More alternatives to traditional full-time graduate school attendance are available now than ever before, and if you are happy with your current job, you may not have to choose between school and work. Part-time program formats include evening and weekend courses, online components, weeklong on-campus residencies, and more. Typically, students attending grad school part-time will take one to two courses a semester which can range from three to six credit hours. Attending grad school part-time may take more forethought and juggling, but there are a lot of benefits.
What’s in it for your school?
Grad schools depend on their part-time students to bring a wealth of industry knowledge and connections to their programs and classrooms. These include but aren’t limited to the ability to:
- Draw on authentic case studies for project work.
- Strengthen the relationship between their school and their organization.
- Help build bridges between academic theory to on-the-ground practice, adding a practitioner’s perspective to class discussions and projects, and offering concrete examples that help other students learn.
- Does this mean that it’s easier to get into part-time programs? Not necessarily, but you may be able to leverage your own professional experience to gain admittance. Most schools base admissions decisions on essays, recommendation letters, resumes, test scores, and undergraduate grades. If you are working in a relevant field, your resume will be stronger and for some schools this experience translates into less weight being given to your test scores or undergraduate grades in your application.
What’s in it for your employer?
If you work in a relevant field, your employer may encourage your efforts to go back to school. Indeed, if the alternative is that you quit your job to go to school full-time, your employer may provide incentives to work with you as opposed to the alternative of losing your skills and having to go through a process to hire and train someone else. In addition to a renewed enthusiasm for their work, managers and organizations are often especially excited when their employees go back to school and build skills like the ability to:
- Identify and connect broader research and trends from graduate studies to your day-to-day work and strategic planning.
- Improve their own research methodology and writing abilities.
- Facilitate new connections to your school, professors, and classmates.
What’s in it for you?
Potentially, the best of both worlds. It can mean more balance and less risk but also a much tighter schedule.
Attending grad school part-time offers some noteworthy financial benefits to students. Since part-time study means taking fewer courses simultaneously, you should be able to balance your studies with your job (whether you already have one or you’re searching for work). Employment means you can maintain a steady income during school to help offset your expenses and spread the costs of school out over a longer period of time. Moreover, as a part-time student you are still eligible for new student loans to pay for grad school, and if you take enough credit hours, you are able to defer pre-existing student loans from undergraduate study.
Employer Tuition Assistance
Every employer is different but more organizations and companies are offering employer tuition assistance. In 2018, the median dollar amount employers provided employees for tuition assistance for graduate school was $10,500. If your company offers tuition assistance as part of your benefits package, ask your human resources manager or boss about the details of the benefit and the opportunities for work-related education tax exemption. Keep in mind that any award amount over $5,250 is subject to taxation by the federal government.
If you don’t already know whether you have a tuition benefit or not, there’s no harm in asking. If no such benefit exists, your employer may still be willing to contribute to some of your tuition or fees. For instance, some employers have a continuing education budget that allows employees to go to one conference per calendar year. See if you can have this amount apply towards a class in your graduate program. If you are currently looking for work and know that grad school is in your future, you may want to inquire about tuition benefits during your salary negotiation.
Whether or not your organization offers you a tuition benefit, your employer can be supportive in non-financial ways, such as by being a bit flexible with your schedule, advising you on practical elements of course work, connecting you with colleagues in the field, and attending your graduation ceremony.
Some additional questions you’ll want to ask your employer (likely via the Human Resources Department) are:
- Are you expected to earn a minimum grade point average?
- If you miss work due to class, how is that time out of the office counted (is it ignored, or is it counted as paid time off, for example)? Do they have flex time policies that will make it easier for you to take a class during the day?
- Does the degree program have to be directly related to your organization’s (or your own) work?
- Will your organization reimburse you for the costs of tuition, or contribute directly to the tuition bill?
- Will the organization contribute to the cost of textbooks, fees, or other expenses associated with going to school?
If you like your job, you don’t have to leave it. Grad schools are often willing to accommodate working professionals in a variety of formats such as evening and weekend classes, and/or courses that are online with only occasional in-person meetings, sometimes referred to as on-campus residencies. The work you do in a part-time program is the same as you would do in traditional programs, but the part-time structure allows you much more flexibility. Additionally, you can use real projects at work as the basis for case studies in your coursework and completing your degree and continuing to work at your organization may put you in line for opportunities for advancement and promotion.
As a part-time student, working 40 hours a week and taking two classes a semester can still feel all-encompassing. You may struggle to balance your coursework with other areas of your life. An average student might be expected to read anywhere from 100 to 200 pages a week for each course and be expected to complete around five assignments with a final group project due at the end of the semester. Juggling group projects, coursework, your career, and your personal life can be tough but you learn to prioritize and simplify the different areas of your life. Everyone experiences this in grad school, whether they are full-time or part-time, working or not. Just remember, there are gradations of this effect.
Additional considerations for attending graduate school part-time
As you determine what will be right for you, here are some last thoughts to weigh as you think about attending graduate school part-time.
- Going to school part-time won’t feel like your undergraduate experience (grad school rarely does anyway) because it will be hard to get the full campus experience.
- Going only part-time means that finishing school could take twice as long—something to consider if you have personal and financial goals for your immediate future.
- Because you’ll have a full-time job, you will probably not have time for an assistantship (which can lead to reduced or waived tuition).
- Completing your coursework and readings for your classes AND completing projects for your job might be challenging. Clarify your priorities at work and talk to your professors to help you plan ahead and balance your tasks. Ask for help when you need it; professors are aware of the complexities of working and going to grad school. If you need an extension on an assignment, ask them. They want you to succeed in your program.
- You may also have to pass up on some extracurricular academic opportunities like conferences, lectures, film screenings, and other events that happen during your workday.
- You might have to persuade your boss to be flexible with your work schedule to accommodate classes. If you intend to keep your current job, inform your employer of your grad school plans as early as possible and discuss the potential impacts and benefits your studies could have for your work.
We wish you all the best as you consider whether attending grad school part-time may be the right next step for you. As always, make sure to review the specific options available for the particular programs and schools you’re interested in to inform your decision.