Embarking on a new educational journey can be exciting, but if you’re busy with a full-time job, it can also be daunting. How do you balance everything to make sure you do well in your classes and in your job? And, where do you find the time to attend classes in the first place?
We always hear about the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. That can often be difficult enough without working full time and going to college. So, the ultimate question becomes: is it possible to have a full-time job and be a full-time student? The answer is yes.
How to Balance School and Work
With the increasing number of college classes being offered online, or in a combination of classroom and online versions, it has become much easier for working professionals to take classes around their work schedules. If you do have to attend classes, colleges like Vista College offer classes in the evenings or on weekends, so people can still work their normal hours.
There is always the option of being a part-time student; one major drawback to that choice is that it takes longer to complete your coursework. However, you must do what’s best for you, and it’s not a competition to see who can finish quickest. When your sanity is at stake, you need to look at all possible means of protecting it.
But, when approximately one-fourth of college students also work full time, it becomes evident that it’s possible. Here are some tips for how to balance school and work:
- Look at pursuing advanced education related to your job. If you’re going back to school, you’re looking at obtaining a degree, certificate or diploma in a certain area of study. One way to keep the balance is to make your education area of choice align with your current job. If you already work in the healthcare industry, for example, there are a variety of options to further increase your skills and make you a more valuable candidate for future positions higher up the food chain. Similarly, a certificate in business administration or a degree in business management can put you ahead in a corporate-type job, and it can gain you the skills to move forward in the industry. The parallel structure of pursuing higher education in an area you’re already working in can help you stay motivated to stay the course.
- Make specific and realistic goals. What is it you’re wanting to accomplish from going to school in the first place? If you attend classes simply on a whim or because you are convinced it will all be fun, you may not end up getting too far. Even if your goals are too aspirational, going to school can backfire. However, if your goal is to gain a different skill set to change to a career that is more interesting or to be more knowledgeable in your current field, there is more incentive to keep going and be serious about your education, and your job.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Let’s face it. No matter how you slice it, working full time and going to college isn’t going to be easy, and it’s going to take a lot of time. Before your classes begin, look at your schedule – the entire thing. Determine how much time you need for certain responsibilities outside of work and school, like dishes, picking kids up from soccer practice, meals, etc. Then, look at how much time you’re going to be spending at work and in class each day. You’ll also need to estimate about how much time you’ll need to spend studying outside of class. A good rule of thumb is about 2 hours of study time for every one hour in class.
Once you determine your schedule, it’s important to prioritize. Understand that there may not be enough hours in the day to accomplish tasks with lower priority. Do the best you can, and be prepared to make sacrifices to ensure you can keep balancing the really important stuff.
- Get help from those around you. If you’re single, you may have an easier time pulling off working and going to school, but it’s still going to be a challenge. Throw in family, kids and other responsibilities, however, and suddenly the complication factor increases four-fold. You can’t do it alone. Enlist the help of your spouse, friends, relatives or neighbors to help with tasks so you don’t go nuts trying to get it all done. And, if someone offers assistance before you ask, don’t be afraid to say yes.
- Work as hard in your classes as you do at your job. You go to work every day and you give 110%. You don’t miss work because that will cause repercussions like missing deadlines, reprimand from your boss or not getting paid. Treat school the same way. While you may not be earning a paycheck to attend class, it’s a step toward reaching your goals. If you start skipping assignments or not going to class, it becomes easier to take things less seriously. When you go to school, you’re going to have to give it as much effort as your job if you’re truly going to be successful and make it worth your while.
- Get organized ahead of time. Scrambling at the last minute does little to accomplish anything effectively or efficiently. Before your classes begin, set up a space designated for school work. Make sure you have enough lighting, storage, and supplies so you can accomplish what you need to. Also, make sure the area is free from distraction. When you’re constantly interrupted, your time is going to be much less efficient.
Another way to be sure you’re organized is to employ the use of lists. Make to do lists of the things you need to get done and prioritize them. This will take some of the pressure off trying to remember it all, and hopefully alleviate any negative feelings that may result from being unable to get the lower priority tasks completed.
- Communicate with your boss. You’ll need to discuss with your family and friends about your plan and how they can help, but you’ll also need to talk with your boss. Let him or her know ahead of time about the possibility of you going to school. Discuss what it will entail, and even what your area of study will be. That way, your boss will know what you’re doing and that you’re interested in making yourself a more well-rounded employee.
- Communicate with your professors. Your professors want you to succeed, and they are there to help. Let them know you work full time and even share what you do. Your professors can be a great tool for helping you get the most out of your educational experience and can also be extremely valuable for potential networking opportunities.
