Back to School: Juggling A Full Time Job … and Courses

How to Juggle Grad School and a Full Time Job | CorporetteIf you’re working full time and go back to grad school, how can you manage everything? How can you become adept at juggling a full time job — and courses? Reader C wonders:

Not sure if you’ve covered this before, but could you do a post on balancing full-time jobs with part-time graduate school? Any tips on maintaining sanity/social life/health/relationships would be appreciated.

Congrats on going back to school! We’ve talked about how to adjust your budget for grad school, but we haven’t talked about the adjustments you need to make for your social life, health, and relationships. I have a few ideas, but I’m curious to hear what the readers say. (Pictured: College at Oxford, originally uploaded to Flickr by jimmyharris.)

– Know your priorities in life. Right now you’re juggling school and work — high priority family may be in the mix as well (a husband or partner, a sick family member, a child).  There are also all those other relationships — your friends, your dates, your acquaintances. Oh yeah: you may also want time for yourself. You really need to ask yourself what is most important to you and your goals in the long term. When conflicts come up, then you can refer back to the priorities list.

– Know your priorities in school. You need to pay very close attention to what kind of grades and extracurriculars you need to make the most of your new degree (and the time and money you’ve invested in it), and prioritize those. I would even go so far as to say that for some degrees, if you can’t put your school first (even though you’re going part-time), you shouldn’t go at all. For example, if you get bad grades in law school, your career prospects are incredibly limited, especially in this economy. On the other hand, in some degrees the focus is on networking. (I’m thinking of my MBA friends here, where half the benefit of the degree really was getting to know other MBA students). In still other situations, your focus should be on extracurriculars, such as internships you get through the school, publishing opportunities, and more. The trick is knowing how you want your resume to look when you get out of school.

– Don’t apologize for having priorities. Everyone does. The trick is to communicate clearly and honestly with your friends and family about those expectations. “I can’t come, I have to study,” or “I’d love to come out on Friday, but I need a date night with my significant other.”

Some of our earlier posts may be helpful to you as well: how to manage your time, what to eat when you have no time to eat, how to relax, how to look great the day after the all nighter, and (you know, if you have time:) how to have a social life, and how to date when you’re superbusy.

Readers, have you had to juggle a full-time job and part-time grad school? What are your best tips?


  1. :

    What’s the consensus on the Express Editor’s pants? I’m still shopping to get a starter wardrobe ready before I start my BigLaw job in October. I’m not sure if they are appropriate or not? They are on sale plus I have a promo code so they would be pretty inexpensive but I don’t want to buy them if they will fall apart in 2 months.

    • The Editor pants are a solid pair of pants for a starting wardrobe. Obviously not the best fabric, but I think they are fine when you are starting out. As long as you have another suit in a nicer fabric as a backup that you can wear for meetings, I would get the Editor Pants.

    • Rose in Bloom :

      I have several pairs and they have lasted a long time, but I wouldn’t wear them except maybe for a casual Friday in a casual firm. The pairs I have are very form-fitting, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing them to work at my firm. That may be just how they fit me as I am curvy through the hips.

      One other thing to note is that the thickness of the fabric has differed from pair to pair. My thicker pairs look much more professional and are less form-fitting.

  2. It looks like several posters missed the thread on a meet-up in Dallas tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 15th at Pappasito’s in Richardson around 6 pm. So, hopefully this is posting early enough for all the Dallas ladies to see it and make plans. How do we want to recognize each other when we arrive? I believe TX Attny is confirmed to attend as well. If you click on the link in my name and go to the “about” page, there is a picture of me, so if nothing else, I’m recognizable.

  3. Cornellian :

    I did full-time joint degree with part-time working and my tips would be:

    -figure out a mode of transportation that works each semester, and be willing to invest money. Some semesters I had to work downtown, live east of town, and go to school north of town. It turned out that the bus system was actually the answer. Other semesters biking or driving made sense. But lost time on commutes can really add up.
    -throw some granola bars in your bag. my body’s food schedule never matched my law school’s break schedule which never matched my grad school’s break schedule which never matched my breaks at work. Figure out a snack to tide you over for a few hours.
    -pick a half day (ie 5 pm – bed one day, or every saturday until 2 pm) to spend with your SO doing you stuff. Some weeks that was cleaning the house together with music, but it made it easier. related: find some cheap date ideas!

    • No Problem :

      I also just graduated from a part-time degree while working full time. I agree with a lot of Cornellian’s suggestions. A few I would add:

      Food is going to be difficult. My classes were always in the evenings from 6-9 pm, smack in the middle of dinnertime. This meant that I always brought food with me to class. Sometimes it was 2 granola bars and a banana, other times it was a full meal. But I never could make it through class without eating something. Did this mean I ate too much fast food (mostly Subway or Potbelly’s)? Yes. But did I have time/energy to cook and pack a meal most of the time? No. Food may also be difficult the rest of the week. If you’re used to cooking every night when you get home from work, guess what? You don’t have time for that anymore. You’re going to have to either employ workarounds (takeout, frozen food, etc.) or give more cooking responsibilities to your spouse, responsible teenager, or roommate. You will probably eat less healthy during the weeks when you have class. You will probably gain some weight. It’s okay for this to happen.

