People pay for their college education in different ways. Some attend school part time while working. This can cut down the amount of money they have to borrow, but it can add on several extra years before they graduate.
Another option is to take student loans for everything and defer payments until later. However, these people have to deal with the financial pressure of thousands of dollars of debt as soon as they leave school.
A great way to balance these two extreme approaches is taking a part-time job while attending school full time. That way you can better manage your debts, while still finishing school in 4 years. Finding the perfect mix of work and school can be very difficult, however, so check out the following tips for some helpful strategies.
1. Set A Schedule And Keep It
Without a doubt, the best way to balance school and work is to make a detailed schedule. This helps you maintain a job schedule that's pretty constant so your employer is more likely to feel confident in you and work with you. And it helps with anything that pops up on the fly. If you know you work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then you know you can make that last-minute study group Tuesday night.
Keep your schedule somewhere handy, like in a pocket planner or your phone, and put everything in it—homework due dates, tests, social hangouts, work shifts, etc. Make as tight a schedule as you want, but don't forget to give yourself free time to read a book that isn't for class, watch some TV, or do something else that helps you unwind. Just be careful about overbooking yourself. Before you add something to your schedule, think about your responsibilities, free time, and sleep schedule for that week. Is the time commitment worth it?
The reason you have a schedule is to space things out so you don't have to do everything all at once. Don't think about school while you're at work, and don't think about work while you're in class. Focus on what you're doing 100%. That goes for free time as well. Don't think about that paper being due or your next work shift when you're supposed to be mindlessly watching a movie with your significant other or catching up on Facebook.
One of the greatest things about school is that each class has a syllabus, which is fantastic for scheduling. As of the first day in class, you know exactly what to expect for the next few weeks/months. That means you can schedule study time for tests well in advance, even requesting off from work if you need to.
2. Communicate With Loved Ones And Roommates
It might be especially tough when you first start working part time on top of school. Don't be afraid to reach out to your significant other, friends, and family for support. Include them when you have downtime, as you'll need them as a source of fun and love. Just be sure to communicate how important study time privacy is—so they don't become a source of stress or distraction.
During downtime, keep them updated with fun stories about professors and classmates, interesting facts that you’ve learned, etc. Open communication will ensure that your loved ones and roommates stay connected in your life without stressing you out and complicating your work/school balance.
3. Talk To Your Boss
For work, try to pick a job with flexible hours and be upfront with your boss right away about balancing work and school. It might help to explain how your degree will increase your skills and knowledge and give you better management potential.
If your company is supportive of you going to school, ask the human resources manager if they offer tuition reimbursement. Also, be sure to take time off from work when you need it, especially for finals and midterms, and make sure to give your boss plenty of notice.
4. Apply For Financial Aid
If you secure a bit of financial aid through scholarships and grants, you might not have to work as many hours, which frees up time to study. Check around online and meet with your school's financial aid counselor to learn about available scholarships. Be sure to follow through on the basics like completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for Pell grants and low-interest federal student loans.
5. Maximize School And Work Resources
There are a lot of perks at work and school that you might not notice at first glance. For instance, see if your school has a gym you can pop into between classes. Instead of hopping on the computer at night to catch up on emails, use the computer at work during your lunch hour. Both school and work might offer cheap or tax-exempt public transportation passes, which can help you save money.
When the going gets tough, remember why you're putting yourself through the stress: fewer student loans, less worrying about money, and learning how to balance life's responsibilities. By the time you graduate, you'll have gone through the wringer, but that means you'll be tough and ready to take on anything life throws at you.