How to Study When You’re Working Full Time and Going to College
You’ve figured out what you’re going to study. You’ve communicated with those around you, and you’ve developed a plan. Now the real work begins: studying the material and completing the program. If you’re returning to school after a hiatus of some time, odds are your study skills are a little rusty. Here are some study tips to knock the rust off:
- Create a schedule for studying. By actually writing down times to study and breaking it up, you will be more likely to do it, but be realistic. You may be able to read your necessary material during a lunch break when you’re at work, but if there is a concept that is giving you trouble, you’ll probably need to be more focused. Save that for the weekend or an evening when you can really concentrate on it.
You can also note what you studied, for how long, and when. This can help you keep track of topics you’ve already mastered and which ones need work so you’re not bouncing back and forth or spending too much time on one area while neglecting another.
- Use every minute of downtime. Many of us ride the bus, train or use some other form of public transportation to get to and from work. Use that time to go through notes or review. If you drive, see if you can listen to class lectures via an MP3 player, but you may want to ask your professor beforehand if it’s all right if you record the lecture. You can also see if your text books are available in audio format. While the commute can be good for getting a bit of time to prepare yourself to face the day or de-stress at the end, it can also be a beneficial time to review material and ensure you understand concepts covered in class and in your assignments.
You may even be able to review notes while in line at the store or when you’re waiting for an appointment. When there is a finite number of hours in a day, you need to make each minute work for you.
- Don’t underestimate the usefulness of flashcards. When you think of flashcards, you may have flashbacks to elementary school and learning multiplication tables. But, flashcards can be helpful when learning just about any subject. You can use index cards; on one side, write a term you need to know, and on the other side, write the definition. Add as much pizazz as you’d like to the cards. The more fun and attractive they are, the more likely you’ll be to use them. Just make sure their primary focus, which is to help you remember the facts, isn’t lost.
- Test yourself. Many people get anxiety before a test, so why not practice before? See if you can come up with exam questions yourself. While it may be hard to determine exactly what the test will cover or how the phraseology will be, coming up with your own test questions can help you figure out how well you know the material. Make the atmosphere realistic as well. Sit down in your designated area for studying. Eliminate distractions, and time yourself. Taking a practice test before the actual exam, even if the practice was your own creation, may help to alleviate that test anxiety and make the real exam experience more comfortable.
Effectively Understanding the Material
Another big way to make sure you get the most out of your study time is to ensure you really understand the material. Sure, you can memorize it, but it will likely only be engrained in your short term memory, and it will be more difficult to put the concepts you learned to good use. In addition, you can only memorize so much before it all starts to become putty in your head. The key is to truly understand. Let’s take a look at some helpful ways to ensure you’ll be able to comprehend and remember the things you’ve learned once you’re outside the classroom:
- Make information relatable to your senses. Concrete concepts are often easier to retain than abstract ones. But, you can make abstract concepts more concrete by relating them to something. Create a picture in your mind, and use your senses. If you’re studying massage therapy, for example, and are learning the different types of massage, it may be helpful to picture the setting for each type. What will you be hearing, touching, or even smelling? While this particular example may not be as abstract as others, being able to create an image relatable to your senses will still make the topic easier to recall. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, or in this case, many study hours.
- Find connections between concepts. In many cases, topics relate and build upon each other. Work to find the connections between these topics. Look for patterns and similarities. When you can do this, you’re creating a broader understanding of the material as a whole, rather than trying to remember each individual segment of the information.
- Make sure you can explain the material in your own words. When you’re learning a concept, you’re going to hear it in the words of your professors first, and that is likely how it will be transcribed in your notes. However, someone can explain something to you 100 times, but if you can’t understand it in your own words, the concept will be more difficult to remember and retain. As you’re reviewing your material, try to write concepts down using your own language. If you can’t do it, it will be tougher to achieve true understanding of the idea and to recall the information when it comes to test time.
You can also try teaching the topic to someone else. Having to organize the material and explain it so someone else understands can help you identify which areas aren’t as clear to you.
- Don’t cram. For many people, trying to cram for a test can be hard and not very beneficial, especially when you’re juggling multiple things besides just school. If it’s your first try at learning the material, and your test date is only a day or so away, odds are concepts are going to be a disorganized jumble and you won’t really understand them. Instead, work through the material ahead of time. That way, when you’re reviewing for the test, it is truly just a review and not a last ditch learning effort.
- Ask questions. If there is a concept you’re not understanding, ask for help. Ask your professor directly, or enlist the help of classmates or a study group. Sometimes, all it takes is someone to explain something just a little bit differently, and the light bulb turns on.
One of the most important skills is to remember, however, is to make going back to school as much of a positive experience as possible. Celebrate getting a good grade on a test with something you enjoy, like an ice cream cone. Include your loved ones in the celebrating, and acknowledge the small victories as well as the big ones. It will help ensure the college experience is worthwhile for everyone.
How Vista College Can Help You Balance a Full Time Job and College
At Vista College, we understand that when you’re working and going to school, every minute counts. We provide an array of online courses as well as evening and weekend classes in a variety of academic areas. If you’re looking to go back to school, or to attend for the first time, education counseling experts to help you get started on the fast-track to improving your future.