Juggling a part-time degree with full-time work
October 29, 2009 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Please share your experiences of doing a part-time degree and working 9-5 at the same time.

I've been considering doing a part-time Masters degree in a course that will open up a lot of career opportunities for me, and is something I would really enjoy studying.

However, I can't really afford to stop working, so I would have to work and study at the same time. I don't have kids or pets or any other obligations. I'm young and energetic. Still, the prospect of juggling a 9-5 job with a 2 year postgraduate degree is frankly quite terrifying, though oddly appealing at the same time, and I don't know anyone who has managed this successfully. Can it be done? Do you do it, or do you know people who do it? Is there any point considering this option? Am in the UK if that helps.

(I've read this thread, which has been helpful.)
posted by Ziggy500 to Work & Money (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine did an executive MBA while holding down a job as a Finance Director.

In a nutshell, she managed it. She gave up a large part of her social life for two years. Whether it is related or not to how she was spending her time, her marriage suffered a little during this time (but has since recovered). She doesn't regret doing her MBA.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:04 AM on October 29, 2009

I got my MBA at night from a very competitive program. It was a lot of work. A lot of coordinating schedules around classes and group work on the weekends. I found that because everyone else was in the same boat, they were flexible and understanding about working at various odd hours on the weekends. Also, because everyone was so busy, the meetings were very efficient. Not much bs-ing. Work on the project and move on. Same as in class. I had the opportunity to go to a few day classes when I was off work as the teacher would teach a day and night section of the same class. In the day sections I attended the questions were more like, "Is this on the test?" and at night, they were more, "That seems odd as I do this sort of thing at work. Wouldn't it work better if...?" I learned a lot from classmates who were in jobs that were in the fields such as marketing we were discussing. While the teachers would talk theory, the classmates would either agree or call bs. I am very glad I went at night rather than full time. Same diploma, more practical degree. Be prepared for two years of being tired. I would nap whenever I could including under my desk from 5:00 to 6:00 before I ran to class. Listen to your classmates.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:12 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's definitely manageable. I completed an MPA in three years while working full-time. It was full of suck at various times, but I managed. I had one kid when I started, and three kids by the time I was done, which added some complexity. In my first semester, for instance, we had to plan to induce labor so as to reduce the chances of missing a final. It ended up not being necessary, because the baby ended up coming at a really convenient time all on his own.

It's all about time management, really. You've got to plan when you're going to do all the stuff you have to do, and make sure you do it at the appointed time. But don't short yourse;f on downtime. You'll need that just as much.

If you're really into the material, that helps a lot, but there's still a lot of slogging through stuff that has to be done. I thought I was in way over my head at some point pretty much every semester, but I put my head down and waded through it. That's what it takes, much of the time.
posted by Shohn at 5:14 AM on October 29, 2009

My husband did his Masters and his PhD while working full time. Just be ready for having pretty much NO social life -- especially while working on your thesis (or dissertation). And by "NO", I mean NO. Especially when working on his dissertation (and the many other published papers that contributed to it), my spouse was working on this stuff literally almost all waking hours when he wasn't at his job.

In the end it was worth it, though.
posted by rhartong at 5:20 AM on October 29, 2009

I did a Master's in engineering in 3 years while working full time. I'm in the US.

Three things contributed to being able to do this:

1. My job wasn't very intellectually demanding, so I was really looking for a way to challenge myself more. I could never do it with my current job, which is much more intellectually demanding. I wouldn't have the brain-bandwidth.

2. With many of the professors, I worked out not having to come to every lecture. That saved me the 45 minute drive 2 or 3 times a week.

3. I love writing.
posted by chiefthe at 5:27 AM on October 29, 2009

I got my JD working full time at the law school. It was so stressful, I got hives. My grades definitely suffered and it hampered my job search. My grades suffered in large part because I refused to abandon my social life. Something has to give and--in my case--it was studying in classes that did not interest me.

If a magical wish fairy gave me the chance to do it again, I would have done it differently.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:45 AM on October 29, 2009

No kids, no pets, no problem!
posted by lakeroon at 5:47 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I did both full-time undergrad and full-time work for ~2 years. It was manageable because I basically just didn't go to class. My grades reflected that (negatively), but so did my work (positively). If I had been less dumb at a younger age, I would have gone to school full-time in the first place without having a full-time job.

Juggling part-time school and full-time work wasn't so bad (I did that some semesters), however with all those night classes, you might find yourself needing motivation to start the second part of your day. It's doable, though! Don't short yourself an opportunity!