      Make sure your employer supports you. By this I mean that you need to make sure you are able to go to class, meet with planned study groups, and do your homework. All of my coworkers knew I was doing school part time and if I ever needed to say “I need to leave at 5 pm to get to class” there was never an argument. I would never have said that to just go home and do homework, though.

      Be prepared to take some leave time from work each semester. Unless you’re either super efficient at using your time outside of work and working ahead on bigger projects (or you have a very limited social life), there will be a few times when you will need to take a half day or day off to finish a paper or project or study for a test. Some of my classmates were lucky to have jobs where they could do homework during work (they had no billable hours requirements and if work was slow they could spend time on school stuff until it picked up again), so they didn’t have to do this.

      Just accept that your social life will probably take a hit. Most part time programs still operate on normal semesters and have breaks, though, so plan your bigger social outings or vacations on breaks between courses. It may also be difficult to plan or take vacations because of your school schedule.

      A lot of what I’ve said is really the downside to doing school part time, but I really think there are a lot of positives to it as well. First, I didn’t have to take out any loans to pay for school because I had a full time job to pay my living expenses. I paid for classes with savings (from both before I started grad school and money saved while in school), money from my company’s tuition reimbursement program (I treated this like a revolving fund; money reimbursed went right towards payment for the next semester), and tax credits for tuition payments (they max out at $2k/yr). I probably never would have gone back to school if it had involved a significant amount of debt. Also, I met a lot of really amazing people doing amazing things for amazing companies and organizations. My classmates are now my network and I absolutely believe that will benefit me in future job searches for the rest of my life. Finally, being in school while working really gave me the opportunity to apply what I learned in class directly to my work. There were several times when I learned something in class that applied directly to a current project or where knowledge gained from a work project gave me a leg up in class.

      • Total yes on the food thing. I cooked two large meals on Sundays that would reheat well and outsourced most of the rest of the cooking to my husband.

      • BellaDzaster :

        I completely agree about setting aside PTO to complete projects. When I was in school, I had a 22 page term paper due every 12 weeks. At the start of the year I’d assign a day or two for the weeks leading up to the due date. Later I found out the majority of my class did the same thing. It allowed me to focus on school during those days and not stress over my assignment, because I knew I had that cushion.

        Another suggestion: set a routine time/day for homework. I set Saturday morning through mid-afternoon as my study time. A few months into my program, my friends learned to schedule around me.

      • Oh god. This is all too familiar. I’m soclose to finishing up my PhD, and juggling all my different roles over the past several years sometimes has felt like just trying to make sure none of the pots on the stove are actually on fire. (Sorry, major mixed metaphors there.)

        Definitely agree that you need to schedule out time for your SO and for self-care. Sometimes these can overlap (DH and I go running together on the weekends, etc.), but are key to maintaining your ability to get through it all and still like what you do.

        And food planning is key. On Sundays, I make a big pot of oatmeal for the week’s breakfasts, and cook extra of a few meals so there is always something I can grab on the fly (tip: invest in a good set of tupperware and travel mug that are leak-proof, because so many of your meals will be at school/work/in transit). I definitely gained weight (sitting for school, sitting for homework, sitting for research, sitting for work….no wonder, right?), but good planning and help from your SO can make it easier to maintain good routines. Good luck to you!

  4. This is quite timely for me, because my DH is about to start business school part-time. I’ll follow-up on a prior question I asked the hive earlier this year about writing his application essays to explain his relatively low college GPA followed by his several years of good work experience in his field. Well, thanks for your advice ladies. He got in!

    I was wondering, do any of you have any advice about not only juggling part-time grad school with full-time employment but going to grad school after working for several years? Did any of you study finance? What study strategies worked for you?

    • Cornellian :

      I remember that! good for him!

    • Congratulations to Pest’s hubby and good luck to you both.

      I teach grad-level Finance. Finance at that level can be very math/quant-intense. If he is not already, he should become an expert at MS Excel including formulas and macros for financial calculations, standard deviations etc. He should sign up for a class if necessary before his program starts. Also, knowledge of Powerpoint is useful.

      There are lots of you-tube videos and online calculators that will help as long as they’re not used as a crutch, but as a supplement to classroom materials.

      Another very important thing is to never get behind. Go to office hours, form a study group or get a tutor if concepts are unclear.

      Finally, find out how to use the electronic resources at the grad-school to facilitate research. Some schools offer orientation sessions.

    • Congrats to your hubby!

