Here’s no two ways around it—splitting your attention between the demands of a full-time job and a college education isn’t ideal. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. One thing we learned after speaking to our panel of experts is that working full-time while earning a degree is possible if you take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success. So let’s make some lemonade out of these lemons and take a look at the 10 tips they’re sure will help you.
1. Create a designated study workspace
One way you can ensure you remain productive throughout your schooling is to create a space in your home that can help foster optimum learning.
“Learning spaces should be clean and organized, ideally decorated with warm paint colors and comfortable seating areas,” explains Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute. “A desk (or kitchen table) and chair is a must for healthy body positioning for writing and working on a computer.”
Malson also suggests that incorporating elements like a bulletin board you can populate with important deadlines, inspiring photos or encouraging quotes can assist in creating a mindful environment that is tailored to your personal goals and motivators.
2. Prioritize organization
When you wear a lot of different hats, it can be easy to lose track of some of the moving pieces from the varying responsibilities you have to juggle. This is where organization can play a crucial role, suggests Candess Zona-Mendola, editor of MakeFoodSafe.com. “You need to know where everything is,” she says. “Put things away where they belong. Charge your laptop and cell phone every night. Keep your supplies well stocked, so you don’t need to stop what you’re doing to [replenish].”
If you haven’t previously utilized planners, now might be the time to buy one. “Planners are extremely useful, but are not used enough—especially for someone managing full-time work and school,” maintains Amanda Raimondi, lifestyle expert and writer for Grapevine. “Most planners divide up the day by hour, making it so easy to make time for homework and studying.”
3. Become a master of your time
Time is never more precious than when you’re balancing the responsibilities of working full-time and earning a degree. “When you choose to go back to college and have a career, you have chosen ‘the path of greatest resistance,’ and your time is at a premium,” explains Scott Vail, owner of C4 Communications.
To succeed within high-stress circumstances like these, he urges students to be purposeful of how they spend their time. “You must schedule everything—class time, study time, recreation—if you want to be successful over the long haul,” Vail adds.
Even if procrastinating has been your tendency in the past, Zona-Mendola advises to avoid it at all costs if you’re also balancing full-time work. “Get stuff done right away. Have a whole semester to write a paper? Start writing it as soon as you know enough about the subject, whether it’s the first week or halfway through. Turn it in right away. The professor will be happy about it,” she says.
4. Leverage your natural tendencies
Malson believes that one of the greatest services a student can do for themselves is to truly get to know their habits as a learner and learn how to use them to their advantage as they work toward earning a degree.
“If you are a planner, make sure you allocate blocks to complete the program work during the time of day that fits your schedule,” she offers as an example. “If you are a night owl or a morning person, plan to use this to your advantage, knowing what hours you are most alert.” Planning to study from nine to 11 at night after a long day of work may work for some, Malson elaborates, but it won’t be productive for others.
5. Take care of yourself
Zona-Mendola worked as a full-time paralegal while working toward her Bachelor’s degree and Paralegal degree simultaneously, and she had a hard time prioritizing self-care when she was in the thick of it all. “I went many nights without sleeping and lived on energy drinks. I would also forget to eat,” she recalls. “Don’t be like me. I wore myself down and got sick often.”
Something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep can make all the difference amidst your flurry of day-to-day responsibilities. “Even though you have a million and one things to do, you need sleep,” Raimondi urges. “When your body sleeps, it repairs itself and gets you ready for the next day. Lack of sleep makes it harder to focus and be productive.” She also recommends scheduling even just an hour a day to destress by reading a book or watching an episode of one of your favorite Netflix shows.
“You may think it’s a waste of time, but having a break every now and then will actually make you more efficient in your daily tasks,” explains Alayna Pehrson, content management specialist for Best Company. “You will have a healthier lifestyle and mindset as you work and go to school. Without this time, you risk getting burnt out and overly exhausted.”
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Competent communication skills seems to top nearly every list of tips to be successful in just about any realm. But when it comes to balancing college and full-time work, communication truly is key. “Having an open communication system with your managers and professors can help you,” Pehrson offers. “Make sure you and your professors and managers are all on the same page. More often than not, they will want to help you when you are feeling overwhelmed with your workload.”
Communicating effectively will only help you in the long run. “Your communication skills will pay dividends when you are working and going to school,” Vail maintains, highlighting the importance not only of communicating with managers and professors, but also with family members and close friends whose interactions with you will be impacted during this busy time.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
The first time consultant, speaker and author Masudi Stolard pursued a degree, it took him 16 years and three different universities to complete it. After shifting his mindset, refocusing his goals and learning how to study properly, he was able to later earn his MBA in just two years.
One of the most pivotal changes he made was learning to ask for help when he was struggling academically. “I can’t tell you the number of times I had to swallow my ego, swallow my pride and get additional help from a tutor or through a study lab,” Stolard recalls.
Tutoring services can be an invaluable tool for college students. Through the use of tutors, Stolard was able to better grasp the concepts his professors were teaching in class, and he even discovered a few shortcuts related to his subject matter that he wouldn’t have known had he not sought help.
8. Trust in your abilities
Another element Stolard views as crucial to a successful college experience while working full-time is consistently choosing to believe in yourself. If you doubt your abilities, he says, you’re more likely to burn out.
“Trust in yourself enough to believe you can balance both work and your education,” Stolard encourages. “Trust that you are aware that both are equally important. Trust the decision you made to move forward with both responsibilities is the right one.” He adds that being intentional about keeping your family and close friends tuned into the benefits that await you upon graduation can help them offer you some extra encouragement along the way.
9. Celebrate small wins
Even as you focus on the major doors that could open for you professionally after earning your degree, don’t forget to celebrate all of your small achievements along the way. “Getting to the degree can be a monumental (and time consuming) accomplishment. Stop focusing on the big victories, like completing an entire semester, and instead start to string together small wins, like getting an ‘A’ on your test,” Vail explains.
“Celebrate turning your paper in on time. Celebrate making it through a tough week or month,” he adds, explaining that when we set the bar for our expectations of success too high, we are more likely to quit when the going gets rough.
10. Remember your long-term goals
“This, too, will end,” Zona-Mendola urges, nodding toward that all too common instinct to throw in the proverbial towel when it feels as if this stressful chapter of your life will never end.
“In the moments when you feel like giving up or giving in, remember that this lifestyle isn’t forever,” she adds. When she looks back at her long few years in college while working at her full-time job, she knows how tired she was and can recall the weight of the sacrifices she had to make at the time. But what she remembers most prominently is how hard she worked to achieve a goal—one that was pivotal on her personal road to success.
Power through the adversity now, Zona-Mendola recommends, so you can reap the numerous benefits that await.
Can you balance working full-time while in college?
The idea of maintaining a full-time job while putting so much valuable energy toward earning a degree seems daunting to many. While it certainly won’t be easy to accomplish, it can be an inevitable necessity for those who hope to move their careers forward through the empowerment of higher education.
Heed the advice of the many accomplished professionals who have walked these steps before you as you prepare to transition into life as a working student, and striking the right balance may become easier than you had anticipated.