Going to College While Working Full-Time

textbook, virtual class, coffee

How to Be Successful in College While Working

Going to college while working can sound daunting, whether you’re years into your career or just getting started. Indeed, you must put a lot of time and effort into your studies. Finding that time when you’re already working forty or more hours a week can be difficult. However, it is not impossible.

Many non-traditional students start or return to college every year. These students may be over 25 or have a job or family. Basically, they’re over the usual age group of 18-23 and have begun their professional lives.

Every non-traditional student has their own reasons for not attending college right after high school. Maybe they weren’t sure about what career they wanted or already had a job in mind that didn’t need higher education. Alternatively, these students may not have had the money or opportunity to attend. Whatever the reason, they face unique hardships when they enroll.

Non-Traditional Students Face Non-Traditional Struggles

Namely, non-traditional students often can’t put the rest of their life on hold. They may have started a family or must rely on their own income. They still have to deal with those responsibilities when the semester begins. Going to college is stressful enough. Going to college while working full-time and raising a family is a big undertaking but one that is worth it. Indeed, individuals may get passed over for raises or promotions due to their education. Earning a degree can improve their professional prospects.

Unfortunately, many non-traditional students drop out due to stress and lack of time. According to a study of students who enrolled in 2011, only 48.9% of non-traditional learners graduated after six years versus 64.7% of traditional ones.

Despite these hardships, non-traditional students make up around 40% of the student population. Often, they’ll return to find better job opportunities, increase their pay, or pursue a new career. In some cases, these students simply want to enrich their knowledge and understanding of new concepts.

student going to class virtually

8 Tips for Going to College While Working Full-Time

So, how can non-traditional students prepare for college? A lot of it comes down to planning. Taking on too much at once can lead to burnout, leading to dropout. Taking on too little can delay your graduation to the point where you lose out on a big opportunity.

Going to college while working will take time and effort, but there are ways you can ease the journey. Below, we go over some tips for success.

Know Your Limits

Before enrolling, it’s vital to evaluate how much free time you have available. What responsibilities must you complete daily, weekly, and monthly? Additionally, what free time are you willing to sacrifice? You may have weekends off from work, but maybe you enjoy spending time with family or friends on Saturday, and you do all your chores on Sunday. Can you or are you willing to spend that time on homework and studying instead?

There’s no shame in recognizing that the best time to go to college isn’t right now. Going to college while working requires planning.

Schoolwork will not and should not take over your entire life. But not spending enough time on it can result in poor grades and not being able to pass a course. As a result, you’ll need to spend more time and money than originally planned to finish your degree.

Alternatives to Traditional Enrollment

However, even if you aren’t able to enroll full-time, you do have other options. Instead of enrolling in four courses this semester, you can try going part-time. Of course, this method can delay graduation and affect financial aid options. But if it’s your only option, you should take advantage. Alternatively, you may consider an online school.

Today, many colleges offer online courses and programs. There are even universities that operate entirely online.

Accredited online schools allow students to attend class when they’re able to. Notably, you won’t have to rush to campus for lectures or worry about missing class. You can still earn your degree if your only free time is during your lunch break or the middle of the night.

Online universities make it easier to attend college while working. However, it’s important to note that these programs still have structure. You’ll need to set time aside to meet weekly deadlines.

Talk to Your Instructor(s) and Your Employer

If you’re attending college while working, you should let your instructor(s) and employer know. These conversations allow you to manage expectations and can benefit you. Indeed, many employers will be happy to hear that you’re pursuing higher education. A degree provides you with many new skills and allows you to take on new roles at your organization.

You can start a larger discussion about your goals by informing them that you’re pursuing higher education. Namely, let them know what you plan on doing with that degree. What roles or responsibilities are you eyeing in the organization? Additionally, don’t be scared to let them know how this affects your availability. If your job involves rotating shifts, let them know when you won’t be available. There may also be unexpected benefits. For example, you may discover that your employer offers tuition reimbursement.

Similarly, talking to your instructor helps you in various ways. Mainly, they will be more prepared if you need an extension. They’ll also be able to firmly set expectations for extensions ahead of time. For example, the latest you should contact them, how long of extensions they provide, etc.

Set Realistic Goals

An important part of going to college while working is goal setting. When you look at your current schedule, how many classes do you think you’ll take each semester? While bachelor’s degrees are often referred to as four-year degrees, graduation statistics are often looked at in a six-year time frame. Indeed, an estimated 58% of students take six years to graduate. The average time spent in college is fifty-two months, almost four and a half years.

