college student working in dorm room with Marquette University photo frame on desk

Whether you’re a freshman, an upperclassman, or a nontraditional student, it’s likely that at some point in your college career, you’ll have to deal with balancing your education with a job. According to a study by Georgetown University, nearly 70% of students work at least one job while in college. Is it hard to balance school and work? Like any challenge, it depends on your situation. How to balance a part-time job and college will look different than a full-time job. Whether you take night classes while working 40 hours a week, or work weekends as a full-time student, the prospect of balancing work and school can be intimidating. However, there are steps you can take to help you skillfully handle this balancing act.

1.) Consider Your Goals 

Anyone wondering how to balance school and job requirements should first take stock of their current situation. Write or type out all your current responsibilities at school and work. How many classes are you taking? When in the week are your classes scheduled? How much time do you need to spend on homework and studying? On the employment side, how many hours each week do you currently work? Is your work schedule consistent, or can it change from week to week? How often are you asked to stay late? 

With all this in front of you, think through what your goals are for both studies and working. The way your balance work and study for school is largely dependent on what your end goal is. Are you a full-time student who just wants some spending money during the year? Don’t fall into the trap of exhausting yourself with a demanding work schedule—your studies must come first. Conversely, are you employed full-time, and taking night classes at the recommendation of your employer? If you find it difficult to complete all your homework while working full-time, you may want to see if they would allow you to complete classwork while on the clock.

How to manage your time between work and study is largely determined by your motivation for each. Once you’ve fully taken stock of your responsibilities, time commitment, and priorities, move on to the next step. 

student shaking hand of professor

2.) Open Lines of Communication

While balancing work and school with a busy schedule, clear communication with both parties is key for success. Tension, misunderstandings, and injured pride can result from a failure to communicate. Make sure your professors and employers are aware of your dual priorities. If your work shift starts half an hour after the scheduled end of your class, tell your professor you may need to leave if the class runs long. If you know you have an important exam in a few weeks, tell your manager so they are aware you may need time off to study. Stressors in one area of life often spill over to other areas. By letting your higher-ups know what’s on your plate, and giving them early visibility about any potential conflict, you’ll find that many are understanding and supportive of your endeavors.

filling out schedule at desk

3.) Make a Schedule

The final step in managing your work-school balance is to make a schedule. Many people’s schedule follows a similar format from week to week: they sleep at the same time, eat meals at the same time, and go to class at the same time. If this isn’t the case for you, and your work hours vary from week to week, you still benefit from a schedule more than you may expect.

Identify Nonnegotiable Time

On a physical or digital calendar, block out times that are nonnegotiable each week. The time and day your classes meet will rarely changeput those in. Any shifts that occur consistently from week to weekfor example, if you always work a full day on Fridaysadd those as well. Any clubs, organizations, or meetings that regularly occur should also be added. Don’t forget to take into consideration travel and/or driving time. If you drive 30 minutes to get to and from your job, that is a non-negotiable. To the best of your ability, add your current sleep schedule. Though college students are famous for ignoring this advice, try and remember health experts recommend 6-8 hours of sleep each day!

Add Daily Must-Haves

At the end of this step, you should have a calendar in front of you that is partially filled. From here, fill any gaps with things that are important, but don’t necessarily have a definitive completion time. Meals would fit this category; although essential, their exact timing can be flexible. Getting physical exercise is another important entry. Depending on what you do to stay active, it can be done at various times throughout the week. 

Block Out Study Sessions

Perhaps the most relevant and unique to students is studying. Honestly reflect on your previous experiences as a student, as well as estimated study times given by your professor. If you are taking five classes, and each professor recommends taking one hour each week outside of class to study, you will need to find five hours during the course of the week in which to schedule your study times. 

Keep Flexibility in Mind

Once this is complete, you should have a schedule that is more or less full. What you’ve created is not a cage or a restriction on how you need to spend your time, but a guide. This schedule is your ‘ideal’ schedule. It’s very likely you’ll never have a week where it is followed exactly. One week, you may need to study longer than you expected. Another week, you may need to pick up someone’s shift at work. These things happen, and you should not feel bound to your ideal schedule if life takes you to different places. 

Like a budget, this schedule gives you a framework as you think about your time. This is what makes a weekly schedule useful, even to the person who may work irregular shifts during the week. This schedule gives you the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when things come up in life. How will you balance the demands of working and studying? A schedule gives you the ability to say ‘yes’ when an event happens on campus during a study session because you know you’ll have the free time later to make it up. A schedule gives you the ability to say ‘no’ when your boss asks you to stay late because you know that you have no other time in the week to prepare for your midterm exam.

Graduate smiling looking at her UWM Law School degree frame

Set Yourself Up for Success

Juggling jobs and university classes is a delicate balancing act and you might feel overwhelmed, but by implementing these steps, you’ll be well on your way to both professional and academic success! Working as a student is a great way to financially support yourself, as well as to get career exposure. By putting in the hours as a student, you have the opportunity to try out new fields, professions, and employers. Once classes are done, you’ll be well-prepared to use your new certification, concentration, or framed degree to enhance your career and achieve your goals.

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