Should I Get My Degree While Working?
Are you thinking about pursuing a college degree while also balancing a job? It can be a tough decision to make because we all know that getting a degree takes time and money.
However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently published compelling research that shows the value in getting your degree. Simply put, as your level of education increases, so does your earning potential. That same research also shows that getting your degree translates into greater job security.
We understand you may be nervous to dive into a degree while you are working, but if you decide to go for it, you should know that you’d be in good company.
In fact, almost 50% of part-time college students also worked full time in 2022 according to The National Center for Educational Statistics. Furthermore, about one-third of students aged 25 or older worked full time while attending college online.
How to Get Your Degree While Working
Managing your work schedule along with college courses requires planning and perseverance but it’s absolutely possible. These tips can help you reach your goal.
1. Consider part-time or full-time
Think about how much time you can commit to your coursework each week. Assume you’ll spend about five to eight hours a week on each three-credit course you take. That includes time spent in class and completing coursework.
Obviously, enrolling full-time will give you a larger weekly workload than if you enrolled part-time. But you’ll get your degree faster if you enroll as a full-time student.
If you can swing it, you may also consider becoming a part-time employee so you can more easily handle being a full-time student. However, that will also decrease your income and may impact any health benefits you may get from your employer.
2. Consider a virtual or in-person format
If you choose a virtual or online program, then you’ll have more flexibility in choosing when and where you complete your course work. You’ll also eliminate the need to commute to a campus, which is a time-saver. If you choose an in-person program, then you’ll have to show up to campus for classes.
If you are a self-motivated person, who excels at organizing their time, then you may want to choose a virtual program. On the other hand, you may learn better when in a real-world classroom with other students and a teacher. In that case, an in-person format is best for you.
3. Decide what stays and what goes
Chances are your life is pretty busy even without school. You may have family obligations, volunteer commitments, and other activities competing for your time.
Take inventory of how you spend your time each week and decide which activities are absolute must-haves and which you can pause until your degree is completed.
For example, you may decide that your daily run is essential to your mental and physical health. Having dinner with your family each night and attending weekly religious services might also belong in the “stay” column. However, you may choose to halt PTA activities, reduce the amount of time you watch TV, and press “pause” on the book club.
It may be hard to make these decisions but remind yourself that it’s only until you get your degree.
4. Ask your family for support
Half of students who work full time and go to college also have spouses and children at home according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Your spouse and children can be your biggest support system. Before you enroll for classes, explain to them what having a degree will mean to you and how the whole family will benefit.
Talk to your spouse or partner about the division of household chores. They may need to take on more of the housework while you pursue your degree.
Talk to your children about how they can help in age-appropriate ways. Small children can make their beds, put toys away, and clean up after themselves at mealtimes. Teenagers can be asked to do their own laundry, mow the lawn, and help make dinner.
5. Schedule study time
Study time just doesn’t happen. You have to make it happen.
Decide when you’ll dedicate time to completing assignments, reading, and studying for exams. You may decide to block 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays as study time. If you’re more of a morning person, you may prefer to study from 6:00 am to 7:30 am Monday through Friday.
You may take weekends off, or you may want to block out several hours on a Saturday or Sunday just for schoolwork.
Whatever you decide, put those times in your calendar or day planner like any other appointment you may have. This will ensure you get into the habit of studying and completing assignments on set days.
This will also help give your family some consistency. They’ll appreciate knowing that you have set study hours where you can’t be disturbed.
6. Do away with distractions
Make sure you have a strategy to avoid distractions during your study time. Leave your phone in another room or turn it off when doing schoolwork. Don’t watch TV while working.
Escape to a local library or a café to work if your house tends to be noisy. Maybe you have a friend or a sibling who will let you use their home for a few hours each week. Or you can ask your spouse or partner if they can take the kids to the park or a movie while you’re at home studying.
7. Prioritize sleep
It can be tempting to forego sleep when trying to balance work, family, and school. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. But getting adequate sleep is so important. Make sure you stick to a sleep schedule that ensures you get the rest your body needs.
8. Use PTO strategically
Have a big exam to study for? Need to finish your mid-term research paper? You may want to take a day off from work to concentrate on those large assignments.
Look at your course syllabus at the beginning of each term to get a sense of when larger assignments will be due. Then schedule your PTO accordingly.
9. Take advantage of college resources
Your college likely has all kinds of resources available to help students. Struggling with a particular course? Ask about free tutoring.
Having writer’s block? There is probably a writing center that can help you write that research paper. Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Ask about on-campus counseling or mental health services.
Your tuition is helping to pay for all of these services, so you’re entitled to take advantage.
10. Tell your boss
Getting a degree is good news for you and your employer. So, be sure to let your supervisor and your team at work know that you’re pursuing your degree.
Assure your boss that you’ll continue to handle your workload without any issues, but you may not be able to stay late some nights or assist on projects that may go above and beyond your typical duties. And remind him or her that you’ll bring any relevant knowledge learned in class back to the team so everyone can benefit.
Will Your Employer Pay for College?
Finding the time to pursue a degree while working is a huge concern for many. The other concern? How to pay for it. We all know getting a college degree isn’t cheap.
You should definitely find out if your company offers a tuition reimbursement program. Employers are allowed to offer each employee $5,250 on an annual basis to help them defray the cost of tuition. This is a tax-free benefit and doesn’t have to be paid back after you’ve graduated. Some employers will also provide additional funds to cover books, supplies and other miscellaneous fees.
Tuition reimbursement is a win for employees because it can help the average person’s college dreams become an affordable reality. And it’s a win for employers because it helps them get a more skilled and educated workforce. They also know that 80% of employees are likely to stay with an organization that offers tuition reimbursement.
However, you should know that most companies that offer tuition reimbursement have strict guidelines around who can receive the benefit.
For example, in order to be eligible for tuition reimbursement, most companies require that recipients have worked for the company for at least one year for each year they are requesting the benefit. Your company may also only approve the benefit for coursework that’s relevant to your current job. Also, be prepared to pay the money back if you leave school before you finish your degree or quit your job.
Each employer may have different eligibility guidelines, so it’s important that you speak with your employer’s HR department before enrolling in a degree program.
You Can Get Your Degree While Working
Getting your degree while working is entirely possible and can help you advance in your career and make more money.
Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.