Also: No kids, no pets, no problem!
posted by wrok at 5:55 AM on October 29, 2009

I am working full-time and working towards my masters degree part-time right now. It's really the only way I can do it because my company is paying for my degree (and they have grade requirements to reimburse me, which helps motivate me to do the best I can).

What is working for me:
1) Designating certain nights of the week and one full weekend day to schoolwork. For example, Monday night, Wednesday night, and all day Sunday are designated for schoolwork only.
2) Cutting myself slack in other areas, such as housework. There's time to REALLY clean when I've got my masters, right? Stay on top of the bare minimum and let that be it.
3) Cutting back severely on social obligations and vacations except during breaks or during weeks when I have gotten ahead of the work I have to do.
4) Saving personal / vacation days at work to use both for (a) the day or two before a major project or exam is due, and/or some breather time after a semester has ended.
5) I also was able to space out my coursework so my degree is taking a little longer than 2 years, but I only ever have to take 1 class at a given time.
6) Find something to look forward to every day, especially when you are stressed. Whether it is lunch someplace fun, a DVR-ed tv show, a great cup of coffee, whatever, make sure you find something personally enjoyable to do for yourself everyday.
7) Get enough sleep.

You can totally do it!

It's intense, but lots of people do it.
posted by tastybrains at 6:08 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I worked full-time for both my undergrad and grad degrees (full-time student as well). Actually, a full-time job and a part-time job. I am not going to lie, it wasn't easy. Time management was key. I had other obligations that you don't currently have, and even with the obligations I was able to do it. There will be bad days and good days. Just know that up front and keep on going. Determination will get you a long way. Hell, if you need more encouragement, send me a mefi mail. You can do it.
posted by Silvertree at 6:14 AM on October 29, 2009

I worked full-time for my undergrad also (4:00pm to midnight, Monday - Friday). What helped me the most was scheduling all of my classes back to back MWF, so I had all of Tuesday and Thursday available for studying and writing papers.
posted by something something at 6:19 AM on October 29, 2009

I worked full-time while I went to school part-time for my master's in library science (and I graduated). My sister is currently working full-time while she works on her PhD (she also finished her MBA this way). We are very different- she is focused and likes schoolwork, and I am probably slightly ADD and I hate schoolwork (but wanted my degree). Both of us managed. It helped me that I was living with my ex, who helped with chores around the house and general support. My sister has family and friends who support her wholeheartedly.

It's necessary that the program you choose meet your needs as far as evening classes, which is obvious, but my program was going through a bit of an identity crisis where some of the professors threw fits about those night classes while I was there. I got through without taking a day class, but some of my classmates ended up having to take off work to take classes (with a commute) and that wasn't very nice or very fun (and left me with a bad taste in my mouth regarding my alma mater). My sister's programs have been very invested in their night students so that's never been an issue for her. I was at a large state university and she is doing her PhD at another large state university.

My office & boss were flexible and the rules allowed me comp time, so I could come in early to make up on the days I had to leave early. This was pretty important because my degree required a pracitcum, and my program did not want me to complete that at my regular place of business (for whatever reason), so I did have to take off an afternoon a week one semester so that I could travel elsewhere and work for another organization. And that sucked, but it did add some necessary experience to my resume when I graduated and was looking for work elsewhere.

As far as study habits, you'll have to develop some that work with your schedule and your way of working. My sister and I have drastically different ways of going about it, but both are valid since we both finished. Definitely decide that the degree is necessary to where you want to go next, though, because it is A) expensive and B) a major time suck leaving you with little time for socializing. If the new job will pay for the degree you got, it would be worth it, but too many people get grad school debt for no good reason.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:24 AM on October 29, 2009

I'm in the U.S. but based on your description, you'll be fine! It's hard work and prepare for long hours. Go for it!

I did an MFA while working full-time. If I can do it, anyone can.
posted by rumsey monument at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2009

I did an HNC and a BSc part-time in evenings, it would have been much easier to do had I not, like crush-onastick, refused to give up my social life.

I found that I'd be hungry and tired in the evenings, so Lucozade was my friend. I'd often have to re-read through my notes with a clearer head the next day because I ended up 'autopiloting' and not really taking it in. In addition to the two nights a week of lectures, I did 1-2 nights a week of coursework- but if I could go back in time and tell myself what to do this would change to at least two nights per week, and a massive chunk of Sunday too.

