Balancing Full-Time Work with a Part-Time Degree
Do you have any articles on your site about doing a part-time grad program and full-time work? - @gradspotguru Twitter follower
The answer is no—but let's see if we can rectify that here, because it's a great question that we've heard from several people recently (coincidence?) in different variations.
Let me first point out the obvious: funding grad school can be a major challenge, and we support any effort to ensure that don't graduate with boatloads of debt. But by the same token, it's important to be realistic about how much responsibility you can juggle while still making the most of the education you seek. Besides reading through our graduate school articles and checking out some ways to make money even when you don't have a job, take some time think through the pros and cons of balance full-time work with part-time grad school.
First Things First: Is It Even Possible?
While part-time MBAs are quite common, part-time medical school is not something you hear of very often (if ever). Before you even consider pursuing a degree part-time, make sure that it is actually an option. This article provides some good questions to ask as you're investigating how flexible a particular program is and what resources you may be missing out on if you don't enroll full-time.
In addition, it's unlikely that you'll be able to full grants and scholarships if you are not a full-time student. And if you can swing a free education, it's pretty tough to pass that up.
Pros to Full-Time Work
If you can pull it off, there are many benefits to working full-time through your studies.
Avoiding debt. We've all heard the horror stories of grads crippled by debt. Heaping on grad school bills before you've paid off undergrad is not an attractive option for anyone. Having a full-time job will obviously ease the burden significantly, and if you're lucky you may even be able to afford to live in a real apartment and eat food that doesn't say "just add hot water" on the instructions.
Improving your marketability. Diversifying your skill set and creating a story are essential to standing out in front of employers, so staying in the job market and gaining career experience while you accrue further academic credentials will certainly benefit you moving forward. No degree can guarantee you a great job when you're done, so staying employed can provide nice safety net.
Getting tuition benefits. Depending on the type of program you're enrolling in, you may be able to work for the university you're attending in the capacity of a researcher, lab assistant, teacher, etc. In many cases, this work will garner tuition benefits—not a bad way to finance your degree by any means. Also, if you are in a job that encourages a graduate degree, inquire about ways in which the company can help you pay for school, and whether or not it's encouraged to continue working while you get your degree.
Note: One person who spoke with who has successfully balanced a job with school told us this: "The most important part of working while in school is to make sure that the employee has a healthy understanding with the employer. The employee needs the flexibility to do his/her school work—even if it means doing some while at work. The employee/student really needs this flexibility or else it will lead to both burnout and an unhealthy life-work-school situation. "
Cons to Full-Time Work
As one blogger points out, "working full-time and taking two classes is harder than taking three classes and working occasionally." We don't doubt the truth of that. Here are some drawbacks of the part-time approach to schooling.
Burn out. If doing your schoolwork means that you risk getting fired, you're in trouble. If doing your job means you can't keep up with your schoolwork, you're not getting the most of your degree. Many say that working while going to school is the equivalent of holding two full-time jobs, so you better be prepared for a tough slog. (Note: many graduate programs, including some law schools, require students to take classes through the summer, so you may not even be able to get a break from the double-grind during those months.)
Work-life balance. On a similar note, working and going to school is almost certainly a recipe for zero social life. And while we don't suggest that anyone should ever go to grad school to relive their undergrad days, meeting new people and networking with people in your field of choice is all part of the graduate school experience. We've heard that students who work through their degree tend to be a bit older and have more perspective on what they're doing. That can be a good thing, but will working mean that you miss out on the "grad student experience" completely? In addition, you'll limit your ability to attend symposiums, go to conferences, etc. This may hurt you in an academic field, but could be ok if you're getting a more vocationally-focused degree.
Losing a job. If you really like your job and have the potential for advancement, it's worth considering how juggling school will affect your prospects. On the flipside, if you're going to school as part of a career-shifting move, throwing yourself into it full-time is advisable. Summer internships are often a key aspect of turning a degree into a job, and if you already have a full-time gig (that you eventually want to leave), there's almost no way you'll be able to pursue internships.