If you’re currently employed and considering a graduate degree, you may anticipate having to make a choice between school and work. But, stick with us and you’ll see that you have more options than you think.
There are plenty of alternatives to traditional full-time graduate programs, including evening and weekend courses, online components, and weeklong on-campus residencies. And while it may take some extra planning, there are many benefits to going to grad school part time. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons.
The benefits of going to grad school part time
Your work experience is beneficial to you and your school. Grad schools depend on part-time students to bring in their industry knowledge and to proactively make the connection between their work and what happens in the classroom. This includes the ability to draw on real-world scenarios for projects and adding a practitioner’s perspective to class discussions. For these same reasons, your time in the workforce can also give you an edge when applying for graduate programs.
Part-time enrollment means you can maintain a steady income during school. Having the ability to work while studying will help you offset grad school expenses, as well as spread those expenses out over a longer period of time. And did you know that even if you’re working, you may still be eligible for student loans? You can also defer pre-existing loans if you take enough credit hours.
Your employer might provide tuition assistance. Many organizations now offer employer tuition assistance for graduate students. If your organization offers it as part of your benefits package, ask HR for the details. You should also do some research on your own, looking into any opportunities for work-related education tax exemption. Keep in mind, however, that any award over $5,250 is subject to taxation by the federal government.
If you like your job, you don’t have to leave it. Graduate programs are often willing to accommodate working professionals in a variety of formats, such as evening and weekend classes and/or online courses with only occasional in-person meetings—sometimes referred to as on-campus residencies. Additionally, completing your degree while maintaining your current employment may put you in line for advancement and promotion opportunities.
The downsides of going to grad school part time
You may experience burnout. Whether you attend school full time or part time, feelings of overwhelm are common for graduate students. Even though it’s considered part time, working 40 hours a week and taking two classes a semester can still feel like a lot, and you may struggle to balance your coursework with other areas of your life. Juggling group projects, homework, your career, and your personal life can be tough—and it may be better to wait before taking grad school on.
You won’t be having the same experience. Going to grad school part time means less exposure to the grad-student lifestyle and opportunities. You’ll miss out on some extracurricular activities such as conferences, lectures, film screenings, and other events that happen during your workday. You may also have to pass up interesting assistantships (which are often another way to help reduce tuition costs) due to other pressing work commitments.
Earning your degree could take twice as long, or longer. Most graduate programs can be completed in 18 to 24 months when going full time, but if you’re on a part-time schedule, that could easily mean 36 months, or more. While this extended program of study may make things easier financially and allow you to keep your job, it could delay your career goals.
Your job may not be as supportive as you’d like. Completing coursework and readings for your classes and also performing well at work could be challenging. You may have to negotiate a more flexible schedule with your employer in order to accommodate your school responsibilities. If you intend to keep your current job, inform your manager of your plans as early as you can, and discuss the potential impacts (including the positive ones!) that your studies could have on your work.
Still wondering whether continuing education may be the right next step for you? Be sure to take a look at our article Should I Go to Grad School? | 5 Good Reasons.