How working students can balance school and work

balancing work and graduate school
Unlike undergraduates, prospective graduate students tend to come from a larger variety of walks of life. While it's true that many do decide to tackle graduate school right immediately after they earn their undergraduate degree, many more take time off for personal or work reasons, and still more find themselves making the decision to return to school after years or even decades in the workforce. For these older students, and even for some of the younger ones, the reality of the situation may require them to hold down jobs while they study. While obviously not as ideal as being able to focus all your time and energy on your studies, it's very possible to successfully complete graduate school while working.

Full-time versus part-time study

The endeavor to simultaneously balance school and work is a tug of war on your time more than anything else. It can often feel like there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do readings, homework, papers and tasks for work. More often than not, something ends up needing to give, and many self-sufficient students don't have the luxury of having that something be work.

One very serious consideration is deciding whether you want to attend graduate school on a part- or full-time basis. The inclination to dive head-first into full-time study may be strong, especially if your goal is to minimize the time spent in grad school limbo, but the stress associated with managing a full time career and a full time course load could quickly lead to sleep loss, missed due dates and even illness.

Iron out potential wrinkles at work

Regardless of whether you take on part- or full-time studies, there is a significant chance that your new endeavor could in some way affect your work life. Forbes highlighted the importance of expressing to your boss as early as possible your intention to go back to school. While most employers may be personally supportive, it's also understandable that they'd be wary of things like attendance and productivity. Determine as quickly as possible if your schedule may require a revised schedule - such things may not be deal breakers for your boss, but they'll still need time to work out an arrangement.

To help ease the transition and break the news you can position your academic efforts in such a way that paints them as beneficial not just for you but for your company as well. Reaffirm your dedication to your job and your willingness to accommodate the needs of your company in your schedule considerations. You may even want to draw attention to how your grad studies will directly benefit your company. The skills and knowledge you'll pick up in your studies can transfer to increased competencies at the office, granting you better efficiency and increased subject matter expertise that is a big value-add for your employer.

Financial considerations

Even if your plan is to continue to work full-time, granting you the benefit of your full salary, graduate school represents a significant financial investment. Tuition, books and incidental costs can amount to a massive expenditure. Loans may be available to qualified students, but it's understandable if you're loathing the thought of racking up more debt. Scholarships or bursaries may be available for qualified working students that may help to offset the total cost. Some employers might even offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package. It's worth a dive into the corporate handbook or a call to HR to see if your company offers such services.

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