      I studied finance, to the extent possible, as part of an MBA (so lots of quant-heavy courses, but not as quant-heavy as an MS in Finance, if that makes sense). My undergrad was also very finance heavy (and I worked in banking after college). I echo all of the comments above. Excel is your friend! Also, if there is any way he can do “the basics” before starting school (e.g. brushing up on accounting, stats, etc.) that will really help him focus on the more core finance concepts, if the ancillaries are down. For finance, it is much like math in that concepts “build,” so it’s really important (i) not to get behind, and (ii) to make flashcards or outlines or other study aids so that you can quickly brush up on an earlier topic when it’s revisited.

      In terms of going back to school after working, I treated school like a job. That meant that I was at school by 8:30am (that’s when our classes started) every day, even when I didn’t have class that morning. I would study most of the afternoon, or try to get my portion of work done well ahead of study group, which often met at night. In other words, even though I could take a nap or go work out or whatnot during the day, I tried to focus on school from 9-5, most days. The exception was powder days, since I was in an area that had decent skiing if there was snow! This “school during work hours” mantra relaxed a bit during my 2nd year of school when classes were demanding in a different way (less individual work, more collaborative work), such that I needed to focus on schoolwork during the day when it was convenient for my groups to meet. My study groups were flexible depending on the composition–e.g. parents wanted to meet during the day to be home with their kids at night, singletons wanted to meet at night and then grab a beer–you have to be flexible to find a study group that works. Oh, and make sure, if your husband does form a study group, to have one crazy quant jock in it. My classmate Krishna was an absolute genius when it came to super-hairy capital markets stuff–having him in our group was HUGE!

      Hope that helps!

      • I would just say, remember to ask for help at school if needed, use resources that are there, talk to professors, etc. Having been in the work world for so long (and a self employed business person for a long time, too) I was very accustomed to figuring things out for myself. The kids who had gone straight through school into grad school asked for WAY more help, and they had a much easier time. Don’t waste time trying to figure something out if your school has a resource for it. (example, if you’re doing research, and don’t know where to find things, and your school has a research librarian, for heaven’s sake, JUST ASK HER.)

    • Student4Life :

      I went back to college for my master’s degree after 11 years of work experience. I finished the degree in 3 years while juggling a demanding full-time job .
      Typically I was one of the oldest, if not “the” oldest student in my classes. I found myself learning from the younger (20-something) grad students as well as providing them with some wisdom from my experience working in our chosen field. Professors seem to really enjoy having working students in class to offer perspective and I honestly felt less like a student and more like a peer with many of the professors.

      For the first two years I didn’t take summer courses thinking it would help to have a break. In retrospect, I should have gone straight through and shaved a year off the time line! I have to admit some mornings I was so tired I didn’t even shower before going into work (I would freshen up with baby wipes). My non-negotiable was regular exercise and I managed to get 3-4 workouts each week. I got really sick the semester before I graduated and I had my laptop brought to the hospital so I could study for a mid-term! this is the crazy focused world your husband will soon inhabit!

      My advice is:

      -Take summer courses if they are available for his program. I started to feel burned out at year two even though I took the summers off. Only the fact that I was so close to the finish line kept me going.
      -Schedule study times during the week and weekends. I usually did all my required reading the evenings I didn’t have classes and tackled more time-intensive projects like papers and presentations on the weekends.
      -Manage friends and family expectations for social gatherings. Everyone in my circle knew what I was up to and they respected my hectic schedule and were not offended that I was seeing less of them.
      -Plan on getting less sleep! my employer let me flex my schedule a bit (they paid for my master’s degree and were wholly supportive) which allowed me to get into work a little late each morning. Since my classes didn’t start until 7 pm and my university was only 15 minutes from my office, I was able to get in a solid 8.5-9 hours of work daily. I never drank coffee until I started grad school!
      -Get help with household chores. My mom would come over during the week and do our laundry for us, which was a huge help.
      -Understand ahead of time his workload and stress may impact the sexual aspect of your marriage. I went on a marriage retreat with my husband about midway through my program so we could get our groove back, since sex became a casualty.
      -Don’t make the assumption that online classes are any easier, they often require more work than traditional lecture courses. I enjoyed the energy and social interaction of the lecture courses much more. Easier to stay alert and motivated and not have to deal with spouse/pet/child disruptions.
      -Attend commencement ceremony. Many of my fellow older working students felt it wasn’t necessary. I personally needed a symbolic closure to those 3 very demanding years of my life! Walk that stage and have his loved ones applaud! then throw him a big party or buy him a great graduation gift. I got myself a new car :-).

      Just remember when the going gets rough (and it will) to keep focused on the goal and recall that the situation is only TEMPORARY. He will get through it and be proud of his accomplishment.

  5. Senior Attorney :

    Great tips, Kat!

    When I was working in family law I enrolled in an evening master’s program in marriage and family therapy. It was great but super intense. Even though my job was pretty reliably nine to five at that point, I was still ridiculously busy to the point I didn’t even have time to respond to emails from friends. Ultimately I didn’t fininsh the program because I was doing it mostly for fun and due to faculty changes it stopped being fun. It was the right decision under the circumstnaces but I do regret that it didn’t work out.