So, yeah what everyone else said- it's doable but be prepared to cut out other chunks of your life (it seems the more you give up, the better you'll do).
posted by sid.tv at 6:32 AM on October 29, 2009

I got a Masters in Education Policy while working full time as well and it was fine. Most of my classmates were not working, but probably 25% of them were. The people in the program who were working and were most successful were the people who didn't have families and children, so sounds like you should be fine there. One other thing to consider is your job...when I did it, I had a pretty low-maintenance job that didn't require any flexibility on my part and never involved work at home. The job I have now requires a lot more of me and probably would make school impossible.

In short-I did it, I'm glad I did. I think you can too.
posted by mjcon at 6:47 AM on October 29, 2009

Rough, but doable. I did my MBA and doctoral work while working full time. Particularly rough is not having a lot of rme to put into dating, let alone hang out with friends you already have. I definitely envied my married classmates who at least had someone to ignore during all the madness.
posted by bluejayway at 7:04 AM on October 29, 2009

I'm in the U.S. I did my B.A. part-time while working. Classes were nights and weekends, and for one year I did 27 credits while working which is just short of a full-time course load (30 credits). I always took at least 18 per year. My mother died very suddenly and unexpectedly during that time, and that was rough for everyone. Very traumatic. I was paying for my degree out of pocket, but a year before graduation I lost my job. (I was a political appointee.) I graduated at age 34. I loved my undergrad school. I get misty-eyed thinking about it and how much it meant to me after finally being able to go so long after the traditional age.

I did my M.A. working full-time and going to class on Saturdays. My father died very suddenly and unexpectedly, and this meant closing down the family home (many generations of stuff, memories, worries about selling the house, sibling drama, etc.). The estate issues were very rough on top of classes and work, and the estate was in a distant state. I also had emergency surgery a few months later. I graduated in 2008 at age 50. I miss classes. I don't miss going to bed at 4 or 5am and getting up at 8am for class at 9. I'd still like an additional degree.

So, you are young!!! Wow! And, two years at that age is really nothing in the long-term perspective. And you will be amazed at how the time flies by. Eat as well as you can and get as much exercise as you can.

Good luck!
posted by jgirl at 7:07 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got my masters while working. Special case, though - I was working at the university where I was studying. So tuition was covered (though it counted as income as far as taxes were concerned) and my manager was supportive of me taking time off in the middle of the day to attend class. I did it half-time, finishing a two-year program in three by taking classes over the summer.

Here's what my daily schedule became:
9-5: job
6-10: time at home with my wife
10-1: schoolwork

I wasn't sleeping enough and wasn't making my 6-10 time quality time. So the marriage suffered. "No kids, no pets" is good, but "...and no spouse" would be a lot easier. But hey - lots of people in relationships do it.
posted by booth at 7:48 AM on October 29, 2009

I think you should find out whether anyone else in the program you're considering is working full-time. It's definitely possible to work full-time and also attend graduate school to get a masters degree--I did it, my boyfriend did it, it's so unimpressive in my neck of the woods that I started to feel bad even bringing it up when I met people--but most of the graduate programs around here specifically structure their programs to accomodate people with careers, and that makes a huge difference. It wasn't that the coursework was easier because we had other obligations, but rather than I never had to worry about classes being re-scheduled for 3pm because the professor didn't feel like staying late. Office hours were always scheduled after 5pm. There wasn't any nonsense like giving us a take-home midterm on a Wednesday night and expecting it back within 24 hours. (Those types of exams were e-mailed out at 5pm on Friday, and expected back by 5pm Saturday.)

In short, the culture of the program is going to make a big difference, and the type of student that is enrolled is going to have a huge impact on the culture of the program. If you're the only one working full-time, I'd say that the complication factor goes up, and perhaps more critically, the value of the degree to you is going to go down. You might be able to cobble together your classes so they don't interfere with work, and you will probably get good at being that guy in class who is always objecting to holding class early the day before Thanksgiving so everyone can get home. However, if everyone else is a full-time student and working odd jobs or not working at all, you're not going to be able to participate in study groups (they will be held during the day, when everyone else is free), you definitely will miss out on some of the informal socializing ("let's grab beers at 10pm on Tuesday night, after class!" "Uh, I have work tomorrow..."), and the end result is that you'll miss out on a lot of the connections that are half of the point of a professional graduate program. (Plus, those connections will be with people who might just be starting out in the field, and if you have a couple of years of experience then you're in different places career-wise, which makes those connections less valuable, at least in your first few years out of the program.)

