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So you need more school if you want to advance in your career. But you need to work full-time if you want to pay for school. Many professionals face this conundrum sooner or later, and more and more are opting to return to school without sacrificing their day jobs, usually through part-time, online postgraduate programs.
Going back to school while maintaining a full-time job adds a whole pile of stress to your life, putting your schedule, finances, personal life and mental health on thin ice. But it's possible to manage all of it without driving yourself up a wall, as long as you have a plan.
Tell Your Boss
First and foremost, let your manager know that you're planning to return to school on top of your existing job. Most bosses will be supportive – your continued education benefits them, as well, by equipping you with the skills and credentials you might need to take on more responsibility and move up the ladder in your company. Business Professor Scott Hammond said in a Rasmussen College blog post that it's only fair to give your manager a heads-up about your impending workload increase. He added that your boss might even consider formally recognizing or promoting you after you graduate. On top of that, many companies offer tuition assistance, which might be worth exploring.
Yes, you can manage this, but it won't be easy, and there will be sacrifices. Monster points out that students who are also working full-time simply can't expect to get eight hours of sleep and three full meals a day, plus regular free time for hobbies and loved ones. You will at times have to give up sleep for your studies, and still make it to work on time the next day. Your weekends might not include as much restful family time as they used to, now that you reading to catch up on and exams to study for. Still, if you map out your responsibilities before school starts and create realistic expectations for your time and work capacity, these sacrifices won't catch you off guard. Create a (realistic) schedule and stick with it, and you'll have a much easier time juggling your responsibilities.
Integrate, When Possible
Whenever you can, connect your school life to your professional life. Thomson Reuters suggests integrating real-life work scenarios into your coursework, and when applicable, applying lessons from your courses to your work in the office. The benefits of school can seem vague and far-off at times, but if you're able to weave your educational and professional lives together, your reasons for pursuing a higher degree will seem more tangible. This strategy also makes you a more effective student and employee, and it might just save you an existential crisis, too.
Control Your Situation
You can't control your professors, but you might be able to control which classes you take. You can't control your program's credit requirements, but you might be able to control how many credits you take at any given time. As suggested by Fast Company, if there's room for you to make your situation a little easier or more manageable, take advantage of it. Research your prospective professors before enrolling in courses to get a feel for which ones are the most demanding, and perhaps choose a more relaxed professor. If you have to take a class that's particularly difficult, consider enrolling in fewer courses during that term. Remember that your career is not a race. Pace your education so you can succeed in your classes, at your job and in your personal life.
Find a Team
You don't have to do this alone, and frankly, you shouldn't. Get to know your classmates – even if only virtually – and join study groups, if you can. Build camaraderie, because chances are, you'll have to lean on some of your classmates or colleagues when you get overwhelmed at work or find yourself stuck on a particular subject or project. And these folks might need to lean on you at times, as well. Take help when you need it, give help when you can and remember: You have people on your side.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, California, and she holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University.