    My tips:

    1. Try not to stress too much about your grades, unless it really matters. I drove myself nuts maintaining a 4.0, even though I was the only one to which it mattered.

    2. Watch your health. I gained a ton of weight from eating out of the vending machines and not having (making) time to exercise.

    3. If you’re married or otherwise in a relationship, make sure your spouse or SO understands the demands on your time and how long it’s going to last. Although Mr. Senior Attorney said he was all for it, I don’t think he really understood what it was going to be like, and there was some tension when the reality hit.

    • Absolutely watch your health! I worked full time and went to school in the evenings, and it completely sapped my exercise and cooking mojo. I was fortunate in that my husband would cook some nights, but I’m still trying to lose the grad-school weight.

      Also, it becomes completely critical to manage your calendar weeks in advance, especially if your job has peaks and valleys of busy times. Inevitably a busy time would hit at work right when I had big papers due, and every time but once I had managed to plan ahead so it wasn’t a total crisis. The one time I didn’t was warning enough to plan ahead and ensure it never happened again!

    • I’m working full time and a full time grad student right now, and the only thing that Jeeps me sane is listening to fun audiobooks while I bike to and from school. The exercise plus mental decompression are really key fo
      r me.

      I also just cooked a bunch of stuff in my slow cooker and froze individual portions so I have healthy lunches a couple days a week.

  6. Senior Attorney :

    To whom.

    I was the only one to whom it mattered.


  7. Cornellian :

    product shout out for Josie Maran’s Argan Color Sitck in Rosey. Holy crap, I am in love. I hate putting on make up, and I hate feeling overwhelmed by too much color on my dark strawberry-haired and blue-eyed self. I almost didn’t get it because they didn’t have the lighter pink color, but I think this slighly more subdued color is perfect at work. I just touched it to my cheeks and blended in, and my lips like a fat chapstick, and it looks amazing. So fast! so mindless! so easy to layer!

  8. I’m currently doing a part-time MBA and working full-time. I think the biggest thing is acknowledging the mental toll it will take. I’ve always been a busy person, so the time management hasn’t been as problematic as the space the stress takes in my brain! My husband and I have talked about not being present mentally, even if I’m present physically, so you definitely need to find ways to connect to your spouse. As Cornellian mentioned above, pick at least one day where you and SO plan something together. For my husband and I, this is usually sleeping in on Saturday and then going to the gym together, and usually, grilling dinner together. I have the afternoon for school work if I need it, but the other parts of the day are for investing in our marriage. I also try to schedule time with a friend/family member at least once a month, whether it’s going for a run, meeting for lunch one day, or a quick shopping trip together. Also, find the thing that helps you get out of your own head. I actually have several things, including exercise, singing, and scrapbooking. I make a point to do at least one of these things twice a week, because otherwise, I’d go insane! Don’t feel bad about needing “you” time, and don’t feel like it’s wasting time to do these activities. You can only keep pace so long before you need time to re-charge, and I’ve found that it’s better to go do one of my de-stress activities than it is to keep trying to grind away at school/work tasks when I really need to decompress.

  9. Another Zumba Fan :

    I worked FT while pursuing both of my graduate degrees PT. My first two semesters I only took one course so I could get acclimated to being a student again. Then I told myself I needed to suck it up and take more courses if I ever wanted to graduate. Each degree took 2.5 years. I took a combo of online and classroom courses. That meant sometimes I had to leave work 30 minutes early to drive across town to campus. A few times, going to dance class was simply more important than say marketing communications so I let myself skip every now and then. It’s all about balance. Also , take advantage of student discounts around town with your ID.

  10. My experience, as opposed to advice:

    I clerked while doing an LLM and I don’t know where those two years went. I have never been busier and seem to have substituted candy bars for dinner on most school nights. Most of the other PT LLM students (i.e., the people who showed up in work attire) had firms paying for them to go (so they were often stuck at work working, but my perception is that they didn’t worry so much about GPAs). I wish I had known the other FT students better and my professors better; I just didn’t have the luxury of time.

    I’m glad I got it over with when I was younger because I could never live like that now. [It seems to give me a bit of credibility, but I got it in case I taught and it turns out that I am still practicing and unlikely to do anything beyond guest lecture or CLEs.] The other posts re eating and transportation were right, especially if you are any sort of commuter and especially if you are in / around NYC.

  11. AnthroMouse :

    Above all, know your priorities. Depending on your field of study, you may have to choose between having children or your degree; your relationship/marriage or your degree; attending significant life events or your degree; accepting a promotion at work or your degree; ad infinitum. These are all situations that I or my classmates faced in getting our graduate degrees. Not all of us chose the degree. Some of us chose to accept a lesser degree, or to graduate with lower standings, etc. Some of us chose degrees over children, over spouses, and over friends – and despite the heartache, would do so again. Sometimes, the choice was taken out of our hands, and spouses and friends left us. If your partner isn’t on-board 100% with a full understanding of what this will do to your relationship, it’s not going to work (I think passive-aggressive undermining was the most insidious in the relationships I observed).

