Tips for Working Full Time and Going to School: Managing Your Workload

A student in an aisle of a library building’s stacks holds a textbook while staring at their watch.

Balancing full-time work and graduate school is no small feat. Often the demands of just one of these commitments consume huge amounts of time and energy. So how can someone manage the workloads of both?

Those planning to go to graduate school while working full time should not underestimate the challenges ahead. However, they also should not feel intimidated, because many people successfully balance their jobs and studies.

With thoughtful preparation, people working full time and going to school can handle competing deadlines and resolve scheduling conflicts. They can also find ways to effectively manage their time and energy, making performing well at work and in their academics possible.

Realistic and strategic planning, time management, productivity optimization, and stress management all play a key role in successfully juggling work and school.

Benefits of Working Full Time and Going to School

Those interested in jump-starting a new career or advancing a current one should consider the benefits of working full time and going to school.

Saves Money

Going into significant debt can easily deter potential graduate students. However, by working full time and going to school, graduate students can substantially lower their need to take out extensive loans. With a regular salary, they can help pay for their degrees as they go. This saves money on loan interest and offers peace of mind.

Additionally, by keeping a full-time job, graduate students hold on to their employee benefits such as health insurance and retirement accounts. This paves the way for a more stable financial future.

Offers the Potential for Tuition Reimbursement and Assistance

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement or assistance to employees who decide to further their education. This is especially true when the education relates to an employee’s current work.

Some companies have reimbursement and assistance programs as part of their employee benefits package. However, even companies without formalized programs may contribute to a graduate degree. With the right pitch, employees considering graduate school can sometimes secure invaluable sponsorship.

Improves Future Earning Potential

Returning to school not only boosts people’s opportunities to pursue their interests and dreams. It also significantly increases their future earning potential. People earn more and experience less unemployment when they further their education.

So, while graduate school does come with immediate financial burdens, in the long run it can definitely pay off.

Realistic and Strategic Planning

The combination of full-time work and school comes with some potential pitfalls. Those considering embarking on such a journey need to examine their circumstances realistically and plan strategically. That involves considering the following.

Part-Time or Full-Time Graduate School Attendance

Everyone’s life has different constraints and demands — financial, family, and personal. A person’s circumstances can influence the decision to enter a graduate school program part time or full time.

How can someone decide between part-time and full-time attendance? Some students might see part-time graduate school as an advantage because it offers greater day-to-day flexibility, while others might be drawn to a full-time program because it offers the advantage of graduating sooner.

Online Programs

Online programs are flexible. This versatility allows students to take advantage of customizable options for when and where they complete their work. This allows full-time employees to better coordinate their studies and work obligations.

In addition, online programs can save students the time taken up by long commutes to campus. This offers a huge advantage to anyone with many responsibilities. When deciding the suitability of the online option, full-time employees would do well to consider how the pros and cons of online programs align with their situation.

How to Appropriately Communicate with Bosses and Professors

Those working full time and going to school usually find ways to manage their competing workloads. However, at times, conflicts between work and school call for requests for some extra accommodations. In such instances, graduate students can turn to their bosses and professors.

Establishing open communication with one’s boss and professors from the get-go can play a huge role in getting help and possible accommodations when time conflicts arise.

Supervisors may allow employees going to school to arrange for modified work schedules or remote workdays, but first employees must know how to effectively ask for the flexibility they need.

Building a strong rapport and regularly and clearly communicating with professors about work and personal obligations may give some graduate students the opportunity to work out alternative arrangements from time to time.

As an example, if a professor knows a student has to submit an extensive work report on a specific day, they may allow that student to take an exam or turn in an assignment on an alternate date. The student would need to ask the instructor’s permission first and make arrangements with them in advance.

Time Management

Anyone working full time and going to school needs to manage their time well and prioritize tasks. Fortunately, many strategies and tools help even the busiest individuals plan their time and activities, short and long term.

