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Work Life Balance

Firsthand advice for taking online classes while working full time

Working and Taking Online Classes

If you’re already working full time but have plans to further your education, it can seem daunting to add another big responsibility to your plate. Fortunately, higher education institutions have adapted to the demands of busy adult learners by offering online options that don’t sacrifice quality or engagement.

These distance learning opportunities allow working professionals the ability to engage in coursework, research and study when it suits them. It’s estimated that 70 percent of U.S. college students work while in school.

If you’re still apprehensive about taking online classes while working full time, rest assured. Many successful professionals have achieved just that by making a few important attitude and lifestyle adjustments.

5 tips for successfully balancing working and going to school online

Read along for firsthand advice from professionals who’ve been in your shoes, plus other helpful tips for taking online classes while working full time.

1. Communicate with loved ones

Committing yourself to earning an online degree is exciting news that you’ll be eager to share with loved ones. It’s also important, though, to have open and honest conversations about how this new development will impact your other priorities and commitments.

As you begin studying and finding your new rhythm in your online program, it will be important to be extra diligent in defining and communicating changes to boundaries in your personal, professional and academic lives.

This is something University of Massachusetts Global graduate Cortney Angeley found crucial to her success. When she went back to school to earn her MBA, she found that being transparent about her new schedule was a helpful approach.

“I had to be honest with my family, friends and coworkers that I would be MIA until this was done,” Angeley says. “My social life had to take a pause, and I would typically take at least one three-day weekend a month to help me stay on top of my assignments.” Setting these boundaries and getting buy-in from your loved ones upfront will help you gain their commitment and support as you achieve your goals.

Here are some examples of what healthy boundary-setting and expectation management could look like:

  • “I can’t respond to work emails after 7 p.m. That time is reserved for studying. I’ll get back to you first thing in the morning.”
  • “I know I normally do the shopping, but I have a heavy homework load this week. If I plan meals and make a list, could you go to the store instead?”
  • “Please keep inviting me to events and hangouts. It makes me feel included even if I can’t always attend.”

2. Make a schedule and stick to it

Being able to plan out your time to juggle competing priorities is extremely important for a successful working student. Follow these simple guidelines to help make a schedule you can stick to.

  • Set daily goals: Sometimes when you’re doing so many things at once, it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve accomplished. Setting attainable daily goals and meeting them consistently will boost your confidence and motivate you to continue your healthy habits.
  • Know your deadlines: It’s helpful to maintain a list of upcoming deadlines that you can work backwards from to ensure you leave yourself ample time to complete each task. You might not have large portions of uninterrupted work time, so plan accordingly.
  • Create a dedicated study space: Not everyone has access to a secluded office, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on having a dedicated space for you to study. Even if it’s just a simple setup, having a comfortable place where you regularly go to study will help you snap into the right mindset when it’s time to hit the textbooks.
  • Use your calendar to block and plan time: Everyone knows how to use a calendar to keep track of meetings and obligations, but it’s equally beneficial to reserve chunks of time for yourself. If you plan ahead and block out several hours to work on a specific project or task, you’re much more likely to actually do it.
  • Take notes and keep them in one place: If you’re constantly scribbling reminders on receipts and scanning your calendar, email inbox and text messages, consider a more streamlined approach. Whether it’s a master list on your laptop, a dedicated app on your phone or an old-school lined notebook, keeping all your notes in one place is a simple but effective way to manage information.

3. Leave space for self-care and rest

You might see this advice and think, “Easier said than done!” And you’re absolutely correct. But taking care of yourself is necessary to be successful as a student and an employee.

All humans — even busy ones — have emotional, mental and physical needs that can’t be ignored indefinitely. Self-care means different things to everyone, but the important thing is to do things that make you feel relaxed and fulfilled.

If you never make time to relax, move your body and pursue hobbies or interests outside of work and school, you’re on a fast track to burnout. Science has proven that chronic lack of sleep can lead to an alarming number of adverse effects on mental health and executive functioning.

4. Take advantage of student support services

All universities offer some degree of student support resources, but not all students are fully aware of them. Make sure you do your research about what types of services are available to help you succeed and take advantage of them.

For example, adult learners entering the classroom after a long hiatus might feel insecure in their academic writing skills. Or they may be anxious about choosing the right major and figuring out how many classes to take in a term without getting overwhelmed. This type of guidance is often offered at universities with a strong emphasis on student support.

It was these helpful resources that stood out to University of Massachusetts Global alumna Haley Pollock after having a poor experience taking courses at a community college. Without proper direction from an academic adviser, she accumulated unnecessary credits and was left navigating her path to graduation on her own while working full time as a chief financial officer.

“UMass Global advisors got me a plan for my entire program — mapping out the classes I needed to take to graduate on the timeline I wanted,” Pollock says. She feels taking advantage of these resources is what allowed her to finish her degree in about a year and a half.

5. Collaborate with your employer

Your relationship with your place of work will likely evolve as you go back to school. A sensible employer who truly cares for the wellbeing of its staff will recognize that an employee who is dedicated to furthering their education is an asset to the company. If that’s not enough reason to schedule a chat with your boss, keep in mind that some organizations actually have programs and initiatives that will help pay for your tuition.

For University of Massachusetts Global graduate Darrin Grondel, coordinating with his employer was essential to earning his doctorate degree. In addition to raising a large family, he was also traveling extensively for work, which is why he felt it was important to clearly communicate his needs to his employer and loved ones.

“Sign a contract with your family, friends and employer to have them support you through the program,” Grondel advises. “Commit yourself to the program and know what you will gain after you are finished.”

Find success in work and school

You now have firsthand proof that it’s possible to find success taking classes online while working full time. With planning, transparent communication and a lot of diligence, you can earn your degree while continuing to succeed at work.

It helps to find a school that is built for busy students just like you. At University of Massachusetts Global, 90 percent of students work while completing their program. You’ll have the support you need to earn your degree from application through graduation.

For additional guidance in navigating your distance learning journey, check out our resource, “Becoming an online student: The adult learner’s ultimate guide.”


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