By Jess Scherman
The notion that attending college is some leisurely stroll through four(-ish) years where students’ only concerns are completing coursework and figuring out what fun things they’ll do on the weekend is changing rapidly.
While that description might still fit the experience of many students, a sizeable portion of college students need to work full time to make ends meet.
If you’re unwilling to let anything block you from achieving your career and educational goals, the best thing you can do is learn from those who have walked the path before you. That’s why we canvassed a number of working professionals who experienced the pressures of working full time while in school. Take a look at their can’t-miss tips.
1. Create a designated study workspace
Create a space in your home that can help foster optimum learning. “Learning spaces should be clean and organized, ideally decorated with warm paint colors and comfortable seating areas,” explains Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute. “A desk (or kitchen table) and chair is a must for healthy body positioning for writing and working on a computer.”
Malson also suggests that incorporating elements like a bulletin board you can populate with important deadlines, inspiring photos, or encouraging quotes can assist in creating a mindful environment that is tailored to your personal goals and motivators.
2. Prioritize organization
When you wear a lot of different hats, it can be easy to lose track of some of the moving pieces from the varying responsibilities you have to juggle. This is where organization can play a crucial role, suggests Candess Zona-Mendola, editor of MakeFoodSafe.com. “You need to know where everything is,” she says. “Put things away where they belong. Charge your laptop and cell phone every night. Keep your supplies well stocked, so you don’t need to stop what you’re doing to [replenish].”
If you haven’t previously utilized planners, now might be the time to buy one. “Planners are extremely useful, but are not used enough—especially for someone managing full-time work and school,” maintains Amanda Raimondi, lifestyle expert and writer for Grapevine.
3. Become a master of your time
Time is never more precious than when you’re balancing the responsibilities of working full time and earning a degree. “When you choose to go back to college and have a career, you have chosen ‘the path of greatest resistance,’ and your time is at a premium,” explains Scott Vail, owner of C4 Communications.
To succeed within high-stress circumstances like these, he urges students to be purposeful of how they spend their time. “You must schedule everything—class time, study time, recreation—if you want to be successful over the long haul,” Vail adds.
Even if procrastinating has been your tendency in the past, Zona-Mendola advises to avoid it at all costs if you’re also balancing full-time work. “Get stuff done right away. Have a whole semester to write a paper? Start writing it as soon as you know enough about the subject, whether it’s the first week or halfway through. Turn it in right away. The professor will be happy about it,” she says.
4. Leverage your natural tendencies
Malson believes that one of the greatest services a student can do for themselves is to truly get to know their habits as a learner and learn how to use them to their advantage as they work toward earning a degree.
“If you are a planner, make sure you allocate blocks to complete the program work during the time of day that fits your schedule,” she says. “If you are a night owl or a morning person, plan to use this to your advantage, knowing what hours you are most alert.”
5. Take care of yourself
Zona-Mendola worked as a full-time paralegal while working toward her bachelor’s degree and paralegal degree simultaneously, and she had a hard time prioritizing self-care when she was in the thick of it all. “I went many nights without sleeping and lived on energy drinks. I would also forget to eat,” she recalls. “Don’t be like me. I wore myself down and got sick often.”
Something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep can make all the difference amid your flurry of day-to-day responsibilities. She also recommends scheduling even just an hour a day to destress by reading a book or watching an episode of one of your favorite Netflix shows.
“You may think it’s a waste of time, but having a break every now and then will actually make you more efficient in your daily tasks,” explains Alayna Pehrson, content management specialist for Best Company.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Competent communication skills seem to top nearly every list of tips to be successful in just about any realm. But when it comes to balancing college and full-time work, communication truly is key. “Having an open communication system with your managers and professors can help you,” Pehrson says. “Make sure you and your professors and managers are all on the same page. More often than not, they will want to help you when you are feeling overwhelmed with your workload.”
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
The first time that consultant, speaker, and author Masudi Stolard pursued a degree, it took him 16 years and three different universities to complete it. After shifting his mindset, refocusing his goals, and learning how to study properly, he was able to later earn his MBA in just two years.
One of the most pivotal changes he made was learning to ask for help when he was struggling academically. “I can’t tell you the number of times I had to swallow my ego, swallow my pride and get additional help from a tutor or through a study lab,” Stolard recalls.
Tutoring services can be an invaluable tool for college students. Through the use of tutors, Stolard was able to better grasp the concepts his professors were teaching in class, and he even discovered a few shortcuts related to his subject matter that he wouldn’t have known had he not sought help.
8. Trust in your abilities
Another element Stolard views as crucial to a successful college experience while working full time is consistently choosing to believe in yourself. If you doubt your abilities, he says, you’re more likely to burn out.
“Trust in yourself enough to believe you can balance both work and your education,” Stolard encourages. “Trust that you are aware that both are equally important. Trust the decision you made to move forward with both responsibilities is the right one.” He adds that being intentional about keeping your family and close friends tuned into the benefits that await you upon graduation can help them offer you some extra encouragement along the way.
9. Celebrate small wins
Even as you focus on the major doors that could open for you professionally after earning your degree, don’t forget to celebrate all of your small achievements along the way. “Getting to the degree can be a monumental (and time-consuming) accomplishment. Stop focusing on the big victories, like completing an entire semester, and instead start to string together small wins, like getting an ‘A’ on your test,” Vail explains. “Celebrate turning your paper in on time. Celebrate making it through a tough week or month,” he adds.
10. Remember your long-term goals
“This, too, will end,” Zona-Mendola urges, nodding toward that all too common instinct to throw in the proverbial towel when it feels as if this stressful chapter of your life will never end.
“In the moments when you feel like giving up or giving in, remember that this lifestyle isn’t forever,” she adds. When she looks back at her long few years in college while working at her full-time job, she knows how tired she was and can recall the weight of the sacrifices she had to make at the time. But what she remembers most prominently is how hard she worked to achieve a goal—one that was pivotal on her personal road to success.
Power through the adversity now, Zona-Mendola recommends, so you can reap the numerous benefits that await.
About Rasmussen College
Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college that is dedicated to changing lives and the communities it serves through high-demand and flexible educational programs. Since 1900, the College has been committed to academic innovation and empowering students to pursue a college degree. Rasmussen College offers certificate and diploma programs through associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in seven schools of study including business, health sciences, nursing, technology, design, education and justice studies.