Track and Assess Current Time Use

Tracking time use can deliver important insights about where time gets wasted and offer potential ideas for ways to multitask. It also helps people accurately measure what they do versus what they think they do.

For example, someone may think they spend only short intervals on social media, when in fact they spend more than an hour a day scrolling and browsing. With accurate time-tracking information, graduate students can adjust their habits and plan their time more intentionally.

Develop a Time-Management System

Graduate students working full time need a system to keep their complicated schedules in order. This involves maintaining a calendar that tracks what they need to do and when projects are due for work, school, and home. The calendar should break down tasks daily, weekly, and monthly.

Graduate students can write out lists and calendars by hand, or they can turn to useful time-management apps like:

  • RescueTime: Allows users to create calendars and set reminders and recurring tasks
  • Focus booster: Helps users improve focus, track time, and avoid procrastination
  • Remember the Milk: Aids in creating to-do lists, breaking down projects into subtasks, and keeping users on target to reach deadlines
  • Trello: Allows users to organize tasks and coordinate with others in the completion of projects, as well as create lists and track work progress
  • My Study Life: Serves as a planner that tracks classes, assignments, and exams, and allows users to store professors’ contact information and office hours

Some useful steps for developing a time-management system include:

  • Mapping out scheduled and unscheduled times on a monthly calendar
  • Blocking out times for studying
  • Immediately adding important dates to a calendar

Learn Methods for Prioritizing Effectively

How does one prioritize when everything appears important? Knowing what to do, and when, can make a big difference. However, by mastering the skill of effectively prioritizing tasks, graduate students can save themselves time and direct their focus appropriately.

Overlap Work and School Goals

Students working full time while going to school should look for opportunities to overlap work and school goals. If they have an academic project, why not tie it into something they are already doing on the job?

For example, community health workers in a Master of Public Health degree program could develop an educational program about reproductive health for their job. Next, they could submit the program as an assignment to a professor, receive feedback, and make adjustments to the program when they return to work equipped with the input they received. This approach essentially allows graduate students to get paid for doing their homework. Plus, their employer benefits from “free” consultation.

Graduate students can also integrate work and academic goals by applying new skills learned in their degree programs to their 9-to-5 responsibilities. This reinforces what they have learned. It can also help them stand out as employees.

Ways to Optimize Productivity

To keep up with a never-ending to-do list, people working full time and going to school need to optimize their productivity. Graduate students can employ many techniques to help them work smarter.

Create a Workspace Conducive to Getting Things Done

Environments affect how people work. For this reason, working graduate students need to create workspaces that encourage focus and efficiency. This goes for home or office workspaces.

Having the right resources available — a strong Wi-Fi signal, a functioning printer, a fast laptop — can help ensure people with tight schedules get the most out of their time. Working graduate students don’t have time for frozen computers, constant notification chimes, or desk chairs that aggravate their backs.

Some things for working graduate students to keep in mind when creating an ideal work and study environment include the following.

Eliminating Unnecessary Distractions

Avoiding distractions is important. Achieving this might include temporarily blocking distracting websites, storing devices out of reach, using noise-canceling headphones, and notifying family or roommates that you’ll be unavailable for a period of time.

Attending to Physical Needs

People work better when comfortable. Turning on a fan, plugging in a humidifier, using an ergonomic seat cushion — graduate students should take any steps needed to bring comfort and ease to their work environment.

Staying Well-Supplied

Having what they need, when they need it, helps people stay on track. Before sitting down to study or work, graduate students should make sure they have the books, notes, reports, water, or snacks they might need to have a productive session.

Collaborate with Peers

Whether on the job or at school, graduate students may find that strategic collaboration boosts their learning or speeds project completion. Study groups, for instance, can offer important benefits that boost academic success. Brushing up on key collaborative skills, such as active listening and problem-solving skills, can make for a smoother more efficient work environment.

