Balancing Act: Juggling Work and Bachelor’s Degrees Online

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If you’re pur­su­ing an online bach­e­lor’s degree and work at the same time, you’re not alone. Many under­grad­u­ate stu­dents jug­gle work and aca­d­e­m­ic respon­si­bil­i­ties since their income sup­ports their liv­ing expens­es, among oth­er costs not cov­ered by finan­cial aid.

But jug­gling work and online cours­es isn’t a walk in the park, with work­ing stu­dents about 20% less like­ly to earn their bach­e­lor’s degrees than non-work­ing stu­dents. Even for those who earn their degree, it will take them longer to com­plete their pro­grams because they take few­er cours­es per semes­ter. There’s also the mat­ter of adopt­ing effec­tive time man­age­ment skills, being more self-dis­ci­plined, and expe­ri­enc­ing more stress and pres­sure that can stand in the way of degree completion.

For­tu­nate­ly, you can adopt the fol­low­ing effec­tive strate­gies in bal­anc­ing work and online edu­ca­tion. Keep in mind that these are gen­er­al strate­gies that you must adapt accord­ing to your spe­cif­ic per­son­al­i­ty, needs, and circumstances.

Relat­ed Resources:

Strategies for Managing An Online Bachelor’s Degree and Work

Being a suc­cess­ful online stu­dent requires care­ful plan­ning, dis­ci­plined adop­tion of your plans and sched­ules, and will­ing­ness to seek assis­tance. There are many help­ful strate­gies for stu­dents need­ing help to bal­ance their online bach­e­lor’s degree and work.

Be realistic about your present and future commitments.

While online bach­e­lor’s degree pro­grams are pop­u­lar for their con­ve­nience and flex­i­bil­i­ty, these require sig­nif­i­cant time com­mit­ment, too. You must then get spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion about the time com­mit­ment for the online pro­gram you’re enrolled in, includ­ing the num­ber of:

  • Years it will take to com­plete the pro­gram as a part-time and full-time stu­dent (e.g., 4 and 5 years)
  • Cred­its required for com­ple­tion every semes­ter based on part-time and full-time enroll­ment (e.g., 9 and 12 credits)
  • Weeks to com­plete a course (e.g., 8- to 16-week courses)
  • Days required for class atten­dance (i.e., syn­chro­nous or asyn­chro­nous classes)
  • Hours rec­om­mend­ed for study­ing (e.g., 6–8 hours per week per course)

Your next step is to deter­mine your cur­rent per­son­al and work respon­si­bil­i­ties by mak­ing a list of these respon­si­bil­i­ties and the days and hours you spend on them. Then, you can plan your future aca­d­e­m­ic cal­en­dar based on your cur­rent respon­si­bil­i­ties. You may even remove cer­tain activ­i­ties that will result in more time for your stud­ies, such as malling.

As your stud­ies progress, you should make adjust­ments to your sched­ules, too. Your cur­rent real­i­ty will change over the years but your goal — earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree — should remain.

Become familiar and comfortable with the online learning environment.

Nev­er under­es­ti­mate the chal­lenges of an online learn­ing envi­ron­ment, even when you’re a tech-savvy indi­vid­ual. Before start­ing your online class­es, be sure to famil­iar­ize your­self with the fea­tures and func­tions of your pro­gram’s online learn­ing plat­form. You will save time on under­stand­ing, say, Can­vas or Black­board, and focus more on com­ply­ing with aca­d­e­m­ic requirements.

Plan a manageable course load.

Since you’re a full-time employ­ee, you should think twice about enrolling as a full-time stu­dent. Your ambi­tion and deter­mi­na­tion may be no match for the extreme chal­lenges in time, ener­gy and effort required to main­tain full-time employ­ment and enroll­ment. There’s the risk of burnout or drop­ping out, too.

Instead, you should con­sid­er part-time enroll­ment for a more man­age­able course load. Be sure to talk to your pro­fes­sors and aca­d­e­m­ic advis­ers about the best course load and sched­ule for this purpose.

Create an academic calendar.

Being orga­nized in your month­ly, week­ly and dai­ly sched­ule is a must as a work­ing stu­dent. You can use a tra­di­tion­al cal­en­dar or a dig­i­tal cal­en­dar with alerts or a com­bi­na­tion of both to keep track of your work and aca­d­e­m­ic respon­si­bil­i­ties. We also sug­gest get­ting an account­abil­i­ty bud­dy who will check on your progress and vice versa.