    What I will say is that if you plan to do this, get yourself in the best physical, emotional, and mental shape first. I finished my dissertation in the evenings and weekends while working full-time (and for while, more than full-time – ugh!) and I honestly could not take the time to workout at all. Now that I’m done, I am paying for the sacrifice of my physical health.

    • AnthroMouse :

      I’d add to this not just your partner – your manager at work has to be on-board too. Depending on your field of study, this may expand to include your program chair.

  12. I finished a MLS program in December while working full time. I agree about the support of work – I found my employer was overwhelmingly helpful. And they totally understood if I needed to take off 1/2 a day to write a paper.

    And I’ll agree with everyone else.

    I didn’t do online courses but I did do summer courses. It meant I could finish a semester earlier which was important to me.

    Social obligations were hard. Really hard. (Not worth sugar coating it, sorry!) It was frustrating to turn down friends for happy hour or dinner or whatever. Or spend time with my husband for about 5 minutes before I collapsed into bed. It was frustrating to know my friends were out having fun Saturday afternoon while I was sitting at home working. But most of them COMPLETELY understood; half of them already did the part time school/full time job. I ended up catching up with friends on school breaks. And you know what? It worked perfectly. Anyone who didn’t understand wasn’t a true friend.

    Another tip: get a massage after finals each semester. You deserve it! I did it and it was WELL worth it.

    As for health: I’m type-A enough I fit it in. I signed up for some races and put them on my schedule. I did 2 ten mile races and several 5 & 10ks. I hated every second of the running but I loved the hour of excersizing to decompress. In retrospect, I lost weight during grad school. Although be cautious of vending machines. I think I needed to run because of m&ms during class breaks… And work out WITH friends! Once a week I did a circuit routine with 2 good girl friends and it was GREAT.

    And enjoy it! Maybe I’m a nerd, but I finished grad school and within 6 months signed up for another class. I loved it. I thrive when I’m busy and have a schedule so it worked really well for me. Good luck!

  13. emcsquared :

    I haven’t done a full-on degree, but I have taken some evening classes while working full time. I had lots of the same issues noted above (food, transportation, calendar management). One thing I’ll add is that I tried to make the classes count professionally more than academically (since nobody cared about my grade but me). I made professional connections with classmates and the professor, I marked up my class materials in a way that is useful to me on a day-to-day basis in my job, and I tried to mentally tie each concept to something I had encountered at work. It made the class more meaningful, and I think I got better grades even though I wasn’t studying as much as Type A me would usually like.

    I also applied my father’s motto – “Don’t do A+ work on C+ projects.” Don’t bother writing absolutely perfect 2-page weekly reports that are only worth 25% of your grade. Save the brainpower for when it actually matters, like at your job or in your marriage or on the final exam.

  14. Middle Coast :

    I worked full-time while attending grad school part-time. Along with the above tips, I would add:

    Take your syllabus and enter the due dates for projects/papers/assignments onto your calendar at the start of each semester if possible. Schedule blocks of time to work on these, I would do this at the University so as not to get distracted by my family at home. Use one calendar for everything – work/school/life – otherwise you will go crazy.

    The rule of thumb is that you need 3 hours of time outside of class for every 1 hour of classtime – for readings, thinking and homework. I found this to be amazingly true.

    Group projects are the bane of existence for those who work full-time, it is very hard for a group to co-ordinate schedules. Add online classes, with group members in different time zones, and it becomes a nightmare. (I once was in a group of 5 – one in Scotland, one in London, one in NYC, myself in the midwest and one in China. We managed to get an A – but sleep was impossible.)

    Online classes are great, but realize that it takes a large amount of discipline to keep up. I remember coming home from work, having family time, then logging in to find 150+ posts from my fellow students to wallow through before I could start posting. I learned to post my thoughts first, then read everyone elses. Otherwise I felt like my posts were just saying “me too.”

    • This! All of it.

      I switched from on-campus classes to online classes due to a cross-country move and I have found the online classes to be much more time-consuming.

      I also enter all my due dates into my work Outlook calendar as soon as I get the syllabus. Lifesaver technique. Pineapple flavor.

  15. Ruthy Sue :

    I completed a MS while working full time and I agree with what most of everyone else has said. The big parts that got me through were:

    – Organization. I used to just have a running to do list of things I needed to get done in a week. With school, my calendar became VERY detailed, blocking out time for everything (5-5:20 pharmacy, 5:20-6:00 grocery store, 6-9:30 read for tomorrow’s class). I also tried to plan time for “nothing” so I could decompress. I would try to set my schedule a week (or two) in advance so I knew what I was up against.

    – Plan meals, and always have a snack with you. My time for making and eating good food was pretty much nonexistent. At some point I just resigned to eating cereal a couple times a week for dinner, just to make things easier (plus I love cereal). Even if I decided in advance that I was going to have Subway for dinner, just making that decision in advance was helpful to my exhausted evening brain. I would even add it to my calendar.

