Trying to juggle a full-time job with other personal and professional commitments can prove challenging. Add online courses to the mix, and you might anticipate a scheduling nightmare.
But nearly 14 million people (pdf) are working while enrolled in some form of postsecondary education or training—serving as inspiration that earning a paycheck while learning requires a balancing act, but it is achievable.
Online courses are ideal if you want to gain new skills or knowledge without putting your job on hold. Virtual programs enable you to learn on your own time, whether that means completing coursework after dinner or logging on from a nearby coffee shop over the weekend.
If you’re interested in furthering your education but aren’t sure how online courses might fit into your schedule, here are nine tips to help you balance your nine-to-five work with coursework.
1. Pick a university with flexible online degrees
The university and online programme you choose can influence a lot how successful you are in both working and getting a degree at the same time. If the structure and schedules of the programme you choose match your own schedule, then you are one step closer to pulling off both studies and work.
If you are still looking for an online degree, here are some universities you should definitely check out. They have flexible distance learning programmes – exactly what a professional like you is looking for:
- University of Birmingham Online
- Royal Roads University
- Nottingham Trent University Online
- Walden University
- The Open University UK
- University of Bath Online
- University of Glasgow
2. Learn to manage your time with a list of prios
Becoming a distance learner is like buying a ticket to a time management class – only this time experience will be your coach. As an online student, you should consider coming home from work as quickly as possible, so you have time to study. Yes, that means sometimes you’ll have to take a rain check on that drink with colleagues.
Developing time management skills will play a key role in your chances of succeeding to combine work with studies. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming distance learning is very different from full-time studies and perhaps even easier to handle.
The fact is that studying for an online degree programme is going to be almost as demanding as if you were a full-time student and you should allow, on average, approximately 40 hours a week to study. Hence, it’s important to organise your time very early on. One of the best ways to enjoy the flexibility of online studies is to work more on your assignments and classes on weekends.
One important thing you should remember when planning your time is to keep the deadlines for submission of all kinds of assignments (essays, final papers, research papers, discussion papers etc.). Otherwise, the workload may become rather scary once the number of pending assignments starts to grow (and binge studying is rarely an option if you also work).
3. Stay on top with a smart study plan
If you want to thrive at both studies and work, you need to become an excellent planner. Ok, this doesn’t mean going OCD with your plans, but having an overview of your monthly, weekly and daily studying activities will help you feel in control of the situation, track your progress and even act as a reminder to stick to your study goals.
And it’s quite easy to do it. Start by printing out your study programme for the whole trimester, with details about courses, topics and deadlines for submission of assignments.
Then make your own study plan based key programme dates. Also, take into account that you will need to be ready and fresh for work each and every day, so don’t cram a lot of study time during the week.
4. Don’t forget to take regular breaks
The most common question that all online students will ask themselves is this: ‘Is it even possible to keep oneself constantly fresh and fully concentrated on both work and studying?’
If that also crossed your mind, here’s an honest perspective on the challenge. Yes, there will be days when you will feel rather tired and not in the mood, and there might even be days you will tell yourself that is better to give up either the studies or the job. But here’s another thing, even full-time students without a job feel this way sometimes.
So, give yourself a break from time to time. You are already a superhero for doing both job and studies at the same time. Allow yourself time to relax, even if for half an hour each day. A break when you simply relax and log off from your daily routine will inevitably have a positive effect on your overall energy once you get back to your job or studies.
5. Let your employers know you are studying an online degree
Employers can be more understanding than you might think. Announcing your boss that you will start a distance learning programme is a win-win situation in many cases. First, if the programme is connected with your job, it will show your employers that you are genuinely interested in advancing your skills and knowledge, which means you are adding value to the company you work for.
At the same time, colleagues and supervisors might go easier on you knowing that you also have to study. This means no over-time work and, why not, colleagues being more willing to cover for you if you have an exam, for example.