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.

Plenty of professionals manage work and education simultaneously. In fact, being an adult student actually has some advantages. At UMass Global:

  • The average age of our students is 36
  • Nearly 90 percent of our students work while completing their programs
  • 56 percent of our graduates are parents

    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

    Given that so many students are balancing their studies with work, it's worth figuring out how to do the same. Consider these simple steps that could help you start your journey.

    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. 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, make sure to carefully consider the pace of your education. For many kinds of federal aid benefits, you must be enrolled at least half-time (six credit hours) to 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.  

    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

    There is a learning curve to studying while working, but it's well worth the effort to figure it out. 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 and competency-based education programs. Start planning your future today by exploring UMass Global's degrees and program options.

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