How to Balance School and Your Job

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By Sarah Blais – Dec. 29, 2014: 

It’s not easy to be loyal to both your employer and your college. Both have different needs and expectations. With proper organization, you can still be successful in both areas of your life.

Don’t take on more credits than you can handle

You may have had it ingrained since you were young that you had to go to your state’s big university straight after graduation and then get your degree in four years. While some are happy to do this, it’s not for everybody. Moreover, if you’re going to enroll as a part-time student, it’s downright impossible. In fact, a New York Times article recently said only 19 percent of full-time, public university students get their Bachelor’s in only four years. It’s not unusual to take your time and be successful.

Consider that one credit is about an hour of work. In a three-credit class, you’re expected to spend an hour in the classroom and then devote another two hours to homework and studying. This is why it’s normal for a full-time student to take 12 or more credits; it’s almost equal to the amount of hours put into a full-time job. With these numbers in mind, be reasonable about how many classes you can truly handle.

Let your employer know what’s going on

When you’re dealing with midterms or heaps of homework at the end of the semester, the last thing you need is your boss shaking a finger at you for not being focused on your job. Being open with your employer about your education plans will allow him or her to compromise with your schedule (if need be) and be supportive. If you’re furthering your education to become better at your job, your boss will probably be impressed and see you as a harder worker. Chances are, too, that you’re not the only person in the company who’s going back to school. About one-third of students work full-time. You might even run into a couple classmates at the water cooler!

Set a routine

Every morning when you head to work, you probably do the same thing every day with little variation. Your job also has certain protocols for accomplishing business goals efficiently. School is no different – you need to figure out a schedule for getting your work done on time. Will you come home, cook supper, then do your homework? Or go to the library straight after class and knock everything out before heading to your job? Make a game plan that takes your other obligations into account, and stick to it. Be sure to leave wiggle room in case something unexpected comes up. While the saying goes “it takes 21 days to form a habit,” it’s not down to a science and varies depending on your level of motivation. That means if you make it a point to keep up with your new schedule every day, you’ll eventually spend the rest of the school year on autopilot.

Use your down time efficiently

The most successful students who juggle many different responsibilities use their spare time for school work. Your down time during a long lunch break, riding public transportation, or en route to a vacation spot is the perfect time to get some studying done instead of playing games on your phone. This is especially helpful if you’re in an online class, where you can bring the classroom with you on your laptop or phone. Pass your idle time by bringing along your required reading, contributing to class discussion boards, or making flashcards to memorize facts for your upcoming tests.

Manage your stress well

Ever notice more people tend to get sick right around midterms and finals? When you’re stressed out, your immune system’s defenses are lowered. If you find yourself getting sick more often year-round, the stress of adding school to your already busy schedule could be catching up with you. You’re also more likely to have depressing thoughts and feelings of hopelessness; half of college students say they were too stressed to get work done and socialize.  Keep your stress in check on a regular basis by finding something that gets your mind off of school, whether it’s yoga, boxing, taking a walk, or meditating. It’s also important to have a reliable support system. Vent to trusted friends and family once in a while about your worries. Just having someone to talk to is usually enough to get the weight of the world off your shoulders.

Enrolling in school can be like getting a second job. It may look overwhelming at first, but if you’re determined to make it work, nothing can get in your way.

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Sarah Blais is an education writer based in New York City. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication in from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State.

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