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Going to grad school full-time (while working part-time, if at all)

When people talk about going to graduate school, sometimes they automatically think of going to school full-time while working only part-time (if at all). If this is your case, please keep in mind that part-time options are becoming more and more available. If you choose to go to school full-time, here are some things to think about.

Who goes to school full-time?

Full-time graduate students come from a variety of situations. They may be:

  • people who have recently relocated to attend school, whether from out of town or even from another country.
  • people who are eyeing career changes and are new to the field.
  • people anxious to advance in their chosen field.
  • recent college graduates who are continuing their education soon after completing their undergraduate studies.

How is going to school full-time different from going part-time?

While you will likely spend more time on campus as a full-time student than you would as a part-time student, you still shouldn't expect graduate school to closely resemble your undergraduate experience. Academically, the vast majority of your courses will be in your degree field, you won't be spoon-fed departmental deadlines, and your classmates will likely have a diversity of experience under their belts. Read more about other differences between the college experience and grad school.

For more differences between going full-time and part-time, keep reading! Full-time study has its benefits and downsides vis-à-vis attending school part-time.

What are benefits of going to school full-time?

Here are some of the benefits of going to grad school full-time (compared with going part-time):

  • You will be able to immerse yourself more completely in your studies and the graduate school environment.
  • You won't be distracted by a job and its professional demands (unless you plan to work while being a full-time student).
  • You may finish your degree sooner, which may help you reach your professional goals more quickly.
  • You may hedge against tuition increases over time by finishing faster (but since cost hikes don't tend to be drastic, this is of marginal benefit).
  • The faster you finish your degree, the sooner you may see a higher salary or a better or faster Return on Investment (ROI) . To find out if this is probable for your field and degree area, speak to alumni of your program, or to professionals already in the field.

As a full-time student, you may take on research and teaching assistantships in your department (which may help cover tuition costs). Spending most of your time in school, you can get to know your professors and classmates better, which has great potential for future networking.

If you work only part-time (or not at all) while in grad school, you will have the time to immerse yourself fully in classes, research, and unique opportunities like fellowships, events, guest lectures, and film screenings. You also should have more opportunity outside of class or the library to relax, have a social life, or pursue other interests.

What are downsides of going to school full-time (compared with going part-time)?

You may be more strapped financially for the time you are in school than classmates who work full-time. You may have to take out more student loans, which will affect your financial outlook upon graduation. This can also mean you may face more pressure to land a good-paying job as graduation approaches because you will need the money.

As a full-time student, school can become all-encompassing. You may struggle to balance it with rest of your life, even though grad school does this to everyone, whether they are full-time or part-time, working or not. Just remember, there are gradations of this effect.

A campus can feel removed from the world of direct service work, which troubles some students.

Another potential downside faced by some students is the transition from the practical world of service to humanity or the planet into an environment that can seem like work in ivory towers. You may take courses now and then that are so theoretical that you have a hard time caring. If you have left direct service work on an issue of great importance to you, you may be frustrated that your new life involves writing papers and studying for exams—far removed from making change in your community or affecting the lives of people in need. This can be hard, but by choosing courses that have strong relevance to your field you can help alleviate this tension.

Professional ramifications exist as well. If you already work in a relevant field, taking time away may have a negative impact on your professional status. Without simultaneously working in the field, you may have a harder time networking, and it will be harder to immediately apply your new knowledge from classes. You can find summer internships and other projects to meet some of these goals. You must also make a more serious effort to network with classmates and professors. Try to ascertain where your classmates and professors worked before coming to this graduate program, where they are headed, and who they know. What research and professional interests do classmates and professors have? Grad school should give you an opportunity to expand your network as well as your knowledge, so take proactive steps to cultivate new connections while maintaining your existing links.

Conclusion and further resources

In the end, your decision to attend grad school full-time or part-time will have to be based on your personal weighting of the aforementioned variables and considerations. Many benefits exist for full-time graduate studies, but there are also some downsides. It's up to you to decide if it's best to go to grad school full-time, part-time, or at all! If you are flexible—willing to go to school full-time or part-time—you maximize your options for choosing a program. Many programs allow you to alter the pace of your studies mid-degree, so if you are inclined to try full-time first, you may be able to switch to part-time if it proves to be too much.