In short, you shouldn’t feel bad about needing more than four years. Thousands of other students are in the same boat. Give yourself the time you need. It will give you a higher chance of success and prevent burnout.

Similarly, semester-to-semester, you will enroll in courses of varying material. Some you’ll excel at, and some you’ll find incredibly difficult. When facing new and confusing classes, getting stuck on your GPA can be easy. However, there are far more important things than earning 100% across the board. You should measure success by your progress and new skills, not by a letter grade.

In truth, this concept is hard to digest for many. Some were raised never to bring home a grade lower than an ‘A.’ Thus, seeing a paper come back with even an 85% can hurt. This mindset results in the internalizing of bad grades, higher stress, and lower graduation rates. It’s important to break free of it early on. Set realistic goals for yourself in each class.

adult students in a lecture hall

Create a Study Space

Whether you’re studying online or on-campus, coming home to your own study space is important. This place in your house can be a quiet corner in the kitchen, an office, or back patio. Regardless, you should have an area to study and do homework.

Of course, a study space will look different for everyone. Those who attend college while working may use their lunch break to do homework. Parents must keep an eye on their kids, and babysitters aren’t always accessible. If possible, you should have your spouse, family member, or babysitter available during your study time. Children old enough to understand should be informed of what you’re doing.

If you don’t have the luxury of having someone watch over your kids, consider using smaller chunks of time. Indeed, essays don’t have to be written all at once. Studying is actually more effective if done in shorter and regular periods. Use what time you have.

Know When to Take Breaks

If you attend college while working, it’s important to know when you’ve hit a wall. Perhaps you’re working overtime or multiple jobs. Maybe a big life event like an illness, pregnancy, or move is taking over your free time. Just as it’s important to use your PTO, taking time off school as needed is vital.

Most universities offer students the ability to take a leave of absence. During this time, you remain a student but aren’t enrolled in any course, nor will you pay any tuition. Notably, your college may have different rules for how long a leave you can take. For example, most will set a limit of one year. If you go over that time, you may have to re-enroll later. A year is often enough for students to refresh and prepare for their next step.

Set a Structured Schedule

One important aspect of finding success is maintaining your study schedule. Indeed, setting up your study space is one thing. But if you never use it, you won’t get anywhere. You must set up times for when you’ll be studying.

Notably, you should try to study at the same time every week. This structure will help you adapt to that schedule quickly. Also, there will be less worry that you may be busy that day – it’ll be your set study time. As we mentioned before, these study periods can be as long or as short as you can manage. Perhaps five days out of the week, you only have time when waiting for your kids at the bus stop. Don’t push everything to the weekend. Instead, use that time to fit in reading, homework, and studying. Then you’ll ease the workload over those last two days.

Of course, something can always happen that will interrupt your schedule. Maybe your kid is sick, or perhaps you’re sick. Regardless, your next step should depend on how much time you have for the rest of the week. Can you make up those hours? Or do you need more time? Thankfully, most professors understand that life can get in the way. If your schedule is interrupted, consider reaching out and asking for an extension.

Use Your College’s Resources

Your college may offer resources to non-traditional students. Notably, some major schools have daycare services or a babysitting network. You may also find a host of support groups or clubs of students in similar situations. Also, many colleges provide study and writing resources and tutoring as part of tuition. If you haven’t studied for an exam or written a paper for a while, they can help you get back in the swing of things.

The school might also provide a success coach or advisor to help you on your journey. These professionals can help you find those resources. Additionally, they can assist you with making a schedule, figuring out study methods, and overcoming the obstacles you face.

Burnt out student going to college while working

Build a Support Network

Our final tip for success while studying in college while working is to build a support network. Support networks provide several benefits and can take various forms.

Your support net may include babysitters and helpful family members or friends if you have children. These individuals are the ones who can show up and take care of your kids while you study, do homework, or take an exam.

Your coworkers or supervisor may also become part of your network. Indeed, these individuals may take over some of your responsibilities, cover a shift, or even provide information about resources in the company. Some of them may have gone down the same path as you. They could have helpful information to help you succeed at both work and school.

Furthermore, your classmates and peers will greatly add to your support network. Who knows better than what you’re going through than those who are going through it with you? Try reaching out to people in a similar boat. Indeed, you can support each other and provide encouragement as you pursue your degree. As we mentioned, you may find these individuals in clubs or events tailored to non-traditional students.

Of course, don’t forget about your partners, family members, and friends who can cheer you on and remind you to take breaks. One of the most important people in your support group is the one who reminds you to take care of yourself.

Final Thoughts

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more