How to Balance Work and School as an Adult Student

In a perfect world, you’d be able to take a hiatus from work while you attend college so you can focus on your studies full time. In reality, this simply isn’t feasible for many adult learners. In fact, according to Fortune, a whopping 43% of today’s college students work full time while enrolled in school.

If you are interested in getting your degree but worried about balancing school and work, you’re not alone. The good news? When you choose the right school and prioritize time management, it is possible to work full time while pursuing a higher education.

Can You Work Full Time and Go to College?

The simple answer is yes! It is absolutely viable to work and attend college at the same time. What’s more, doing so is a necessity for many college students who need to support themselves during their degree programs or who don’t want to take out large student loans to pay tuition.

The key, of course, is to be realistic and plan accordingly. If you’re working 40 hours per week, it’s probably not a wise idea to sign up for a full-time course load. Instead, it may make more sense to enroll in school on a part-time basis, taking just two or three classes each semester.

Challenges Faced by Adult Students

Adult working students run into many challenges when it comes to balancing school and work. The first is trying to juggle many things at once. At work, you want to make sure your performance doesn’t slip. At the same time, coursework can be extremely demanding; you have exams to study for, presentations to prepare, and assignments to complete.

With so much on your plate, it’s easy to let stress and burnout impact your mental health. Combined with the challenges of trying to maintain relationships and find time for hobbies, it’s clear why attending school while working full time is no walk in the park.

Tips for Adult Learners to Balance School and Work

While balancing work and school isn’t easy, it can be done. And when you obtain your degree, all your hard work will pay off many times over. In the meantime, there are some practical tips to keep in mind that could help you get through your degree program as smoothly as possible.

Set Realistic Goals

Start by being realistic about what you’ll be able to achieve while working full time. As tempting as it may be to enroll in a full-time class schedule to complete your program sooner, this generally isn’t recommended. Rather, it may make more sense to take just a couple of classes at a time—even if that means it takes an extra year or two to complete your program.

Create a Flexible but Structured Schedule

Once you have classes picked out, it’s time to sit down and create a schedule for your week. This should include not only your scheduled work hours but also the days and times of classes you need to attend, plus any other obligations. This will help you see your entire week (or even month) at a glance, ensuring you don’t miss any key deadlines or tasks.

Prioritize Tasks

Learning how to prioritize tasks comes in handy while you’re in school because, with so much on your plate, you’ll need the ability to decide what’s most critical and what can potentially wait. A strong strategy for prioritizing tasks and saving time is to use the Eisenhower Matrix, which can help you better manage time and boost productivity.

Effective Planning

A little planning can go a long way when you’re working and going to school at the same time. Be sure to look at your syllabus for each class and make note of important dates in the future, such as exams, projects, and presentations.

Open Communication with Employers and Professors

Your employer and your professors want to see you succeed, so it’s crucial to maintain open and honest communication with both parties. Keep your employer informed on your progress in school and scheduling needs. If possible, speak to your manager at work about working fewer hours or making other changes in your schedule to accommodate these busy times at school. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to professors if you’re struggling. This could mean attending their office hours or sending them an email. You may be surprised at how willing they are to work with you as long as you’re being proactive and putting in the effort.

Set Boundaries

While in school, you might need to work on setting boundaries with your employer or even fellow employees. Perhaps you’re usually the type to take on additional projects and responsibilities without complaint. However, when focusing on studies as well, you may need to stand firm in scaling back to only essential job duties and maintain boundaries to avoid unnecessary stress and burnout.

Utilize Support Systems

Your family and friends want to see you succeed both academically and professionally, so don’t be afraid to turn to them when you need them. Whether it means asking your partner to pick up some additional slack with household chores or inviting a friend to quiz you on flashcards, it’s key to have your go-to support systems to lean on.

Leverage Technology for Efficiency

In addition, be sure to take advantage of available technology and tools to boost your productivity and optimize your efficiency. Even something as simple as listening to white noise while studying can help you stay more focused. Meanwhile, scheduling and time management tools and apps can empower you to maximize every minute of your busy day.

Celebrate the Small Wins

You can also stay motivated by allowing yourself to celebrate small victories along the course of your degree program. Something as seemingly minor as getting an A on a test deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. If you don’t pat yourself on the back until you have your degree in hand, you’re more likely to suffer from burnout. Recognize your small wins and reward yourself for them as you see fit.

Stay Focused on the End Goal

When things get difficult (and they will), remember the reason why you decided to enroll in school in the first place. No matter if you’re looking to advance in your career, qualify for a promotion, or even make a total career switch, getting your degree can help you achieve your professional goals. Before you start classes, consider writing down your reasons for getting your degree. When you encounter challenges during your program, refer to those reasons to remember why you must keep moving forward.

Be Resilient

Going to college while working full time isn’t easy, but with a little planning and a lot of resilience, it is possible. You could work on developing your own sense of resilience by using positive appraisal and practicing self-care during difficult times. Likewise, focus on being more aware of your thoughts and how you “speak” to yourself internally. If you find yourself speaking or thinking negatively, make a concentrated effort to flip that narrative and start building your own confidence.

The Importance of Finding a Balance with Work and School

Striking a balance between work and school doesn’t always come naturally, but it will be worth it when you’re able to continue working and paying your way through school while striving toward a brighter future. Ultimately, exploring the best colleges for working adults is a great way to ensure you’re getting the support and compassion you need while working your way through school—so don’t overlook the importance of choosing the right college and program.

At Excelsior University, we take pride in the level of support we offer our working adult learners. That’s why we provide online degree programs in fields ranging from public service and nursing to business, technology, health sciences, and more. Offering associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degree programs, Excelsior has you covered. Learn more about our flexible degree programs by requesting information, or start your online application today!