    – It is going to consume your life. Pretty much, all I could talk about was school and work, well, because that’s all I was doing. For a period of time it’s going to be hard to have a good social life and make time to all that non-school/work stuff. But it will only be for a limited time. Remind yourself (and those around you) of that. Like others have already mentioned, I had to make a big effort to still keep in touch with people. Email is great because you can keep in touch on your own time.

    – Use grad school to make business contacts. I was spending so much time with my classmates, we tried to really develop good professional relationships too. We’re all in the same industry, and we’ve been able to keep in touch. We started a facebook group, first for study questions, carpools, etc. but now we post jobs, plan meetups and generally keep in touch. It’s been 2 years since we graduated, and it’s turned into a nice little community.

    • kerrycontrary :

      “Use grad school to make business contacts”-YES! No matter what field you are in this is helpful. I don’t think a lot of the younger students understand the necessity of networking, going to professional conferences, and getting published (depending on the field). Now that I’m done with school I’m so glad to maintain contact with my former classmates. They are the people I will contact first about an open job and I love seeing them annually at conferences.

  16. I’ve been doing this for the past year…..full time work (60-65hrs/wk) plus part time graduate studies (needing about 20 hrs/wk)

    The top coping mechanisms seem to be:
    – outsource everything you can (house cleaning, cooking etc)
    – multi-task where you can – two jobs at once – working out with friends, watching TV shows and doing chores etc.
    – Embrace the B – its ok to not be perfect.

    • This is great advice by Just me and all things I did as I went to night law school with a full time pharma industry job. My employer was very accomodating and I agree with earlier posters that employer flexibility is huge. I was able to arrive at 7 instead of 9 to leave to catch the train to school (train was clutch for extra study, nap, snack, sanity time). Also, we had an on-site gym so if I ate a sandwich quickly, or if I was wating for lab results I could actually exercise! If you can’t embrace the B (because you think you need better and the job experience you are gaining does not outweigh the lower grade), think about getting a different job. Although my job experience did outweigh the slightly lower grades, I still regret not taking the extra loan and getting a clerkship.

  17. I did my master’s online (plus one week-long trip to campus every ~4 months) while working full time. I was totally clueless about how the program would work – I thought that it would be completely asynchronous (e.g., I may listen to the lecture at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, while you listen to it at 2:00 AM on Thursday). Instead, I found that we had actual “classes,” which were held in a WebEx type format, with attendance taken and participation required. Additionally, papers and projects were almost entirely done in groups, which was extremely challenging (group work is bad enough; throw in 5 different time zones and then it’s downright miserable).

    One of the main things that helped me stay organized was adding my school deadlines to my Outlook calendar at work (I think another poster mentioned this or similar). Knowing that I had X client presentation and Y homework assignment due on the same day was invaluable for planning. I also made even more and more detailed to do lists than I normally do.

    Although it isn’t something I would normally cite as a positive, I would say that the fact that I have basically zero social life worked in my favor during school. That said, I had many classmates who had demanding jobs ( ER physician, for example) and successfully juggled work, school, getting married, having kids, raising kids, and social activities.

  18. Divaliscious11 :

    I did it and its tough. Do you have a family? If so, makes it tougher, but here are a few thoughts…

    1. Make a school schedule and stick with it. I hated waking up at 6 on Saturdays/Sundays but I could do school work until noon, and then do family stuff.
    2. Get ahead of your reading whenever you can.
    3. Depending on the objective of your degree – study accordingly. For my JD, as I intended to practice, I went full time and it was my priority. My MBA, however, really augments my law practice so my goal was not highest grade possible but decent grades, substantive understanding. I wouldn’t say I dialed it in, but I certainly could have received higher grades. but there were times when I finished a paper/project and said with a few more hours this could be really really good, and then submitted it and took my kids to the park.
    4. Never be without some school work – I read on the train, waiting in the pediatrician’s office, on the plane, in line at Costco etc….
    5. Don’t be afraid to take a break. I took off a summer when I needed too, and didn’t take a break one semester I probably should have.

    good luck

  19. Ms. Van Squigglebottoms :

    I juggled full-time school, a very part-time consulting gig, and mothering a baby/toddler. I think that Kat’s right – the issue is knowing your priorities. For me, I knew that getting to the top of my class in a top-10 law school would be next to impossible, so I focused on passing all my courses and being a good mom. That meant treating school like a job, with 40-hour work weeks, and never staying out more than two nights a week, so that most evenings and weekends were focused on my little girl and hubby (who’d quit his job to be a full-time dad). It was difficult, but spared me from the drama of law review, prestigious judicial clerkships, and all the other brass-ring chasing that’s common in law school. And guess what, I got my dream job when I finished!

  20. Valleygirl :

    I haven’t commented in forever – but had to jump in on this topic from the professor’s side – I work full time 9-5:30, and teach a graduate course one night a week for a local uni’s MPA program (class goes from 6-9:45pm).

