In 2018 the average cost of tuition reached $42,681 per year. The ever-rising cost of tuition has led to the discomforting fact that 7-in-10 students must work while in school — with nearly a quarter of all students juggling both full-time work and full-time school.
Working and going to school at the same time can be beneficial. Becoming a nurse requires a combination of coursework and clinical experience; students in information technology fields may need to build a portfolio of completed work in order to compete for their dream job upon graduation. At the graduate level, students may be returning to school in pursuit of a promotion or other advancement opportunities with their current employer. Whatever your reason for working and going to school, it can enable you to earn an income and cultivate your professional skills while, at the same time, bolstering that career with academic training and a degree.
However, these benefits don’t change the fact that managing work and school schedules can be challenging. If you find yourself among the ranks of those who are simultaneously full-time students and full-time workers, here are several tips to help you balance the two and still find success in both.
Designate a Workspace
Having a place designated for work and school is essential if you want to stay productive. This is especially true in the remote-first post-COVID world. With work, school, recreation, and rest often all taking place within the same four walls of your home, it’s essential that you assign different areas for each activity.
Ideally, you should have a space for work and a separate area to study in. Even if you can only have a single space dedicated to work and school, though, it’s still helpful to make this distinction within your home. Make sure the space that you choose:
- Isn’t used for relaxing or sleeping.
- Remains organized and clean.
- Is comfortable and equipped with ergonomic furniture.
- Has good natural and artificial lighting.
By setting up quality spaces, you create an area where you can devote yourself to a focused, professional mindset.
Prioritize Your Schedule
Students who work face a triple threat: balancing work, life, and study. The lynchpin in navigating all three may be as simple as having a consistent routine. For one thing, routines can be beneficial to overall health, particularly stress and energy levels.
Achieving balance in your schedule also doesn’t have to mean equal time for all activities every day; breaking your weeks up into “seasons” where you focus intently on self-care, studying, or other chores can also be an effective way to achieve overall balance. Lump your classes into specific days of the week and then try to schedule your work shifts on the other days. Ideally, try to have a few school days in a row followed by a few workdays. This can free you up to focus entirely on one activity at a time.
On top of the work and school, it’s also important to schedule some time to study, hang out with your family and friends, eat, sleep, and even unplug and recuperate. With so much going on, if you don’t plan these things into your schedule, they may receive inadequate attention.
Indulge in Self-Care
With two full-time schedules, you likely feel that the opportunity to take time for yourself is virtually non-existent. However, if you can keep tabs on your schedule, chances are you’ll find a little extra time here and there.
When that happens, it can be helpful to practice a little self-care. This can be something as simple as taking a nap, eating a good meal, or even squeezing in a shower.
You can still indulge in self-care “in the cracks” as you go through the day, too. For instance, if you find that you’re stressed out while you’re studying, take 30 seconds to de-stress through breathing exercises, focusing on a visual, or melting your tension by running through a muscle relaxation script.
Create Long-Term Goals
Another way to restore a sense of balance to your busy life is to actively try to detach from a myopic perspective on a regular basis. If you can occasionally step back and take in the big picture, it can help to relieve stress and restore a sense of purpose, vision, and balance.
One of the best ways to help you step back is by setting clear long-term goals that you can focus on when times are tough. Take the time to consider what you’re working towards in the next one, two, five, or even ten years. Then prioritize them into a list that you can reference when you feel overwhelmed. Seeing what you’re working towards, written out in clear, easy-to-understand words, can provide a mental anchor for you to rally around.
Join Online Classes
The time that it takes to drive to and from school can be a deal-breaker, especially for adults that are attempting to return to school in the midst of busy lives filled with existing professional and personal commitments. Finding the flexibility to navigate work schedules and still make time for yourself may require you to seek hybrid classes, or even shift your studies to online classes.
Online programs have evolved tremendously over the last decade to allow for an even greater variety of course and degree offerings, and are genuinely valued by employers. Their flexibility and the lack of a commute also makes them an ideal candidate for a busy lifestyle.
Utilize Vacation Days
Vacation days are often considered a rare commodity reserved for fun and relaxation — and they can certainly be used for these important pursuits. However, if your life is completely upended by dueling work and school schedules, your vacation days can also become important tools in restoring a sense of balance.
As you create and update your schedule, keep an eye out for days that will be particularly busy in your school life. Look for tests, final exams, group projects, and larger assignments, in general. Then consider taking some PTO at those points. This can free you up to commit yourself wholeheartedly to your studies during those periods of time.
Ask for Help
Finally, don’t feel like you need to manage your busy schedule all on your own. Pursuing higher education is a worthy cause, and your boss may be willing to support you in your efforts.
In addition, don’t be afraid to utilize resources like academic advisors, tutors, and the academic resource center at your school. Resources like these can help equip you with everything you need to succeed.