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Six Tips for Balancing School and Work

Going back to college? If so, don't quit your day job just yet. More and more students are finding they can stay employed during school by using flexible education options such as evening coursework, weekend schooling, and online classes. In fact, according to a January 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, the number of students taking online courses in Washington State has leaped seventy-five percent since 2004. However, even with today's adaptable schooling choices, balancing schoolwork with your career may be tough. It typically requires lots of foresight and self-discipline. Here are six handy hints to help you strike the perfect balance between your school life and your work life.

#1: Talk to Your Employer
Your decision to attend school shouldn't be a secret. To help your boss understand your reasons for attending college, explain that your degree can benefit the company by:

  • Increasing your productivity
  • Broadening your skill set
  • Raising your management potential
  • Boosting the company's community image

Numerous businesses also offer tuition reimbursement for qualified workers--in fact, CBS News states that nearly fifty percent of private firms provide tuition aid programs. If you wish to know whether your employer has a tuition assistance plan, simply ask your human resources manager.

#2: Manage Your Time Wisely

You can shun job burnout and poor grades by carefully organizing your schedule. First, if you do not have a day planner, you should buy one right away. Use your planner daily to record your work hours, homework assignments, exam dates, and social events. Avoid procrastination at all costs by setting realistic goals and following through with them. If you can, set a strict limit on your work hours to ensure that your job does not impede your schoolwork. During exam week and heavy homework periods, plan to work even fewer hours if possible.

#3: Lower Your Stress Levels at Work

Nerve-racking jobs can quickly sap your energy, making it difficult to finish schoolwork during your free time. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to lower your on-the-job stress levels, such as:

  • Leaving during breaks: rather than sitting next to your computer during break time, take an invigorating stroll outside
  • Communicating with your co-workers: by talking with your fellow employees, you can both blow off extra steam and help your day pass more quickly
  • Creating a happy place: if your workplace allows it, bring pictures of your children, pets, or favorite vacation spots to hang on your desk or wall
  • Changing your job description: if your job still creates too much stress for you to complete schoolwork, consider switching to a more relaxing job within your company--depending on your job duties, you may also consider working part time or freelancing 

#4: Keep Your Loved Ones in the Loop

Since combining your full- or part-time job with your coursework may initially feel overwhelming, call on your family for emotional support. First, explain your need for study-time privacy. To underscore the point, you can convert a spare bedroom or quiet nook of your house into a private office. Also, if tuition costs squeeze your family's budget, trim luxuries such as shopping splurges or summer vacations. Make sure that your loved ones fully understand the importance of tightening your family's budget to reap the long-term benefits of your college education. Lastly, keep your family involved in your studies, whether that means sharing fun facts at the dinner table or inviting your spouse to a school-related field trip. Besides helping your family understand the value of your schoolwork, involving your loved ones can make them feel more deeply connected to your life.

#5: Take Advantage of Financial Aid
Financial aid may let you cut your work hours, which can free up study time. To learn about your school's available scholarships, contact your college's financial aid counselor. In addition, browse private financial aid Web sites like the Financial Aid Resources scholarship page or the Fastweb search engine. You might also check for scholarships with local community, religious, and ethnicity-related groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). If you're interested in government-based student loans and grants, file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), which distributes money to students based on their economic status. Some federal awards, such as Federal Pell Grants, do not even need to be repaid.

#6: Use Your School's Resources

You should strive to build a wide network of classmates and professors: it could be a vital step toward improving your career. For example, your professors may prove to be wonderful professional references. Also, your classmates may not only be great study buddies, they might also become important job contacts or even future business partners.

Remember that your college's many on-campus resources can save you time and money. For instance, your school may offer cheap bus passes to enrolled students, which can help you fight high gas prices. Or, rather than using a private gym, you might take a quick run around the campus track or dip into the school's swimming pool between classes. Additionally, your school's library may feature a wealth of free-use literature, journals, newspapers, and information technology.

Also, your college's career services office can still assist you long after you've graduated. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, almost twenty percent of U.S. universities offer comprehensive job-search programs for their alumni, which could prove invaluable in today's tough job market.

"Back to School For Career Advice," Wall Street Journal
"Best Employee Perks," CNN.com
"FAQs: FAFSFA on the Web," FASFA
"Students Flocking to Online Study as a Flexible Way to Work for Degree," Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"The Hunt for Money," CBS


Publish date: February 10, 2011