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How to Balance Full-Time Work and Grad School | Claremont Lincoln University
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How to Balance Full-Time Work and Grad School | Claremont Lincoln University A longer, more complete description.
News & Stories: Featured Items
How to Balance Full-Time Work and Grad School
June 9, 2022


How to Balance Full-Time Work and Grad School 

Melissa Puls, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Advancement

The decision to attend graduate school is one that you shouldn’t take lightly. It requires a considerable investment of time, money, and effort. Particularly if you work full time, you need to commit fully to achieve your goals and attain your degree. However, you are not the first person to take on the endeavor. In fact, applications for graduate admissions have grown steadily over the past decade with
more than 1.7 million grad students enrolled in fall 2020.  What success looks like for those balancing school and work varies, but there are several strategies you can use to succeed. Approach the challenge with a positive attitude, open-mindedness, and a willingness to work hard and you will find that full-time work and grad school may complement one another.


Choose Your Graduate Program Wisely

Before you attempt to balance your master’s degree studies with your career, it’s critical that you believe those academic endeavors will be worth it. Choose a program and a path that you care passionately about. While you may have been strongly influenced by peers and parents when choosing your undergraduate major, now it’s up to you. What matters most to you? You can choose a degree program that helps advance your career and builds your leadership capacities, while also helping you make a positive impact. Making the world a better place can start with you.

Another way to better balance grad school and full-time work is to choose an online program. About one-third of grad students pursue their degrees exclusively online, while another 10 percent take at least one online course. Online courses are more flexible and convenient than their traditional counterparts and are especially helpful to working adults. You can research, study, and even attend classes, in a time and place that best fits with your personal and professional schedule. 

Consider Work Peaks and Valleys

Before you enroll, be sure to understand how your work and school schedules might conflict or complement one another. Be realistic about how busy you are at work during certain months of the year, weeks of the month, and days of the week. Begin your program in one of the valleys if possible. If not, at least avoid scheduling the courses you feel will be most challenging during particularly busy seasons at work. 

On the other hand, many online programs have year-round start dates, allowing you to choose the start date that works best for you. You may also consider a university with accelerated program options that can often save you both time and money. The short-term demand will be greater, but you will finish attain your degree more quickly and be able to resume your regular schedule. Look for an online program that combines maximum flexibility with high-touch engagement in the virtual learning environment. Ask questions of the admissions team about how you can complete your assignments while working full time.

Communicate Well Throughout Your Program

From your first conversation with the admissions department, make sure you talk about your work schedule and find out if the programs are appropriate for working professionals. Even before your first class, be open about your educational pursuit and your career. Reach out to your professors and introduce yourself. Make sure they know that you work full-time. Rather than suggest that your work warrants any special considerations, let them know what you do and how your real-world experiences might contribute to classroom lessons. If you have already noted a course of interest, be sure to let the instructor know why it appeals to you. Connecting to your professor from the start is a good way to build a relationship and demonstrate your interest in what’s being taught. And if you have questions or concerns anytime during the course, don’t hesitate to speak up. Whether in class or during office hours, bring up issues early to avoid falling behind. 

Also let your supervisor at work know your plans and how they might affect your job. Instead of implying a need for special treatment, let them know what you might be able to bring to work with additional knowledge and a new perspective. And tell family and friends. The more support you have from the people who already know and care about you, the more likely you will succeed. Say yes to offers of a babysitter, dinner delivery, or carpool. You can return the favor when you have your degree.

Review Course Demands

Attend your program orientation, get to know your learning management system (LMS), and review all the syllabi for your courses. Make sure you understand how the courses will be run, what the expectations are from the start, and how you will be graded. Also, match up class times, assignments, tests, and due dates on your syllabi with an active calendar. You can use the tools within your LMS, a calendar app on your phone, or an old-fashioned paper calendar. Synching your syllabi with a calendar helps you see what is due when and how it fits with your work schedule and personal life. 

Leverage Technology During Grad School

There are numerous tools and technologies that can help you work more efficiently in school, at home, and on the job. Calendar apps, notetakers, collaboration software, and even the features in your LMS, can combine to help you be your most productive—provided you use them. Take the time to learn at least one new technology, tool, or digital research technique every few weeks. For example, you will need to write papers to earn your degree. From the start, learn how to conduct the research, filter results, and properly cite your resources. Once you’ve done it for one paper, you can do it for all of them. And those research and critical thinking skills you develop during grad school are easily transferable to your professional life. 

Set Goals in Grad School and in Work

The obvious goal in attending graduate school is to attain a master’s degree in a particular field. However, it shouldn’t be your only goal. You might want to delve deeply into a subject matter, achieve a particular GPA, or connect with like-minded professionals. Ideally, there’s also a strong connection between your work and the pursuit of your degree. For example, if you work in Human Resources, a master of arts in human resources management degree program should provide you theoretical insight and practical knowledge that you can bring to your career. Set goals for how you can take what you learn in your courses onto your job. Putting your studies to immediate use reinforces what you learn and can raise your profile on the job and in the classroom. And connecting what you learn to what you do keeps your studies relevant and helps you stay focused on your goals.

Schedule Downtime

As busy as you will be juggling school and work and family and life, don’t forget to take time out for you. Eat well, exercise, and find some time to decompress. You can’t be your best if you’re exhausted, overworked, and stressed. Don’t leave downtime to chance, though. Make sure to schedule time into each week to purposefully leave worries about work or your courses behind. Just worry about you.

Claremont Lincoln University (CLU) is a non-profit, online university delivering graduate programs embedded with the Claremont Core®, a proprietary, transformative leadership framework to empower students with equity-focused, mindful, collaborative, and compassionate tools and practices. CLU offers online master’s degrees, "for-credit" graduate certificates, and innovative team-based learning programs. Focused on positive social change and intentionally designed for the working adult, CLU provides an affordable and engaged, 100% online learning experience and community. 

For more information, please contact Leslie Patterson at lpatterson@claremontlincoln.edu.