So you’ve decided that you’re ready to make your next move and start a graduate degree program—but your days are already packed with full-time work commitments. You may be wondering, “Can I really manage grad school and continue to work full time?”
The short answer is “Yes.” But as a full time professional, you have to be prepared for the realities of long days and competing responsibilities. Luckily, there are many options available. In some respects, there are actually some benefits to pursuing that degree while working.
What is the best schedule for me?
Adding “earning a degree” to your to-do list will mean that you need to make some schedule adjustments. Luckily, many grad programs—and, increasingly, jobs—provide flexible scheduling options. Consider which of these is most realistic for you in terms of time management and cost:
- A part-time program. This schedule will allow you to take a class or two per semester, and might work better for those not in a hurry to complete their degree, or in cases where there are just too many scheduling conflicts with your job. If your job has certain times of year that are busier than others, this might be a good option for you as you can adjust your courseload accordingly.
- A full-time program. The major advantage to a full-time program is that you will complete the degree sooner. While a full-time schedule can seem daunting, according to a 2015 study, 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week. If your degree program is directly related to your current job, you may find it helpful to have that immersion in the field that a full-time program offers.
- An online program. Online degree programs oftentimes offer the most flexibility. However, you will not have the traditional experience of interacting in-person with professors and other students. Make sure the program is accredited and be aware that although most employers now accept online degrees some may still have a bias toward traditional degree programs.
One of the benefits of working full time while pursuing your degree is that your employer may cover some of the cost. It’s important that you discuss this in advance with your HR manager to learn about eligibility. Some things to keep in mind:
- In the U.S., employers can contribute up to $5,250 tax-free toward an employee’s education each year. But you will have to pay the university upfront and wait for reimbursement.
- In most cases, you must show that the coursework is related to your job in order to take advantage of tuition benefits.
- You may need to have worked at the organization a certain amount of time before you qualify for this benefit. Similarly, you may be required to stay a certain amount of time after getting your tuition reimbursed, or have to pay it back (if you switch jobs before that designated date).
No matter your schedule, it’s important to get a handle on time management and self-care early on. This will help you avoid burnout and fatigue. A few tips:
- Try to leave any work issues at the office and switch your mind to student mode in the classroom. Surprisingly, you may find that a benefit of going to class after work means that you can no longer bring your work home with you.
- When scheduling classes, be sure to take into account your various commutes at different times of the day.
- Remember that your degree shouldn’t come at the expense of sleep and healthy habits. Whether at work or in between classes, carve out a few minutes to take a break.
If you research your degree program options thoroughly, make the most of any employer cost-sharing, and are proactive about setting realistic schedules for yourself, graduate school can be both doable and beneficial to your career.
Pro Tip: Want to explore your grad school options? Come see us at one of our Idealist Grad School Fairs!
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Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.