Establish your support system.

Being a col­lege stu­dent is stress­ful enough. With a full-time job, you’re at high­er risk of burnout. You must then cre­ate a strong sup­port sys­tem among your fam­i­ly and friends, class­mates and pro­fes­sors, and aca­d­e­m­ic advi­sors, among oth­ers. The ear­li­er you start, the stronger your sup­port sys­tem will be, too.

Your sup­port sys­tem isn’t just there for emo­tion­al and men­tal sup­port either. Get­ting reli­able infor­ma­tion about intern­ship and job oppor­tu­ni­ties, stu­dent sup­port ser­vices, and men­tal health ser­vices also comes from your sup­port system.

Take advantage of program and college resources.

The beau­ty of being in an online bach­e­lor’s degree pro­gram is that your aca­d­e­m­ic resources are acces­si­ble in only a few clicks — no on-cam­pus vis­its are required. You must, how­ev­er, use these aca­d­e­m­ic resources to your advan­tage as fre­quent­ly as possible:

  • Online libraries and databases
  • Tutor­ing for indi­vid­u­als and groups
  • Writ­ing and math centers
  • Career devel­op­ment services
  • Men­tal health and well­ness services
  • Online peer men­tor­ing communities
  • Men­tor­ing and coach­ing services

Think of these aca­d­e­m­ic resources as your for­mal sup­port sys­tem that com­ple­ments your infor­mal sup­port sys­tem of fam­i­ly and friends.

Make learning a habit.

When learn­ing becomes part of your rou­tine, you’re more like­ly to absorb your learn­ing mate­ri­als’ con­tent in a bet­ter man­ner. Small moments spent learn­ing a thing or two at a time will add up.

  • Read a chap­ter or two of your text­books while you’re com­mut­ing on the bus or train.
  • Car­ry your course flash­cards for quick memorization.
  • Write your assign­ments dur­ing work breaks and dur­ing your free time.
  • Watch the record­ed lec­tures and class videos instead of surf­ing social media.

Use technology to your advantage.

Keep­ing orga­nized and detailed class notes is a must. But you can’t always keep up if you’re man­u­al­ly writ­ing class notes. Instead, you should take advan­tage of note-tak­ing apps, such as Apple Notes, Drop­Box Paper, and Evernote.

Be sure to con­sid­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty-boost­ing apps for online col­lege stu­dents, too. The best exam­ples include OSlash, Qui­zlet, and Everyday.

Communicate with your employer.

Don’t for­get to tell your employ­er about your online stud­ies, too, and com­mu­ni­cate reg­u­lar­ly about your sched­ule. You must assure your employ­er that your online stud­ies will not inter­fere with your work respon­si­bil­i­ties. How­ev­er, you must also be hon­est and trans­par­ent about your chal­lenges and be able to request accommodations.

If you’re lucky, you may even find an employ­er with a tuition reim­burse­ment plan and a work­force train­ing devel­op­ment plan in your favor.

Time Management for Juggling an Online Bachelor’s Degree and Work

Effec­tive time man­age­ment skills are at the heart of suc­cess among work­ing pro­fes­sion­als look­ing to bal­ance their online bach­e­lor’s degree and work. By being orga­nized and dis­ci­plined, you can achieve your aca­d­e­m­ic goals while meet­ing your work commitments.

Plan your schedule.

If you want to earn your online bach­e­lor’s degree, time man­age­ment is cru­cial to your suc­cess. You must plan your sched­ule, stick to it, and eval­u­ate its effec­tive­ness in your cur­rent reality.

  • Deter­mine your pri­or­i­ties, remove non-pri­or­i­ty tasks, and decide the best use for the extra time.
  • Set dai­ly goals based on your aca­d­e­m­ic dead­lines and work deadlines.
  • Use tra­di­tion­al and dig­i­tal cal­en­dars to plan for the best use of your time.
  • Pro­tect your time by learn­ing to say “no.”

Improve your focus.

Since you’re in charge of your time and you’re not par­tic­i­pat­ing in in-per­son class­es, you will be more dis­tract­ed by social media and every­day things. You can improve your focus by:

  • Cre­at­ing a spe­cif­ic study space, prefer­ably sep­a­rate from your work­space. Your study space should be well-light­ed, peace­ful, qui­et, and com­fort­able, as well as equipped with an ergonom­ic table and chair. 
  • Avoid mul­ti­task­ing. Your mem­o­ry, focus and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty will improve when you con­cen­trate on achiev­ing one task at a time.
  • Elim­i­nate your dis­trac­tions. Turn off the tele­vi­sion, set your smart­phone on silent, and close the door.

