Managing your academic and personal time during college is a major challenge in itself. Throw a part or full time job into the mix, and you can easily become overwhelmed trying to keep up with and accomplish all the tasks laid before you.
Still, with tuition costs increasing by the year, many students of varying degrees find themselves having to work their way through college. According to research by Georgetown University, over 14 million Americans work in some capacity while they are in college or studying at a university. These students “make up about 70 to 80 percent of college students, and nearly 10 percent of the overall labor force.”
Whether you are working full or part time, at a four year college, an undergraduate or graduate student, or in a continuing education program, these tips can help you find that sweet spot for balancing school and work.
The Magic Formula for Class Time
The first step to managing your work and academic life is to determine just how much time exactly you have to spend working and how much time you have to devote to academics. For example, if you are already committed to a full time job, then you really only have time for one, maybe two, courses per semester. If you’re committed to work part time, you can probably take on more academic work.
There is a simple formula you can use for deciding just how much time each class you take will require of you. First, determine how many hours you are required to spend in class. Let us figure the standard, three hours, of in-class time per week. Now, for your study time, you need to double your in-class time. For our example we are now looking at six hours of outside study time. That is six hours you need to devote per class, per week. Tack onto that any commute time you may have, and there will be the total number of hours each class will require of you. If you’re already committing forty hours a week to a job, one class at seven hours of time might be plenty. Of course, if you’re only working part time, you could take on more classes and this same formula will apply.
Finding That Balance
Now that you have decided just how many classes you can take, you need to take some steps to figuring out how to manage your time. Here are a few simple steps to get you started. They are basic tips that can be adjusted to fit your specific and unique schedule and needs.
Create a Study Schedule – Stick to It
If you know that Thursday nights and Saturday mornings are the only time you can study, then set those hours aside and stick to the schedule. If this means skipping a party on Friday night so you can wake up and study Saturday morning, then do it. Sticking to your schedule is the most important step to staying on task and not falling behind. It is easier to stay on task or ahead than it is to play catch up. If you are going to cancel a study session or change your schedule around, really weigh your risks. Make sure you’re ahead enough to take this time.
Schedule in Down Time – Use It
If you have work and study every moment of your waking life, you absolutely will burn out, without a doubt. It is not healthy to schedule away every moment of your life. You need time to rest, more than just sleep, but really rest with no phone or device in hand, no deadlines on the horizon, no to-dos in front of you. Time to stare at the wall if you so choose! Or go see friends, or attend that party since you had to miss the one last week. Spend some time with your kids, a good book, or catch up with your parents. Having this time to relax will greatly reduce your stress levels and ensures you will keep burnout at a distance.
Know Your Options
If you plan on working your way through college, you need to know your options. Although there are many options available for students who plan to work through college, many students who work full or part time opt to complete at least some of their studies at community college. This is because community college tuition is typically lower than that of a four-year institution, and oftentimes the class schedules are more open and flexible, more conducive to working adults.
At the same time, some students find that the ease of studying from home and the flexibility of an online program suits their needs best. One student interviewed by US News said she wanted a way to have more time with her daughter: “I wasn’t willing to take that extra time away from her [daughter] and put her somewhere where she wasn’t going to be around her family. I wanted to figure out a way where I could still learn and not have to sit in a classroom.”
Online learning is a real viable option for parents or students who want the flexibility and ease of learning from home. Since the job market overall is in more flux today than ever, some people find they are returning to school to change careers for obtain a new skill. This means more and more working adults in college. According to AJC news, “Today, people change jobs and careers more frequently and those changes often mean more education. Online learning and flexible college programs make it possible for people to go back to school at almost any age, providing they can fit it in with their other obligations.”
Today there are options to study online for graduate or undergraduate degrees. You can even check out our list of the Top 50 Best Value Online Community Colleges of 2016.
Still, if you want the experience of a four-year college, or in-class learning, know that most universities help working adults adjust and fit in just fine. Don’t be afraid to go after the college experience you desire.
The Benefits are Many – Working Through College
There are some benefits to working while you’re in college. You’ll likely have a lighter workload and fewer classes if you are working full or part time. This means you can really take your time enjoying each class. If you are having a hard time deciding on a major or trying to save a little money, this is a great way to make a little money, stay out of debt, and take time deciding what major is the right fit for you without rushing into the decision.
The job that you have in college – even if you are flipping burgers, babysitting, working retail or waiting tables – any work experience you can gain now will be a jumpstart for you as you enter the workforce after college. If it’s available to you, seek out a job that perhaps utilizes some skills that you’ll need for your anticipated career after college as well. Any experience you can gain now will help you (and look great on your resume) later. And just like landing the perfect internship can give you invaluable experience, the same is for any work you have in college. According to an article on work and school life balance in The Atlantic: “With many employers looking for students with already-developed skill sets, on-the-job training while in college can be the best way to ensure a gig later on.”
Additionally, sometimes employers will help their employees pay for college or reimburse some of the costs, especially if you are already employed in the line of work you plan to study. You will want to check with your employer to see if this is an option before enrolling!
Ahead of the Game
Since you’ll be working while studying, you’re going to be ahead of the game when it comes to not only time management, but also financial management . You may have some financial aid, grants or scholarships, or other funds that are helping you pay for college. But if you’re working, that probably means you have additional bills to cover as well. This means you’ll learn how to manage a monthly budget, you’ll also be building credit while you’re in college if you have your name on the apartment your renting, any utility bills you have, or your car or cell phone payments.
Ultimately, working while you’re in college can be a challenge, but college is a challenge for anyone whether they are working or not. Take the time to manage your time and reap the benefits of getting a college education and maintaining employment.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this.” – Henry Ford