with Your Employer
When you decide to pursue a degree while working full time, it's smart to communicate your educational goals with your manager. As you start taking classes, there might be a day that you need to take off from work to study for an exam, or you need to leave an hour early to make it to class. In these situations, it's better to communicate with your boss to see if they can approve your PTO or modify your work schedule to accommodate your requests.
Oftentimes managers are likely to be supportive of their employees' endeavor of continued education because they can contribute what they learn to the workplace. Therefore, it is not taboo to let your manager know about your attempt at balancing work and college. They could be your cheerleader too! Some employers may even offer tuition reimbursement benefits, which can reduce your financial stress!
Do: Check Student Services
Whether you study online or in person, most universities and colleges offer student services to support your effort of completing a degree. If you find yourself struggling with time management, assignments, or course load, do remember to reach out to your institution for help.
Some common services that can assist you in balancing college and work include tutoring, counseling, academic advising, and career services.
Learn about UM-Flint's Student Success Center.
Do: Apply for Scholarships
One benefit of being employed and going to college at the same time is that you can maintain a steady income stream. However, paying for college expenses can still increase your financial burden. The good news is scholarships are often available to adult learners to alleviate their financial stress.
The University of Michigan-Flint's Accelerated Online Degree Completion program, for example, offers a scholarship of up to $8,000 in students' first year of enrollment, supporting adult learners to finish their bachelor's degrees.
Don't: Overload Yourself with Too Many Courses
Hoping to finish their degrees as fast as possible, many adult learners tend to make the mistake of overloading themselves with too many courses at once. To avoid overworking yourself, it's recommended to create a manageable course plan.
Be sure to read the curriculum and requirements carefully to find out how many classes and credits you need to complete to graduate. Based on your full-time job schedule and family responsibilities, assess how much time you are able to devote to your studies.
Prior to your enrollment, you should also make an appointment with your academic advisor or counselor to discuss your plan. They can help you strategically select courses that can accommodate your schedule and determine the number of courses you should take each semester.
At UM-Flint, our AODC students take two courses at a time that are seven weeks in duration. This accelerated format helps students stay engaged in their learning without feeling overwhelmed.
Don't: Beat Yourself Up
When you are managing work duties, chasing assignment deadlines, taking care of your family, and everything in between, it's important to remember that you don't have to make everything perfect.
If you make a mistake on your homework, are late for one class, or get a B on an exam, don't beat yourself up! You are already doing a great job balancing so many tasks at the same time.
Recognize your hard work, then move on to the steps you need to take to improve—whether it's to reevaluate your course load, talk to your professor about the assignments, or ask for help from academic advisors.
Don't: Forget About Self-Care
While meeting the expectations at work and school is important, it's easy to neglect the need to take care of yourself. Without proper self-care, you may experience burnout and lose your motivation. Try to give yourself a break once in a while. It can be as simple as having a good night's sleep, going out with friends, meditating, or practicing healthy eating habits. You can do whatever you find relaxing to maintain your physical and mental well-being.
Don't: Put Everything on Your Shoulders
Remember, on the journey to achieving your academic goals, you are not traveling alone. Turn to your support system and ask for help when you need to!
Be sure to share with your family and friends how going back to college can affect your daily schedule. You may talk to them about your concerns and see if they could help you out. For example, perhaps your friends could babysit when you are in class, or your spouse can take on more house chores. Even just simply talking to someone you trust about your challenges can help relieve your stress and give you a different perspective.
Don't: Give Up on Your Dream
As you are finding the balance between college and full-time work, even when it gets hard, don't give up on pursuing a future you deserve. Remind yourself why you decided to complete your degree—perhaps for a promotion, a better salary, or personal growth. The hard work you put into your education will one day pay off!
The University of Michigan-Flint is here to help you achieve your educational and career goals. Learn more about our Accelerated Online Degree Completion program designed for adult learners who are committed to growth!
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.