Working and going to school at the same time can be very stressful. I know this firsthand; I worked full-time during my final two years of college and made lots of money but also many mistakes. In this article, I’ll share what I learned along with some pointers for maintaining your sanity while simultaneously working and going to school.
9 tips for working and going to school at the same time
1. Choose your job wisely
If you can, choose a job that relates to your field of study. You’ll gain valuable experience and see how (or whether) what you’re learning translates into the real world.
This is the approach I took. While I was studying journalism, I worked as a freelance writer content strategist. By the time I graduated, I had three years of experience in the industry.
Now, I know this isn’t necessarily an option for everyone. There’s no shame in working a retail job if cracking into your industry without a degree would be too difficult. Just be sure to consider the option of finding relevant work first. It could make your post-graduation job search so much easier.
2. Incorporate what you’re learning into your job – even if it seems irrelevant
Getting your first industry-related job after college will require demonstrating you know more than just theory. You also need to show you’re capable of using your knowledge to solve real-world problems.
There’s no better way to prove this than by incorporating what you’re learning into your current job – even if that work seems unrelated.
For example, let’s say you’re studying to become a web developer. While in college, you work at a grocery store. What applications could you develop to solve problems at your place of work?
Even if the grocery store decides not to implement your solutions, showing future prospective employers you’ve applied what you learned in school to the workplace will go a long way towards helping you find relevant work after college.
3. Build soft skills
Most employers don’t hire based solely on technical skills. They also want to know you’re a team player who’s pleasant to work with. This is good news if you’re working in an unrelated field while studying since soft skills are easily transferrable. Check out this article for a list of in-demand soft skills. Ones I’ve found particularly helpful include:
- critical thinking
- work ethic
- stress management
If you can demonstrate these skills well at your job throughout college, be sure to have your references highlight that when you start applying for more relevant work. It will go a long way.
4. Don’t chase money at the expense of your long-term goals
At some point or another, while you’re working and going to school at the same time, you’ll likely have the opportunity to earn lots more money by putting in more hours than would be feasible. Approach these situations very wisely – especially if you’ve ignored my first tip and are working at a dead-end job that’s unrelated to your career.
I knew a few people in college who prioritized their retail jobs above their studies. No matter the reason (some needed the money, others weren’t really passionate about their field of study), the end result was the same: they wasted lots of time. Some even dropped out.
If you care about your field of study, don’t trade progress in it for short-term financial gains. If you don’t care about your field of study, check out my article on dropping out of college. It may be the right call in the long run.
5. Be upfront with your employer regarding availability
Even if you’re taking on a full-time workload at your place of employment, as a student you’ll inevitably run into scenarios requiring time off (i.e. midterms). When this happens, be honest and upfront with your employer.
Your employer needs to know they can trust you regarding whatever deliverables you commit to. Even if you tell them your capacity will be diminished for a few days because of school, they’ll appreciate being given a heads up. They can always plan accordingly.
You’ll also find honesty is the best policy when it comes to maintaining your own sanity. School can be very stressful on its own. Don’t add to that the pressure of being unable to deliver on your promises in the workplace.
6. Organize your finances
While your job during college may not be your first-ever, higher education presents some additional financial pressures that make organization especially crucial. For example, you may be accumulating student debt. You may be living on your own for the first time as well.
Check out this article for some simple tips on getting organized financially. It’s a crash course in adjusting to the financial realities of adulthood.
Of particular importance will be:
- listing (and budgeting for) your monthly bills
- setting clear financial priorities
- evaluating your finances regularly
- eliminating debt
- preparing your taxes (in Canada and the United States, you likely qualify for tax breaks as a student)
Working and going to school at the same time requires many sacrifices. Don’t let it all be in vain because you didn’t organize your finances properly.
You may be tempted to throw all (or at least most) of your income during college at school-related expenses. Perhaps you’ve seen others struggle with student debt years into their careers and would like to avoid that fate.
Here’s the thing, though. While being saddled with student debt can certainly be problematic, there are worse fates – such as not having the cash to deal with a financial emergency because you threw every spare penny at student loans that weren’t even due yet.
Check out this article to find some food for thought regarding how to balance student debt and other financial obligations. The gist of it is that keeping manageable amounts of student debt isn’t the worst idea in the world, especially not if it helps you build a solid foundation in other areas (i.e. investing and establishing an emergency fund).
8. Make a conscious effort to avoid burnout
The risk of burning out while working and going to school at the same time is quite high. Solid strategies for avoiding this include:
- setting time aside for relaxation and fun activities
- exercising regularly
- keeping in touch with friends
- learning new time management techniques
- setting reasonable goals for yourself
While you may fear falling behind at school or not making enough money, taking care of yourself should actually have the opposite effect in the long run. You’ll be able to go the distance, which is what ultimately produces success.
9. When it’s time to leave your college job, do so gracefully
Even if your college job is completely unrelated to your field of study, don’t give your manager a piece of your mind when it’s time to leave. You never know when you’ll need a reference down the line.
Heck, that supervisor (or someone who knows them) may even end up in the same industry as you. Suddenly, flipping them off while storming out because you thought you’d never see them again won’t seem like such a great idea. Keep bridges intact as long as you can.
Working and going to school at the same time will undoubtedly prove challenging. That was certainly the case when I did it.
If you approach it intelligently while maintaining sensible priorities, however, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to profit financially and experientially from all of that hard work.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful! For more career-related content, click here.