Firsthand Advice for Working Full-Time in Grad School
By Ashley Brooks on 05/13/2020
Earning a graduate degree takes hard work and dedication. If you’re working full-time and going to grad school, however, earning a higher degree can feel impossible. How will you manage such a full schedule?
Working full-time in grad school isn’t easy, but it can be done. Plenty of students have gone before you on the journey to earn a graduate degree while working full-time—and survived to tell the tale!
We spoke with professionals who put in the hard work to earn their graduate degrees while working full-time. They’re sharing their best tips for managing your workload while working full-time in grad school.
Practical advice for working full-time in grad school
It’s one thing to hear well-meaning advice about working full-time in grad school, but it’s another thing to live it. These practical tips from students who have stood in your shoes can help you balance your responsibilities and complete your education with pride. Take a look at this list to see which advice you can apply to your situation!
Choose a degree and workplace that work together
No one can be in two places at once. It’s clear that you need to choose a job and a degree program that offer the flexibility you need to be on time for both class and work. However, your workplace can go even further in helping you toward your education goals.
“Find a current full-time job that is in line with your desired degree,” says Alex Tran, digital marketing strategist with e-commerce and logistics company Hollingsworth. “This will make what you learn applicable in the workplace and reduce the stress of having to learn multiple topics.”
If your current position relates to your degree, your employer might even agree to foot part of your tuition bill. “It is amazing when companies do this because they recognize it as an investment in their workforce,” Tran says. Not only will you have less financial strain, you’ll know you have the full support of your company behind you.
Create a schedule
If you’re not sure when you’ll complete your schoolwork each week, you’re looking at a recipe for stress. To avoid this problem, “know, in advance, when your work and school and study hours are,” says Sarah Kitlowski, who worked full-time while earning her MBA and who is now president and COO at Omeza. “And give yourself more time than you think you will need for studying and homework.”
You know your life better than anyone else, so choose a schedule that meets your needs—even if it looks different from what everyone else is doing. “Whatever you do, it has to work with your situation and personality,” says Adam Cole, who earned his master’s degree while working full-time as a music educator and raising five kids. “Find the things that are effective and jettison the things that aren’t.”
“It’s important to set boundaries and plans that work for you, even if friends, family and work aren’t thrilled,” Kitlowski says. Students who don’t have firm boundaries will find themselves constantly torn between their studies and expectations from others. It might be hard to say no to others, but strong boundaries will make it easier to prioritize your schoolwork.
Kitlowski suggests cutting back on TV time, attending events for less time than you normally would and carefully choosing which social engagements you commit to. “Don’t let others take your time or attention for granted,” she advises.
Connect with other working students
Working full-time in grad school is a unique situation to be in. You might feel like there’s no one who understands what you’re going through. You’re not alone, however. “The best place to get support is from people who are, or have, gone through exactly what you have gone through,” Kitlowski says.
Cole agrees, saying, “If there are other students in the same situation, it's helpful to talk about it, especially since an overburdened partner may be unable to be fully sympathetic.” He advises connecting with classmates who are in the same boat, joining online groups for working students and talking with your school’s counselor about managing the emotional stress of work and grad school.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
You can’t afford to waste mental energy or time on basic tasks when you’re juggling grad school and a full-time job. Simplifying your life as much as possible will keep you moving forward on your priorities rather than getting stuck on small, daily decisions.
Kitlowski simplified everything from her wardrobe to the meals she ate each day. “I aimed to cook as little as possible, but picked high-quality frozen or pre-prepped foods,” she says, a strategy that reduced her time spent grocery shopping and cooking. Whether it’s your household chores or getting dressed in the morning, look for ways to streamline your life so you can use your time efficiently.
Make time for yourself
Running from work to school with no time for yourself is a recipe for burnout. Having regular time to recharge and rest will allow you to be more productive in the long run—but this self-care time probably won’t happen if you don’t plan for it.
Kitlowski advises scheduling downtime just like you schedule work and school. “You still need time to sleep and rest,” she says. Participating in hobbies you enjoy and spending quality time with people you love can be an essential part of recharging so you’re ready to continue hitting the books later.
Acknowledge the stress
Don’t beat yourself up if you become stressed or overwhelmed. Going to grad school while working full-time is no easy feat, but you’re doing it! Cole says it’s essential to “recognize the stress is coming from an unusual situation.”
Rather than blaming yourself for not handling the stress well, acknowledge the difficulty of your situation and be kind to yourself. “Recognize that this is a particularly difficult thing to do, and manage accordingly by arranging whatever space and time you need for studying and for recreation while still being true to your family obligations,” Cole says.
Keep your eye on the prize
Imagine yourself proudly walking across the stage in your cap and gown to receive the graduate degree you’ve worked so hard for. Keeping this motivation front and center will help you persevere even when things become overwhelming.
“Keep the goal in mind: Why are you doing this, how much longer do you have to go, and how can you celebrate the little and the big victories with your partner and family?” Cole says. “When faced with an endless tunnel of work, nothing is too small to celebrate!”
Reach for the stars
Working full-time and going to grad school is possible, thanks to smart strategies like these to help you manage your time and energy.
Now that you’ve seen how it’s possible to work full-time in grad school, you might be wondering if you can afford to pursue a master’s degree. Learn more about your options in our article “How to Pay for a Master’s Degree: 8 Smart Tips to Help Manage the Cost.”