10 Tips for Juggling a Career and Online Classes
In previous generations, going to college was typically considered a rite of passage for young adults fresh out of high school. In the modern educational system, times have changed, and more than ever adult students are returning to school later in life to complete a degree or learn new skills.
While colleges across the country have implemented programs to support their changing student body, adult students often face additional challenges when working towards a degree. For many of these students, working full-time and building their career goes hand in hand with completing their online classes.
Whether you need to work throughout college for financial reasons or you want to get your foot in the door of a new career field, there’s no doubt that juggling a job and college coursework takes some extra planning and determination. Luckily, many schools offer online degree programs that cover a broad range of fields – making it easier for working adult students to manage the demands of their employer, schedule, home life, and education.
Tips and Tricks for Balancing Career and Online Schooling
Whether you have a full-time, professional career or you are working part-time to make ends meet, having a plan before enrolling in your online classes is essential for success. Starting an online degree program can be an excellent first step to meeting your long-term goals, and by considering the following list of tips, you can set yourself up for success without being overwhelmed by a hectic schedule.
1. Consider the Pros and Cons
Before you take the first step towards enrolling in an online degree program, you have to consider the pros and cons of what life will look like when juggling the demands of work and your education. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:
- What benefits will I get from my online degree?
- Does my current job offer flexible scheduling?
- Is this field of study something I am passionate about?
- Are there in-person requirements to my degree program?
- Will my boss allow time off during finals and mid-terms?
- Can I afford to cut back on working if needed to balance the demands of school?
Although online classes allow you to have a flexible schedule, the curriculum used is just as rigorous as traditional, on-campus courses. To avoid getting in over your head, be realistic about your goals, schedule, and work environment when deciding if an online degree is right for you.
2. Stay Realistic about your Schedule
After making a list of pros and cons and deciding you are ready to pursue an online degree, the next step is to get a handle on your daily schedule. It’s easy to say that you’ll do your coursework before bed or on the weekends – but will you really be up for it after a long day at work?
Look at alternatives for balancing your busy schedule, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Possible solutions may include working longer shifts to get more time off, working on your lunch breaks, or creating a detailed daily routine that you follow in order to commit time each day to your education.
3. Keep your Manager in the Loop
Communication is key in the work environment, and talking with your boss about your decision to return to college is a smart idea for a smooth transition to your new schedule. Many workplaces are willing to be flexible when it comes to educational commitments, and you may be surprised about the willingness of your employer to work with you.
Another aspect to consider with your current employment is financial aid. Some organizations offer tuition assistance for their employees that may be able to help offset some of the costs for advancing your education.
4. Make a Time Management Plan
Having a plan for how you will manage your time is vital to help you stay on top of your coursework. After you have enrolled in your classes, thoroughly read the syllabus and get a good understanding of the assignments, projects, and deadlines of the course. This will give you a heads up for times that will need to dedicate more to your studies.
After you know what will be expected of you from your online classes, it’s time to make your schedule! By writing out your work schedule and school deadlines in one place, you can pencil in specific times that you will be able to focus on completing your coursework.
5. Focus on Long-Term Goals
When you are under the immediate stress of dealing with work and starting school, it can be easy to lose sight of your long-term goals. Before going back to school, it can be helpful to make a list of your goals and reasons for getting your degree. Are you going back to school to get a promotion at your current job? Would you like to learn the skills needed to enter into a new career field?
Keeping the reasons for working towards your online degree in the forefront of your mind can help give you the motivation you need to keep going. Being a working adult who returns to school can be challenging, but it also has the potential to make major positive impacts on your future.
6. Utilize your Work Breaks
This goes hand in hand with creating a time management plan and talking with your boss about your schooling. There are many ways to think outside the box and slowly chip away at your coursework so you don’t miss any important deadlines. In some situations, management may allow you to bring your schoolwork to the job so you can work on it on your scheduled breaks throughout the day.
To avoid the challenges of focusing on school while at work, it’s helpful to have a plan in place beforehand. Write out a schedule for what you can realistically accomplish during your break time, and make the effort to meet those goals to help cut down on your course load while at home.
7. Create an Efficient Workspace
For most people, being able to focus on their studies for a lengthy period of time requires an environment conducive to studying. One of the best ways to get the most out of your limited study time is to have a specific area of your home set up for your schooling. Whether it’s a separate office or a small study space set up in your bedroom, make it an environment that can be free of the distractions of daily life.
When arranging your workspace, make sure that you have everything that you will need easily at your disposal so you don’t have to waste time searching through a cluttered desk. Organization goes hand in hand with efficiency, and spending some extra time at the beginning of the year to make your work area appealing can end up saving you a great deal of time and stress in the long-term!
8. Apply your Knowledge to the Workplace
Just because you are still in school doesn’t mean you have to wait to start using the new skills you are learning in your courses! If your current place of employment is related to your field of study, you may be able to start moving up in your career even before graduation. There’s nothing more motivating to continue working hard on your degree than being able to see the fruits of your labor!
Regardless of your current job responsibilities, a solid work ethic and motivation to go above and beyond can go a long way. Many of the skills you will learn in general classes can be applied to any job – from having a better understanding of human behavior to communications or mathematics skills.
9. Embrace your Support System
Having a solid support system in place can make all the difference in balancing your career and your coursework. Take your loved ones up on their offers for help, and don’t be afraid to reach out to those who care about you – even if it’s just to get comfort and support after a particularly tough day!
Additionally, many colleges offer student support services to their online students. These services can range from virtual academic advising and tutoring to peer mentorship and career support. When researching schools, be sure to ask your admissions officer about the various support services in place for untraditional students.
10. Schedule Time for Self-Care
There’s no doubt that meeting the demands of your job and completing your coursework are the top priorities as a working adult student. However, you will quickly burn out with an overbooked schedule if you don’t take time to care for yourself as well! When making your schedule, include time where you can take a break, explore your passions, and have some fun along the way.
Going back to school as a working adult has its challenges, but the flexibility of online classes can help to ease the burden of managing your schedule. With a little advanced planning and a strong support system, you will be able to get through your degree program and take a giant leap forward towards reaching your long-term goals.