Avoid procrastination.

We’re all guilty of pro­cras­ti­na­tion at one point or anoth­er. But when you post­pone sched­uled tasks for what­ev­er rea­son, you’re sab­o­tag­ing your suc­cess. The best way to avoid pro­cras­ti­na­tion is to stick to your sched­ule and bask in the feel­ing of suc­cess of accom­plish­ing your dai­ly goals, day in and day out.

Of course, every online stu­dent is dif­fer­ent with dif­fer­ent learn­ing pref­er­ences and styles. You must then exper­i­ment with what works best for you at a giv­en time. You may, for exam­ple, learn best using the Pomodoro method in your first year in col­lege, but with your work respon­si­bil­i­ties, you will learn bet­ter through the Feyn­man technique.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Effec­tive­ly man­ag­ing an online bach­e­lor’s degree and work isn’t just about these two aspects either. You must also con­sid­er the oth­er aspects of your life, par­tic­u­lar­ly your respon­si­bil­i­ties to your fam­i­ly and friends. Your abil­i­ty to keep a good work-life bal­ance will con­tribute to your suc­cess in earn­ing your online bach­e­lor’s degree. 

Practice mindfulness and self-awareness.

Your men­tal health in your jour­ney as a work­ing stu­dent is just as impor­tant as your phys­i­cal health. Being self-aware and prac­tic­ing mind­ful­ness is an essen­tial part of your men­tal health. You can achieve both by keep­ing these tips in mind.

  • Write your thoughts in a jour­nal. You will be more aware of your train of thought when you can read it, result­ing in a bet­ter under­stand­ing of your reac­tions and actions.
  • List down your val­ues, your ways of man­i­fest­ing them, and your impact on oth­ers in prac­tic­ing your val­ues in every­day life.
  • Adopt an atti­tude of grat­i­tude. Life’s chal­lenges can bring down your spir­it, but being grate­ful for what you have will boost your morale.
  • Med­i­tate every day, if pos­si­ble, even if it’s just for 5–10 min­utes, say, after wak­ing up, dur­ing a stress­ful day, or before bed­time. By being con­nect­ed to your inner self, you’re more like­ly to be calm amidst the storm that being a full-time employ­ee and online stu­dent can be.

Smil­ing and laugh­ing, too, can bright­en up a tough day.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Being phys­i­cal­ly healthy is a no-brain­er if you want to suc­ceed in your life as a work­ing col­lege student. 

  • Eat a healthy diet with more empha­sis on whole foods, fruits and veg­eta­bles, and nuts and legumes, among oth­ers. Avoid junk food as much as possible.
  • Exer­cise for at least 30 min­utes a day. Even a brisk walk around your office or 5‑minute exer­cis­es dur­ing breaks add up.
  • Sleep for 7–8 hours every night.
  • Lim­it, if not elim­i­nate, alco­hol and cig­a­rette con­sump­tion. Recre­ation­al drugs are also best avoided.

We also sug­gest devot­ing suf­fi­cient time to your hob­bies as a form of rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it a good idea to work while study­ing?

Yes, it is, but you must deter­mine if you have the per­son­al­i­ty traits, resources, and sup­port sys­tem for it.

Can I work full-time and study online?

Yes, you can, as demon­strat­ed in the above dis­cus­sion. You must pos­sess deter­mi­na­tion, dri­ve and ded­i­ca­tion to jug­gle your work and aca­d­e­m­ic respon­si­bil­i­ties and achieve your goal of earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree.

What are the chal­lenges of work­ing and study­ing at the same time?

The main chal­lenge is in adopt­ing effec­tive time man­age­ment skills that will make it pos­si­ble to meet your work and aca­d­e­m­ic respon­si­bil­i­ties well. You will also expe­ri­ence phys­i­cal and men­tal fatigue, pos­si­bly burnout, finan­cial strain, and lim­it­ed social life, as well as unsat­is­fac­to­ry aca­d­e­m­ic progress.

How do I pri­or­i­tize my work and adapt to shift­ing pri­or­i­ties and dead­lines as a stu­dent?

You can talk to your employ­er first and work out a man­age­able work­load, depend­ing on your cur­rent course load.

How do I com­bine my work, per­son­al life, and stud­ies?

Time man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tion­al skills are key.