Work Life Balance

How to go back to school as a working professional

Returning to the classroom as a working professional is far different than going to college immediately after graduating from high school. As an adult learner, you have other responsibilities — family, bills and your career. You don’t have time to drop everything and study around the clock.

Thankfully, that’s not the only way to do it. Plenty of professionals manage work and education simultaneously. One report suggests that 70 percent of college students have a job while enrolled, and 25 percent of them have a full-time position. Additionally, 19 percent of these working students have children.

Given that so many other students are balancing their studies with work, it’s clear that you can figure out how to go back to school in a way that works for you. Whether you’re a mom looking to advance your career, a service member transitioning to civilian life or any other busy adult, these simple steps could help you accomplish your professional goals.

4 Tips for going back to school while working

1. Figure out your finances

One of the most intimidating things about going back to school is the cost — especially if you already have existing loans and bills to pay off. Yet even if that is the case, you can still apply for aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are also many grants and scholarships geared specifically toward adults returning to school. As you evaluate your options, it’s wise to think about how you pace your education, because you need to ensure you maintain your eligibility. Working closely with your school’s financial aid department and leveraging student support services can simplify the process.

Also keep in mind that having a steady income makes paying for courses easier. Even if you accept financial aid, working while in school can provide reassurance that you’ll have a reliable way to make payments and minimize debt. Your organization may even offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. In fact, about half of all employers provide some sort of education funding.

2. Determine which modality fits your needs

Before jumping back into school, you may want to spend some time thinking about which format will best fit your lifestyle.

Online classes are becoming incredibly popular, but you might still have some questions about distance education if it’s new to you. Will online courses provide you the quality education you need? Will you have access to academic support?

While not all online programs are created equal, many are both high quality and convenient. University of Massachusetts Global, for example, offers an online campus where students can access real-time tutoring and tech support as well as easily interact with academic advisors.

You could also consider online competency-based education (CBE) programs. Instead of submitting your coursework at a specified time every week, you can set your own pace. This model allows you to complete as much as you want within a given subscription period.

Though these options are popular, some students still crave some face-to-face instruction. If that sounds appealing, a hybrid or blended program may be best. This format allows you to complete much of your course work online while maintaining personal contact through on-campus classes. At UMass Global, for example, hybrid students meet together once a week in the evenings and extend their learning in the online environment using tools like discussion boards and wikis.

3. Become a master of time management  

Juggling school, work and other commitments requires you to be thoughtful about how you spend the given hours in each day. One of the best ways to manage your time is to create a time budget. This method is all about identifying priorities and allocating limited resources. Start with the most important things — maybe it’s family time, school, work, exercise and sleep. Then, set aside blocks of time devoted to each of these priorities.

Once you’ve determined which items are most essential, begin to incorporate other responsibilities like chores, meal prepping and social events. If your budget is starting to look a little slim, figure out what you can delegate to someone else or potentially scale back on while you’re in school.

You won’t be able to plan everything, but knowing what a normal day and week looks like can help you keep track of your priorities and decrease your stress levels.

4. Make sure to prioritize self-care

As a busy adult, you might feel like doing things for yourself means you won’t be able to tackle everything on your to-do list. But taking care of your emotional, mental and physical needs is crucial for your health and productivity. One study published in Consciousness and Cognition found that brief mindfulness training can improve executive functioning and help people maintain focus. 

So, as you prepare for a busy time in your life, think about how you can take a little bit of time for yourself between appointments, in the morning or after work. Instead of packing every open moment with studying, try going for a walk, taking a nap, or enjoying a cup of coffee. You may need to put off some tasks to practice self-care, but replenishing your mental energy will only improve your ability to focus on responsibilities.

Bring your experience to your education

Learning how to go back to school while working may seem like a challenge, but it’s perfectly feasible with the right approach. Your journey will likely be different than a traditional student’s, but you’ll study and work toward your degree just like anyone else pursuing an education.

Now that you have some practical tips for making the transition back to higher education, you may want to start thinking a bit more about which degree path is right for you. At University of Massachusetts Global, you can choose from a wide selection of online, competency-based education and hybrid programs. Start planning your future today by exploring UMass Global's degrees and program options.



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