Many individuals struggle in their attempts to figure out how to balance full-time work and studying for a new career. It’s not unlike finding yourself on a tight rope strung across the Grand Canyon. You’re not sure if you want to laugh or cry, but you at least know you can kiss sleep goodbye.
Juggling the demands of 40 hours a week… Well, maybe more like 50 or 60 or 80… Well, you get the point. Adding anything at all to that may seem impossible at first glance. It will seem overwhelming at first, but by the time you finish your degree normal life will seem like snail’s pace.
Let’s break out the evil word from the get-go – organization. Yes, I said it. The only way to get through the hectic period is to embrace your inner Type A. Grab the sticky notes, highlighters, calendars and labels and get ready to learn the secrete difference between those that breeze through with a 4.0 and those that barely survive.
Your major challenges will be time management, keeping track of projects, and managing some time for yourself. As a result, there will be some sacrifices. There will be days that dishes don’t get done or date night has to be skipped, and even entire weeks where your existence will become an urban legend to your family. But if you keep the lines of communication open and follow some tried-and-true strategies, you will soon learn to juggle this crazy life.
There are a few things you should do before you even register for classes. Sit down with the course catalogue and be realistic about how much you can handle on top of your work week. If your job is willing, ask about shifting hours or dropping to part time. If they aren’t, and your budget can’t afford to go to school full time without working, then prepare for graduation to take a little bit longer.
To estimate how many classes you can handle at a time, do some simple mathematics. Yes, I said the M-word, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Simply start with the number of hours you will be required to be at work per week, add the number of hours you will physically be in class, and add a minimum of 2 hours of study time per hour of class. While the study time can be moved to the weekend, work and class generally can’t. Make sure that you still leave a realistic amount of time for sleep (6 hours a night or you just won’t function), meals (3 a day please, and minimize the junk food), and chores around the house.
As an Academic Advisor, I generally advise no more than one class at a time if you have a set 40-hour work week. You just don’t have adequate time to study and retain the information you’ll be exposed to. If your job is willing to work with you and cuts your hours back, just remember to add at least 6 hours per week of study time for the typical 3 credit hour course, and even more for labs.
Once you’ve selected your classes, get a family calendar. This can save many a headache (and the heartache of missed recitals or parent-teacher nights) by keeping you aware of where everybody is in their lives. I prefer a large organizer I can carry with me, and each family member has an assigned color. Jot in the time and location, and the color tells you who. Make sure to put your work hours and class times in, and then select and ink-in your 6 hours of study time. If you treat your study time like an appointment, you’re less likely to put it off.
Which brings me to my next great tip on how to balance full-time work and studying for a new career – do not procrastinate. Ever. For any reason at all. Once you fall behind, it becomes sprinting on a treadmill going faster than you can run. As soon as you get that syllabus the first day, make sure you mark every due date and exam on that massive family calendar. If your instructor lists the chapter numbers that will be included on each exam, mark “due dates” for having read and studied each chapter, making sure to leave at least a few extra days before the exam for last minute studying.
The next great idea for how to balance full-time work and studying for a new career involves socializing. Making friends in every class you take will help you balance, especially if they are also working while going to school. Not only will making friends help make classes more entertaining for you, but if they are good students as well, having an extra point of accountability will help keep you on track with your own studying. And of course if you form a study group that meets at a set time every week, you will be motivated to keep up with your studying. Yes, put this on the calendar too.
The final, and most important tip on how to balance full-time work and studying for a new career, is to ensure that you keep time for yourself in the schedule. If you have a hobby you love to do or an activity the whole family enjoys, keep it in the schedule if at all possible. Make one night a week family dinner that is never skipped, or maybe take an elective pottery class just because you’ve always wanted to.
Be sure to reward yourself for every success as well. Each exam passed is a hard-earned mile marker toward your success and should be treated as such. Just remember, the Freshman 15 weight gain is really for each class, each semester, the whole career.