How to Balance Full Time Work and College
Going to college, working full time, and maintaining some semblance of a life: As big of a bite as it is, people chew it all the time.
Sure, that doesn’t make it any less intimidating, especially when the story is your own. You already know working 40 hours a week comes with challenges. Then you toss into the mix the desire to pursue a college degree? Well, it has the potential to get downright messy.
It isn’t at all impossible, however. You can manage your full-time job, your college courses, and your full-time life—and still have time to breathe. It’s a matter of how you choose to organize the moments in your day.
The yin and yang of working and going to school
Like anything else in life, going to school while working full time has pros and cons. You just have to make a decision about what you want, and then stick to that path.
Think about how fast your pre-college schooling went. In the blink of an eye, you were marching in your high school graduation ceremony or taking your GED.
Well, that’s the same thing that will happen here.
When you do both school and work, it may seem like it’s taking forever. But in the scheme of things, it’s going to be a blip on your life’s radar.
How to balance work and college
No one is saying it’s going to be simple, but it doesn’t need to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, either.
Staying on top of things and organizing your time will be the key to survival while balancing your life.
Expect it to take more than a minute to find your center, even with each and every different semester. Don’t get discouraged if managing both work and school feels rough at first. It’s normal to need some time to get in a groove.
Some work/study sanity-maintaining tips:
- Always remember why you’re working toward a degree.
- Keep sight of your goals, both long and short term.
- Days off are made for studying.
- Set your alarm an hour or two earlier to catch up on homework (or to just have a moment of quiet).
- Let your work know that you’re taking classes. They will likely work scheduling in your favor—and may even foot some college bills!
- Have audio copies of your textbooks. You can listen to them while in the car or at work (if your office that allows earphones while working).
- Budget in some relaxing “me” time into your week; you’ll need it.
- If and when it’s possible, take online courses.
- Bring your school books everywhere, in case you’re able to fit in some moments to study.
- You’ll need to make sacrifices to fit things in. For example, if you’re torn between watching your favorite hour-long show or meeting friends for a quick dinner, set the DVR and head out!
- Try not to get frustrated when you’re having an off day; remember, this too shall pass.
Balancing college and work when you’re a parent
Whether you’re going to school to advance your degree or to get your first diploma, your career opportunities are limitless—and how you do school is almost as open. Many options allow you to get your degree either fully online or through a hybrid online course, which combines in-person classes with online courses, a very convenient way to go. Or you can go to a physical facility for everything.
Out of many, here are a few career options with fast-paced and flexible programs for you to consider:
- Registered Nurse: This career can be rewarding both emotionally and financially. You have three ways to become an RN. You can choose among a certificate (16-22 months) through an approved nursing school, an associate degree (two to three years), or a bachelor’s degree (four years), but many hospitals do require their RNs to have a bachelor’s degree. To work as an RN, you must be licensed, so you’ll be taking the NCLEX-RN. Expect your salary to reflect somewhere around the median, which is more than $68K. The top 10 percent of the profession earns more than $102K. The registered nursing field will see a faster than average employment growth through 2026, which means there will be almost 440,000 new positions available.
- Medical Billing or Medical Coding: Medical billing and medical coding are two separate careers that often get lumped together. They may live in the same house, but they have different rooms. These careers fall under the medical records and health information systems heading. A certificate (typically one year or less) or associate degree (two years) is necessary to enter the field, and both can be done entirely online. You could also choose to go through a physical program at a community college or trade school. The median salary for both careers is in the high $30Ks, and the top 10 percent are earning close to $63K. In this particular industry, there will be close to 28,000 new positions opening through 2026.
- Dental Hygienist: Dental hygiene is one of the highest paying trades, and it’s known to be highly satisfying as well. Dental hygiene programs usually take one to three years to complete. Community colleges, technical schools, and colleges all offer dental hygiene programs. Every state will require you to become licensed. The median salary for your new career is close to $73K, with the top 10 percent of your peers bringing home more than $100K. Dental hygiene is projected to experience a 20 percent growth, with more than 40K new positions opening through 2026.
- Cosmetology: To start a career in the beauty field, you’ll attend a trade school or beauty college (usually under 2 years to complete), and you will need to take a licensing exam to work as a cosmetologist. Once you graduate and have your license, you’ll work as an apprentice for up to 2 years. This is where you will learn all the ins and outs of salon life. The typical hourly salary is less than $13, but you can double your pay through tips. There are more than 87K new positions expected to be open through 2026.
- Medical Assistant: If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, you’ll need to complete a certificate program. These can take up to one year, and you can find them through community colleges and trade schools. You’ll earn a median annual salary of $32K, with the top salary reaching over $45K. Through 2026, 184K new positions will be opening, so if you have the proper training, you’ll easily find a job.
- Paralegal: To work in law, you should go after an associate or bachelor’s degree. An associate degree is the most common path, and it only takes two years if you go full time. You can take either online or physical courses if you’re getting your paralegal degree. You’re looking at a median salary of $50K, but if you specialize, you could make more. Your peers in the top 10 percent are earning an average of more than $80K. A much faster than average employment growth is expected, with close to 42,000 new jobs opening through 2026.
- Lawyer: Depending on where you are in your educational career, it could take you up to seven years to become a lawyer if you go to school full time. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, expect another three years of learning. Your program must be accredited by the American Bar Association, otherwise you won’t be permitted to take the bar exam. To get into law school, you will need to pass the LSAT. The median salary for lawyers is $118K, with many in the top 10 percent earning much more than $208K. Average employment growth is expected for this career, with 65K new positions opening through 2026. However, many attorneys will become self employed.
- Massage Therapy: Massage therapy programs are, on average, 500 hours of both practical and hands-on learning. Some programs may have 1,000 hours or more of education. Typically, that translates to seven months to a year of schooling. Most states have some sort of regulations in place for massage therapists, so check with your state to find out more. The exam you’ll need to pass is called the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx). You can expect to earn a median annual salary of $38K, with the top end leaning more in the $70Ks. This career will see a huge employment growth through 2026, with more than 42K new jobs opening.
- Early Childhood Education: To work as a preschool teacher, you’ll first need to get an associate degree (two years). While many public schools require their educators to have a bachelor’s degree, you will still be able to find a job through private preschools. States require licensing for teachers that needs to be renewed every three years. Expect a median salary of more than $28K, with the top pay being over the $54K mark. Average growth is expected for preschool teacher employment opportunities, with more than 50K new positions opening through 2026.
- Pharmacy Technician: Some pharmacy techs get trained on the job. You can also go to a community college or trade school through the pharmacy tech program. Online options are also available. It takes up to one year to complete the program if you attend full time. You’re looking at a median annual wage of $31K, with the high-end salary reaching $46K. There will be more than 47K new positions opening through 2026.
So, take a deep breath, have faith in yourself, and reach for the stars. Using some of these practical tips and mixing them with your drive and determination means you’ve got this!
To find a broader list of career options, check out our programs page.