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How to Work Full Time and Get a Master’s Degree

Sitafa Allen, MBA, SP, SA, SSM / Find a Grad Program »

Enrolling in a graduate program is already a daunting task for anyone who doesn’t have any life commitments or distractions. But when you add in a full-time job, it can make things seem even harder. There are several reasons why you might find yourself in a position to juggle graduate school and your career simultaneously. If you are already in the workforce, you may not be able to afford to stop working. Or you could be seeking a full-time internship while working in hopes of a permanent position upon graduation. Regardless of the circumstances, balancing grad school and your career is challenging—but rewarding nevertheless! Follow these tips, and you will be well on your way to navigating the tricky landscapes of the professional and academic worlds.

Manage Your Time Wisely

The most important thing when managing work and school is time management. Your schedule needs to be organized down to the last detail to ensure no time is wasted throughout the week. With a detailed schedule, you’ll be able to identify that extra hour during the day to complete assignments or get caught up on work deliverables. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) for the week, including things you need to get done for work, school, and your personal life. Use a digital planner or a good, old-fashioned notebook to keep a record of your goals from Monday through Sunday. Just a couple of great digital planning tools you can use include Todoist, Any.do, and Google Calendar. Each of these apps are free, easy to use, and available for iPhone, Android, and desktop. Having your goals stored or physically written down somewhere makes them tangible and more likely to be achieved. 

When building your schedule, keep in mind that you cannot be in two places at once. Between work, school, and home, you will find yourself overwhelmed and pulled in multiple directions. This is why it’s so important not to spread yourself too thin and instead set clear boundaries around your time. Sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice a night of partying to study for an important exam. You may even ask your manager for a mental health day off from work every now and then. Overall, you will have to make sacrifices and compromises in order to maintain a healthy, productive routine.  

Work & School Integration

Begin to think of your balance between work and school as more of an integration. Your career and academics are two of the most important and time-consuming things in your life, but that doesn’t mean they can’t coexist. Bring your school books and materials to work so that you can catch up on assignments or study during your lunch break. And when you have breaks in class, use that time to answer work emails or edit an important presentation. The idea is that there is always going to be downtime between work and school during which you can possibly knock some things off your to-do list. Countless working grad students make the mistake of viewing work and school as mutually exclusive, meaning there shouldn’t be any overlap. However, you can save yourself a lot of time by finding ways to combine your academic and professional worlds to achieve your goals efficiently. 

This integration is made a lot easier if your degree aligns with your chosen career path. For example, if you want to have a professional career in marketing, you should strongly consider getting your master’s degree in Business Administration to give yourself an edge in the job market and prepare you for what managers in the business field will expect. When you align school and work, you give yourself the ability to leverage your classroom learnings at the office and vice-versa. The ability to do this will help you excel and stand out in both areas. 

Choose the “Right” Program

Choosing a graduate program that is willing to work around your career obligations is key to your success. Ideally, you want to select a program that has job opportunities built into the curriculum and encourages you to develop your professional career through hands-on work with different companies or through class credit awarded for your experience in your current job. Many graduate programs around the country work with local companies to provide students with a hybrid school and professional experience. For example, the University of Memphis has a Customer-Driven MBA program that connects students with FedEx through which students can work part time while finishing their degree. Upon graduation, the students are then guaranteed full-time jobs. The benefit of this kind of program is that both the school and the company understand your obligations and work together to make sure you have the best chance at success. 

Many schools also have special graduate tracks that cater to the needs of full-time professionals. These tracks can include unique programs that offer classes online, at night, or on weekends to accommodate students with a standard 9-to-5 work schedule. The right graduate program will be flexible enough to work with you to make sure you’re on the right path. Explore all of your options, including taking one class a semester or taking a semester off during a busy time at work. Make sure that the grad program you choose understands your needs upfront so that expectations are clear when you start class. Before you even send in an application, meet with an academic advisor and get a feel for the program and how well you would fit in. Ask questions about the curriculum structure, schedule, and accommodations they may have for working students. Here are seven basic questions to ask:

  • Are classes offered during the day, at night, or both?
  • Are any classes offered online?
  • How many credit hours are required to complete this program?
  • Is there a time limit to complete this program?
  • Can work and/or internship hours count as credit hours toward the completion of this degree?
  • Am I eligible for any financial aid or scholarships?
  • Do you have a career center available to students and, if so, what services does it offer?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you should have a good feel for how well the program will fit into your schedule.

Get Support

Most people who take on grad school and a career are naturally very independent and self-motivated individuals. However, you simply can’t succeed at both all by yourself. Every working student needs a little support along the way to make it across that stage on graduation. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources from which to draw support. 

The majority of graduate programs place students in cohorts. Cohorts are groups of students within the same program who take classes altogether. This fosters great camaraderie among students, as they are all going through the same experience at the same time. Lean on your cohort for help with studying, or work together on difficult assignments. Create a class GroupMe or message board on Slack through which you can communicate and support each other throughout the program. Working with a cohort also gives the added advantage of networking and interacting with others of different personalities and backgrounds. 

In addition to your classmates, you should also have full support from both the school and your management team at work. Before starting your academic program, let your job know and make sure that they understand your new schedule and obligations. Make sure to be transparent with your professors as well. When everyone is in the loop, they are a lot more likely to make accommodations for you and understand the compromises you may need to make.

Juggling school and work will not be easy, but it is so worth it. A graduate degree can significantly increase your earning potential; in fact, the U.S. Census found that the median earnings for adults with master’s degrees are about 25% more than adults who only have a bachelor’s. Put in the time and hard work now to ensure that you have a bright future. If you manage your time, work efficiently, and manage expectations, you will be a rockstar in the office and the classroom!

So what are you waiting for? Start preparing for grad school by searching for flexible programs that will fit your busy schedule. Abound: Grad School can help get you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.

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