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Many people are familiar with the concept of “work-life balance”—the ongoing struggle to keep a healthy split between time spent on your professional and personal life. For those whose who are working full time and studying full time, it’s more accurate to talk about “work-study-life balance.” While it is possible to work full time while studying full-time, these parts of your time can compete for your time and can demand a lot of your energy. That said, there are also advantages to this approach, from finishing school more quickly to maintaining your current job and the associated income and benefits.

We dig into these advantages and challenges to help you determine what work-study-life balance makes sense for you. A quick note that this article is primarily geared toward those pursuing a master’s degree, as doctoral candidates often find that their studies constitute something of a full-time job in and of themselves.

Three challenges of working and studying full time

1) Balancing your attention and energy 

It can be easy to compromise your experience in graduate school or work because you’re trying to get the most you can out of both experiences at once. Especially since you’re essentially doubling the demands and responsibilities in your life for the duration of your degree. Working full time while also studying full time clearly requires a lot of effort. Putting so much of your mental and physical energy into this uneasy arrangement can quickly leave you feeling fatigued, stressed, or both and you’ll want to check in with yourself often to help avoid burnout.

2) Conflicting crunch times

The tug of war on your time can take many forms, from schedule conflicts to an accumulation of tasks that become difficult to balance. For example, you may have to stay up late several consecutive nights in order to read 200 pages for class and finish a school assignment by a deadline that just happens to coincide with the day you need to file a report and present to a new client at work. Even if you have a fair amount of influence over your work schedule, you can’t control for everything. Often, it isn’t the big events at work or school that add up, but rather the cumulative effect of many smaller responsibilities that makes full-time grad school and work so challenging. It can be difficult to keep track of all the work-related to-dos and projects while also digesting the intricacies of readings and completing assignments for several different courses at school. Finding the mental stamina to keep it all together can be overwhelming at times—especially when these demands are added to your already busy everyday life. 

3) Maintaining flexibility in your schedule

The flexibility of your employer and your grad program are critical factors in your ability to balance the two endeavors. If your employer understands that you will have academic demands and your will sometimes require shifts in schedule or occasional personal days to deal with school-related obligations, it will make the prospect of studying that much easier. Similarly, finding a graduate program that can accommodate some of the requirements of your work life can make a big difference. That said, finding out that your boss won’t let you shuffle some work hours so that you can attend a 12:30 p.m. class twice a week is not something you want to discover after enrolling. It’s best to start talking with your managers about your graduate study plans early, while also researching schools that offer worker-friendly programs (evening or weekend classes, online courses or components, and part-time options). Even if class schedules appear to complement your work schedule, be cognizant of the scheduling issues that can arise from out-of-the-classroom requirements, such as field research, practical experience components, or group projects. 

Given the fatigue and stress involved with studying and working full time, it’s important to recall your motivations for taking this approach, and to regularly evaluate your ability to continue at this pace. If you are really finding it too much to handle, remember that it’s usually possible to reduce your course load once you’ve started your studies, in consultation with your advisor and program director. Keep in mind that shifting the number of credit hours you take each term may also shift your eligibility for some financial aid and impact the time it takes to complete your degree.

Three advantages of working and studying full time

1) Keeping your job and full-time salary

Continuing to work full time allows you to maintain your job and the salary and associated benefits while also progressing in your studies. You may rely on your job for your own or your family’s health insurance, or you may need the income from full-time work to support yourself and afford grad school. Your salary may also help you avoid taking on considerable debt. Additionally, you may enjoy your job and feel that staying involved there is part of your overall career trajectory in addition to your degree.

2) Applying your learning at your job and in the classroom

Going to grad school at the same time you are working can facilitate connections between theory and practice. As opposed to time in grad school feeling like a break from the professional world, you can bring your learnings from the classroom into your workplace and vice versa. This can also ground your experiences in graduate school and help you see the ability of your studies to advance your skills and thinking more immediately. 

3) Completing your degree in less time 

Studying full time enables you to complete your degree in less time than pursuing your degree part time. If you elect to work full time while pursuing your degree full time, you will also not add years by taking time off while you’re in school. Given this, taking on on school full time alongside full-time work can be efficient if completing your degree quickly is a top priority for you. 

The decision to pursue full-time study and work can be highly personal and subjective. While the prospect of working and studying full time may seem too much to some, it may suit your personal ambition and abilities much better than a part-time approach. We leave you with some important next steps to complete as you determine how to balance your studies and work life. 

Action steps:

  • Obtain a course schedule from your target programs to see what sorts of schedule conflicts present themselves with your current work schedule. If the conflicts are numerous, part-time study may be a better option for you.
  • Speak with current students in your programs of interest who are working while studying full time. Ask them about how they’ve been able to strike a balance and what challenges or advantages they’ve found from their experience. To get in touch with current students, reach out to the admissions office. 
  • Based on your research, create a hypothetical schedule for yourself. Do you find yourself planning down to the minute to make everything fit? Does it excite you or feel daunting to have so much on your plate? Consider these questions as well as what you need to feel set up for success in your work and academic life. 


Interested in learning more about what graduate school can do for you? The Idealist Grad School Fairs are free and open to all students who are interested in a social-impact career. Learn more about Idealist Grad School Fairs taking place this fall and start planning your future today.