    Some things I’ve noticed about my students who do well/don’t do well –

    1) It’s ok to be tired, but recognize everyone else is tired and has worked all day too.

    2) Don’t expect special treatment because you work/have kids/have a spouse/etc etc. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “I couldn’t study for the mid-term because my kids wouldn’t leave me alone.” My class lands in the middle-end of a 2 year program – by that point I expect that students have figured out a study schedule that works for them…. If your kid ends up in the ER and you need to miss class – that’s one thing, but remember the onus is on you to figure out what works, the class shouldn’t accommodate you.

    3) Don’t come into class expecting an A. I’ve had small number of students come in with the expectation that they start at an A and go down – rather it’s you start with nothing and work up towards an A. Likewise, you don’t get an A for just showing up. I do class participation grades (or questions emailed to me based on the reading if you don’t like to talk in class).

    4) If you’re starting a graduate program – recognize it will be harder than undergrad in terms of work load, expectations, reading assignments, etc.

    5) Eating in class is cool – but be respectful of others re smells, noise, distractions.

    6) Meet with the professor if you get the opportunity. I will always meet with students one on one if requested, hold at least one study session on a weekend, and make myself available via gchat. Students who engage with me and ask questions do well, and it helps me because even if they’re not totally getting a concept I know they’re 1) trying and 2) it gives me a chance to reframe the concept for them until they get it.

    7) In class – drink lots of water and go to the restroom. It sounds silly – but the water keeps you awake and hydrated – and the going to the restroom at break means you get at least a little stretch. Re issues with health – drinking tons of sodas/sports drinks is soo bad for you and i always see students who do this either crash towards the end of class or get too wired to pay attention.

    8) Recognize that you’ve paid money for a service. When students ask me if we can end class early or skip a class – I ask them how much they spent on the class, and if they as a consumer want to get the most bang for their buck. Also if you’re having an issue with the class/professor – talk to the school. A lot of the evening programs offered have minimal contact between deans/program heads and faculty. They only know what’s going on if students and faculty really keep them in the loop.

    9) Wear comfy clothes. I’ve had students who would come from either an office job or working a police officer and they always would change in to yoga pants/ hoodies/comfy clothes before class. They were more relaxed and had a “break” from work to school – so I think it helped them focus.

    10) Figure out scheduling conflicts waaay a head of time. You’re kid is graduating from highschool the day before the midterm and you want to take the midterm a few days earlier? no problem if you tell me a head of time.

  21. Today I submitted an application for a grad student internship with the Department of Justice in DC. I’m wondering what I should wear if I get an interview. I would want to show that I take the opportunity seriously, but also that I recognize I would be “just” an intern. Would a full on skirt suit look silly? I don’t want to look like I’m playing dressup for a day at the office. Should I wear a skirt suit but maybe a colored top and statement necklace? Or just the skirt with a conservative top? I’m planning on applying for a lot of government internships and any advice would be appreciated. I’ve tried an internet search but only come across advice such as “don’t wear flip flops”

    • Do you have any sense of the dress code for that particular office? For a grad level position, my vote would be for some form of suit or a polished skirt/blouse combo, but if the office is business casual you will look odd showing up in a suit.

  22. This is a relevant topic for me as well, since I just completed my MBA while working full time. A few points that others have mentioned I agree with, as I will repeat below:

    1. Make sure your employer 100% is on board with you going back to school. If you discuss your academic goals, they will most likely support you and allow you the flexibility to attend meetings and leave a bit early on weeks before your exams.

    2. Decide within your first week of grad school exactly WHEN you will be working on your homework and outside-classroom duties. Some semesters were light for me, while others were extremely heavy. For example, maybe on the night you have class until 7:30, it’s just easier for you to stay on campus at the library and put in another 2 hours of that class’ homework to get it over with. Or, maybe you want to leave all your weeknights free (except for the classes) so you can relax after a day of work, and therefore spend all day Sunday getting your homework done.

    3. Priorities are key. Figure out what you want out of life while being occupied with school. Do you still want to be able to go out every Friday night with your girlfriends? Is it important to have Sunday as a family day? Do you want to do a little bit of schoolwork each night? Once you figure it out, stick to it. If you say that you should devote Saturday mornings to schoolwork so you can enjoy the afternoon, hold yourself accountable to it and turn down activities and plans that fall on Saturday mornings.

    4. Make your friends aware that you’re going back to school. This is along the lines of the employer thing. If they understand you’re going to be busy, they won’t be mad when you turn down their offers to hang out. Remind them: this is temporary, and once this semester (or year) is over, I can relax and enjoy the extra free time!

    Good luck!

