Balancing your courses, homework, exams, studying, and your social life can be a real challenge when you’re a college student. Now, imagine if you will, dealing with all of those things along with a full-time job. This might sound like an abject nightmare, but for one reason or another, it can be a fact of life for some. Make no mistake, working full-time while going to college is incredibly difficult, but it’s not impossible. Nowadays, many schools offer special programs and online classes that working adults can take advantage of, which can make things a bit easier. Here are some strategies to help you survive college while working full-time.
Create a Schedule
When juggling your coursework with a full-time job, it’s important to be organized; every move you make should be well-thought out and deliberate, so you don’t waste any valuable time. Before your classes start, take the time to create a schedule. One way to do this is by using a program such as Microsoft Excel; however, you can choose whichever format works best for you.
Your schedule should be as detailed as possible. Include your work schedule, classes, and any appointments or important events. Additionally, you should block out time for studying and homework, while making note of any breaks in the action such as your winter break or spring break. These breaks are extremely important and if you use the time wisely, they will save your sanity.
With a schedule in place, you can more easily anticipate deadlines, exams, and other important dates, while planning your days accordingly. When things are all mapped out, you’ll be far less stressed, there will be fewer surprises, and you’ll know in advance when you’re going to get some much-needed breathing room. Check your schedule often, and make adjustments whenever necessary.
That schedule you just put together won’t do a thing for you unless you stick to it. In other words, you’ll have to stay vigilant as you ward off any distractions. Everyone is different, and as such, the form of their distractions will be entirely unique to them. That said, the worst offenders are the kinds that we can control—we’ll call these “self-imposed distractions.” Examples of some self-imposed distractions are televisions and smart phones, as they can be easily avoided by simply turning them off during times of deep thought and concentration.
Once you’ve identified your potential distractions, be consistent in avoiding them during study time. Let’s say you work eight hours a day from Monday to Friday and you’ve blocked out Saturday afternoon for homework and study, but a friend calls asking you to go to an afternoon movie. In this scenario, stick to your guns and explain that you’ll have to catch up with your friend at a later date. For the best results, turn any devices off while you’re studying, only checking them during break periods. Remember, you’re planning for your future, and the people in your life should understand that.
Since you’re working full-time, you should have access to at least some paid time off, which can be a huge advantage. It’s best to leverage your PTO whenever you require additional time to prepare for an exam or put some finishing touches on a major project. It’s important to communicate with your employer, and give ample time in advance whenever taking off.
There’s a trick to maximizing your time off from work using your PTO. Let’s say your job is closed for a holiday on a Friday. Here, you could take off that Thursday or the following Monday, effectively turning a three-day weekend into a four-day weekend. When creating your schedule, take note of such instances, especially when they line up with important school dates. Another great way to leverage your PTO is to use it simultaneously during winter break or spring break, giving you up to an entire week to recover from the madness.
Along with your PTO, you could take advantage of your lunch breaks at work. Of course, you won’t be able to tackle any particularly time-consuming projects, but you can certainly review material, make an outline for an assignment, or refine your schedule. On the other hand, your lunch break could also be a great time to take a nice power nap, as your mind and body are being stretched to their limits. You could even do both—put in the extra time when you’ve got the energy, and rest when you need to recharge. I can personally attest to this strategy, and that extra hour per day will add up as you juggle your job and school.
Take Care of Yourself
You might think that working full-time while going to school means you can’t have a social life, which is partially true, but as you make your way through this enormous challenge, you’ll get a feel for when you can take the time to relax and have some fun. In certain scenarios, your PTO could also be an advantage when planning a night out or a short trip with friends—just make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row and that taking the time off won’t have any negative effects on your grades or your work.
During the difficult moments, always remind yourself that this is only a temporary situation, and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Make the effort to take care of your physical and emotional health, including communicating with friends and family, getting plenty of rest, and eating right and exercising. This will help you maintain the energy levels required to survive this endeavor. Most importantly, give yourself props because you deserve it. When all is said and done, you’ll be a stronger person, and a master at utilizing your time and energy.