By Laura Morrison, March 2011
Working full time while going to grad school part time. Sounds brutal, doesn’t it?
A full-time work week is tough enough. If you love what you do it’s a little less draining, but that pervasive cultural iconography of getting trashed on Friday night to let loose, burn off some steam, and celebrate the weekend is rooted in reality. And we’re all familiar with the “Sunday blues” – that tight little knot of dread you start to feel as dusk approaches and you contemplate a return to the office the next day. Now add to that one to three graduate-level classes per week, plus reading and papers, and you can see how fast any semblance of self-care might fly out the window.
So why in the world would you do it? Well, it pretty much boils down to one thing. Money. Cheddar. The Benjamins.
Graduate school is expensive. If you can pay as you go, you’ll finish without a pile of debt. If you can at the very least cover your basic living expenses, you’ll mitigate the amount of loans you have to take out. In this article, three brave souls who are juggling both job and academics discuss what’s good, what’s hard, and whether they’d advise someone else to attempt this balancing act.
Melanie Cohen is working as a Laboratory Research Assistant Supervisor at Maryland University while working on her biotechnology degree at the same institution.
Daniel Sutelman, systems administrator at Boston University, is also pursuing his Master of Social Work degree.
Markham Carr is a teacher in the Boulder Valley School District and attends University of Colorado at Boulder.
#1 Drawback to going to grad school & working full time: Time
Across the board, these employee-student hybrids feel pressed for time. Cohen feels that it’s difficult “ to fit everything in and have a balance. I find that when I am taking a class, I do not exercise regularly and I spend less time with my family.” Perhaps compounding this situation is her commute: she reports spending a total of 3 hours per day traveling to and from work. Sutelman dislikes the fact that “ school work is always looming while in school. Even if a paper is not due, you still have to keep up with reading, so weekends are never really down time. It’s more like catch up time,” Sutelman explains. Carr, who is married and has a baby, says he’s “way too busy. [I often have] to do graduate work during the week when really I need to be focused on my job. Huge time commitment that is overwhelming at times. Many Friday nights or weekend mornings I'm working, not relaxing. If I wasn't in grad school this wouldn't be the case.”
#1 Benefit of a full time job and grad school: Money
“You are getting an education and furthering your career while still making an income, which is necessary for many individuals and families today,” Cohen points out. Interestingly, she sees the time crunch as a benefit as well as a difficulty, explaining that “you learn how to manage your time more efficiently because there is no time to waste or slack off.” Sutelman appreciates that he’s incurred fewer loans: “I didn’t want to take out loans to pay my mortgage. It felt like a really bad idea.” Carr not only needed the paycheck, but was also able to take advantage of pay raises that corresponded with graduate work.
Oh yeah, and the actual school part…
Another positive: the actual grad school experience. “I like having the freedom to log-in to the online classroom when my schedule permits and not have to physically be present at a specific time each week,” Cohen says of her online masters degree program. Carr appreciated his “great professors [who] pushed me in reading and writing, exposure to interesting professional articles about teachers, methods, research, etc., [and] the majority of students I've been in touch with through the school of education.” Well, that’s good. At least you’re enjoying it! If you’re not, what’s the point?
…but would you tell someone else to do it?
Responses are mixed. “Absolutely,” Cohen says. “The opportunity may not present itself again. I would always recommend taking advantage of furthering your education or career. It’s not easy, but I find it rewarding and hope that it will open up opportunities for further career advancement when I complete my degree.” But Carr disagrees. “Not if they are working full-time. I just think life is far too hectic trying to keep up with a job and class.”
Sutelman’s on the fence when he says, “only if you have to. I would advise someone that it’s doable if you need to, but if there is a way around it, don’t do it.” Yet on the other hand, he acknowledges that “it’s temporary, so if you have to do it and you really want to go to grad school, don’t skip grad school because you need to work. Do it and get it out of the way.”
Did this clear things up? Of course not. It’s clearly a very individual process. Take into account your financial situation, your desire vs. need for higher education, and your non-work commitments like babies and bands. Whatever your choice: good luck.
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About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.