  23. 1) Time management is definitely the most important thing. If you don’t have a smart phone, get one.
    2) Utilize every second of down time (elevator rides, waiting for the bus, waiting for a meeting to start), etc. If nothing else, update your to-do list and review your schedule.
    3) If you can, be judicious about your course selection. For example, if you know that you’ll need to take 2 quant-heavy classes and 2 reading-intensive classes over the next two semesters, split them up so that you have one quant-heavy and one reading-intensive class each term.
    4) Decide whether school or work is your priority, and act accordingly. For me, my job in university administration was just the means to pay for school (and food, and rent, etc). If getting an A on a paper meant turning in a B performance at work, that was ok. But everyone’s situation is different.
    5) Don’t neglect sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mental sanity (including important relationships). If you’re not fit and sane, you won’t get anywhere.
    6) Throw yourself a killer graduation party when you’re done! You’ve earned it.

  24. Been There :

    As somebody who just completed a J.D. doing a full time work / part time school program I know well what you are about to go through. It is possible to maintain a social life and some semblance of balance while doing the work/school thing. While I generally agree with the advice given I would offer this additional advice:

    1.) Make yourself and your health your number one priority – if you don’t eat well, get a decent amount of sleep (although it is unlikely you will achieve 8 hours on any regular basis – at least don’t overdo it), and exercise then you will not be able to perform at your best and meet the demands of your schedule. And as part of maintaining your health – make sure you find some time each week to do something fun or pleasurable because it’s good for your mental health.

    2.) Figure out a schedule that works for you. I had classmates who would work all day, go to class until 9 p.m. and then go home and immediately power through their reading assignments and other homework so they had more time available on the weekends with their families. I favored getting more sleep during the week and as a tradeoff spent at least one full weekend day and a few hours here and there to get reading done. I also usually blocked off one weekend per month where I made no social plans and just focused on long term studying (ie. outlining, reviewing, big projects). Find what is likely to work best for you and your study habits.

    3.) Stay organized.

    4.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    5.) Know when it is good enough. If you ever had any perfectionist tendencies, you need to abandon them and adopt a view where you learn to accept certain things when they are good enough. This ties into the discussion about priorities because you need to know where it is sort of ok to coast and where you really need to expend the extra effort.

  25. Been There :

    Oh and one other thing I’ll add that worked well for lowering stress:

    Starting in my second year, a group including me and 4 of my close fellow part time students banded together and started a “dinner club”. Each of us was responsible for bringing dinner to class for the group once every other week. You only had to prep a meal about once every two weeks and then you had dinner ready and waiting for you twice a week. We kept the expectations low – didn’t have to be gourmet but we tried to make it reasonably healthy (no picking up McDonald’s or the like).

  26. I’m late to the party, but I’ll add my two cents. I went to law school at night, and worked full time.

    1. Food was probably the biggest challenge. I ate a lot of granola bars and dried fruit and nuts. I also ate a lot of “meals” consisting of coffee and a starbucks cookie (I now get ill looking at their pastry counter). Breakfast for dinner is your friend. So much easier to scramble a couple of eggs than it is to cook just about anything else.

    2. Recognize that some people’s employers are more flexible than others. If you get in a group project with someone whose employer is a jerk, it’s not necessarily their fault. I found it helpful to just accept the situation and deal with the lion’s share of the work, rather than being bitter and trying to control what I couldn’t. Similarly, if you find yourself struggling while it seems like a breeze for others, it may be because their jobs aren’t as demanding. Don’t take it personally.

    3. If you have particular work challenges that cause you to miss a couple classes or need some special consideration, don’t be afraid to be upfront with the professor about it. I found most were reasonable in accommodating real work conflicts. The school has offered the track for working professionals, and should make the program accessible to those people (within reason, obviously…no being late to every class just because you can’t finish your work in time).

    4. At one point, I was burnt out from all the successive nights out and everything on my plate. I went down to one class that semester, and it was completely worth it. It meant an extra summer class to finish on time, but it meant I could continue without wanting to stab someone.

    5. A couple semesters, I found classes that were from 3-6 once a week or 4-6 twice a week. I made arrangements with work to take those but just coming in earlier in the morning. That freed up more evening time, gave me a night off from classes, which enabled me to have an extra night at work to stay late and catch up, or just have a night to hang out with my husband or friends. If that’s an option, go for it.

    5. School work takes up as much time as you let it. Knowing when to walk away is the best way to maintain to sanity.

  27. So many great thoughts here! I feel encouraged and ready to tackle *my* last semester of grad school (yes!)!

    Having worked through my entire undergrad and graduate education, I find that my best semesters come after making it a priority to rest the week before classes, and to live in “seclusion” during the first week or two of classes. Before the term starts, spend a night alone to prepare your materials, exercise, sleep, or journal and do your devotions. The time you spend preparing yourself spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally before the semester will affect the way you navigate the hard weeks ahead.

    I have gone on last-minute vacations, put in extra hours at work, and deep-cleaned my apartment the days/nights before classes, and felt miserable for a week after. The more rested and mentally de-cluttered you can be before classes the better. I dare you to burn/delete your to-do list. You’ll remember the important things.

    Your friends and family will understand your lifestyle changes. So will your colleagues and new mentors. They have been there, done that, and are great resources.

    Best wishes!

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