Anyone considering returning to school to earn an advanced degree hears about the challenges inherent in balancing school and work. Finding the time to study after work and on the weekends, while still managing personal responsibilities and some downtime is a common theme among working students, and many advocate for not working full time until you’ve earned your master’s degree.
Becoming a full-time student can certainly help you finish a degree program more quickly, and allow you to throw yourself into your studies wholeheartedly, but it’s not always a guarantee of academic success and not everyone can afford to be a student full time. But there is a growing body of evidence indicating that working while attending graduate school can actually make you a better student and help you get more out of your degree program. It might seem counterintuitive, but consider some of the ways that working and studying at the same time are mutually beneficial.
Improved Time-Management, Focus
According to “Psychological Bulletin,” conscientiousness — the ability to plan, a willingness to work hard, and self-discipline — is one of the top predictors of academic success. Balancing work and school requires a great deal of conscientiousness, because simply put, working students don’t have the luxury of procrastination. When you work 40 hours or more per week, it’s imperative that you schedule blocks of time to attend classes (even online), complete reading, conduct research, write papers, and do other assignments.
Because so much of your time is already spoken for, you usually can’t say, “I’ll deal with it tomorrow” and expect to have time to get everything done. And during the blocks of time that you have set aside for studying, you’re likely to be more focused, and less apt to waste time daydreaming, surfing the Internet, or doing everything but getting the work done.
Most working students find that they must create schedules, set deadlines for themselves, and devote themselves to focusing on schoolwork. Not only does this help them get all of the work done, but most report being able to apply those same skills to their jobs, and become more productive. In fact, it’s common for working students to discover that their work productivity increases when they start school, because they are more focused during working hours to ensure that they can leave on time to get to class or hit the books.
Many graduate programs designed for working professionals online-courses encourage students to draw from their own experiences in their classwork. Class discussions and assignments are often focused on the real-world application of theories and concepts, giving students the skills they need to improve their performance at work in real time.
For example, a student in a master’s of public administration program might develop a strategic plan for their employer, using real-life data and situations, as part of a class project. This takes learning from the theoretical to the concrete, and makes it more relevant. In addition, because working students are likely to want to (or be required to) share their knowledge with their employer and co-workers, they are more likely to put in the effort required to create meaningful and accurate work.
Intellectual curiosity is another predictor of academic success, which often translates to passion or engagement with the subject being studied. All too often, graduate students feel pressure to complete academic activities such as conducting research, publishing papers, or attending conferences because that’s what is expected of them, not because they have a real interest in the subject or activity. Often, full-time graduate students fill their time with such activities in a quest to appear busy or to justify the fact that they aren’t working. Often, though, the result isn’t a more knowledgeable student, but a burned-out student instead.
Working students, on the other hand, aren’t generally as likely to take on tasks that don’t have any measurable benefit to their academic progress or that they aren’t interested in. That’s not to say that they will love every class and project, but they are more likely to focus on courses and activities that are interesting and beneficial to their ultimate career goals than to do things because they feel like they are supposed to do them. As a result, their engagement shows through in their performance.
No one will ever say that working full time while attending graduate school — which more than a quarter of students do — is easy, but it can have benefits for your academic performance. Success comes down to your individual commitment and ability to juggle everything, but know that it is possible to do, and you might even find that you do it better than you would have otherwise.
Written by Cher Zavala
About the Author: Cher Zavala contributes content on a variety of subjects to a number of high-quality websites.