Useful Apps That Help Improve Productivity

Graduate students working full time can take advantage of several apps designed to help improve productivity. These apps do everything from helping users organize notes to making syncing and accessing files easier.

Dropbox

Working graduate students on the go can use Dropbox to easily move content between devices. Users can also instantly access and share files. This feature is handy when collaborating with classmates or colleagues on projects or assignments.

MindNode

MindNode uses a technique called mind mapping, a visual tool that helps people graphically organize information for better analysis and synthesis. MindNode users customize templates that allow them to organize and focus their thoughts and, as a result, work more productively when completing school or work assignments.

GoodSync

GoodSync is another storage app that easily synchronizes files. Users can also back up and restore files. This helps working graduate students organize work and prevents them from losing critical documents.

Focus@Will

This innovative app uses music and neuroscience to help users increase their concentration. The app customizes music that helps keep people from getting distracted and improves their attention span. By making slight changes to the music at timed intervals, the app keeps users engaged in their work.

Evernote

This multipurpose app allows users to take and store notes, make schedules, and collect videos and images. Working graduate students can use Evernote to make multimedia presentations, create personal checklists, and share files with classmates and co-workers.

30/30

An app known as 30/30 helps people take the breaks they need to stay alert. Users create a list of tasks, such as responding to work emails or editing a research paper. Next, they set a timer to end in 30 to 60 minutes and get to work. The app aims to help users focus their concentration for set periods of time to improve their productivity.

Stress Management

Those working full time and going to school must effectively manage their stress to avoid burnout. All the time-management and productivity apps in the world aren’t likely to deliver academic and professional success to people not taking care of themselves.

The challenging schedules and pressure working graduate students experience make self-care and stress relief indispensable. In fact, these two tools that follow may serve as the most instrumental factors in boosting productivity.

Don’t Neglect Self-Care

Busy working graduate students may think their schedules don’t allow for exercise or attention to nutrition. They may decide to cut back on sleep hours to accommodate deadlines and deal with crunch times.

While those working full time and going to school may make sacrifices on occasion, they should not see skipping rest or meals as realistic long-term options. In fact, they should avoid such compromises whenever possible, instead choosing to mindfully engage in self-care practices.

Get Enough Sleep

To maximize performance at work and in school, working graduate students must get enough sleep. Lack of sleep lowers the ability to learn new information, stay alert, and organize thoughts. It also impairs memory and can lead to mental health issues. All of these things spell disaster for those taking on the challenge of full-time work and graduate school.

By prioritizing sleep, working graduate students empower themselves to do their best.

Pay Attention to Diet

Busy people may see paying attention to their diet as a luxury they don’t have time for. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Overdosing on caffeine and fast food harms health and saps energy. Those working full time and going to school can save time and still eat a nutritious diet by simplifying how they plan meals, shop, and cook.

For example, rather than make multiple trips to the grocery store and cook each meal individually, working graduate students can plan ahead. By preplanning simple meals, cooking large batches of food and freezing them, and selecting high-quality prepared or frozen meals, graduate students can take care of their health and still save time.

Use Stress Relief Practices

Everyone needs time to recharge and release stress. Stress release practices, from focusing on the breath to reaching out for social support, can help working graduate students manage their stress.

Reward Hard Work

Busy people can take time out to acknowledge their hard work. This not only boosts their confidence but also keeps them focused on their ultimate goal, reminding them their efforts are worthwhile.

When working graduate students reach a milestone, they should take a moment to celebrate the accomplishment. By doing so, they feel good and make a positive association with their hard work.

Even small rewards can make an impact. Take time to watch the sunset while reflecting on an accomplishment. Order a gourmet dessert. Watch an episode of a favorite TV show guilt-free. Take a victory walk around the block while focusing on an achievement.

Embrace the Challenge of Graduate School and Full-Time Work

Balancing work and school can be challenging. Nevertheless, earning an advanced degree while holding on to a valued job offers undeniable rewards. With a strategic plan, students working full time while going to school can thrive.