Additionally, I found in my program there was a definite split in the mindsets of the people who were in the program while working, hoping to advance their current careers, and people who were in the program full-time, hoping to start their careers after they finished. Grade-grubbers is probably a too-nasty term, but it was tiresome to constantly have them take up class time with questions like "is this on the test?" when those of us who worked full time wanted to ask questions about how to apply the techniques we were learning to specific data sets or situations we were encountering in our jobs. It was annoying, and I think the classes themselves would have been better--moved faster, had more information, required less hand-holding for those who didn't understand things the first time around and were terrified of getting a C--if all of the students had been working in career-type jobs while attending class.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:05 AM on October 29, 2009

I'm doing it right now, working full-time and getting my masters in library science.

So far, it's very doable, but only because:

a) My job ends at five, and I almost never have to do overtime or take work home with me.

b) I'm only taking one class per semester. It's going to take a stupidly long time this way, probably close to four years, but I know my limits, and I know I would utterly crack if I took on more than that. This way, life is still enjoyable, I still get to socialize, my house is still clean, I still get to see my husband (who is incredibly supportive, and this helps a ton), and I actually get the reading done and have a lot more time to dedicate to the material.

It also helps that everyone in my program is working full-time while going to school, has kids, etc. and the professors are really conscientious of this.
posted by anderjen at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2009

I am (hopefully) wrapping up my undergraduate degree this year and have been working at least 40 hours a week for the duration of my studies, taking three evening courses at a time.

If you want to do this, it is an absolutely achievable goal.

I was the most disorganized, unmotivated guy you can imagine, but after a couple of semesters I became a time management and prioritization pro.

You can do this.

It probably won't be easy, but few things worth doing are.

As others have said, be sure to take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep as much as you can and be sure to force some recreation/relaxation into your schedule.

Best of luck to you, regardless of your decision.
posted by YFiB at 8:55 AM on October 29, 2009

I'll just chime in to say that I'm doing my undergraduate degree part time while working 9-5 full time. I just started back into in September, having been out of full time university studies since 2003.

It's been very manageable, but I've had to say 'no' to a lot of weekend events. Really though, I don't feel like I've missed out on much, and I'm actually quite energized about the whole thing.

I've also become very well aquainted with my local library's study areas, since I'm doing my studies through distance education. I had a lot of help from MeFiites with my AskMe about course load a few months back.
posted by smitt at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2009

I got my MPA while working full time and pretty much gave up my social life to do so, but it was worth it (and none of my friends dumped me.)

What worked for me was scheduling study time. Two evenings a week were study times, 3 hours on Sat., 6 hours on Sun. That way my family knew not to expect me during those times. It also meant that when I did spend time with them, I did so without feelings of guilt or angst that I should be studying.
posted by eleslie at 10:08 AM on October 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for your amazing, helpful and kind responses!
posted by Ziggy500 at 10:39 AM on October 29, 2009

I'm working on my MS in computer science right now and work full-time. I'm doing my master's at Stanford through the Stanford Center for Professional Development which means that my courses are the same that a full-time student would take, except that I watch the lectures on video at my convenience, fax in my homework, and take exams at my workplace. I have no idea what percentage of my classmates also work full-time. Right now I am in touch with four people in my class who do. I don't think I've ever been the only part-time student in my class.

I am one of a fairly small number of part-time students working towards a master's through this program and I find that my quality of life varies with how well the professor has designed the course to accommodate the fact that some students cannot come to campus (I live in Los Angeles - going to Palo Alto to take a test or meet with a study group is a nonstarter for obvious reasons). Sometimes it works (office hours on Gchat? Wonderful!), sometimes it doesn't (40% of your grade is class participation? What??). I don't expect that my GPA will be as high as that of a full-time student as there are a lot of on-campus resources that I just can't avail myself of, and I also have this other thing I do that takes 40+ hours per week...however, I'm hoping the fact that I have 5+ years of work experience plus a master's degree from a top-flight school by the time I'm 28 will help me in the long run, regardless of my grades.

I'm about a third of the way through and at this rate will probably finish sometime in 2012/2013 (depending on whether I suck it up and take class during the summer). Stanford allows part-time master's students five years to complete their degree. This is not overly generous. The courses are time-consuming enough that taking more than one at a time is a pretty daunting proposition.

If you can't afford to do a master's any other way, doing it this way is not the worst thing I can imagine doing. It isn't the most fun thing I can imagine doing, either. You have to keep your objective constantly in mind. Sometimes the learning is so fun it's intoxicating and you don't even want to go in and do your job because doing homework is so awesome. And sometimes, it's hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning because you're so overwhelmed with all the tasks you have to do. I don't think anyone in this askme has told you it's a walk in the park doing your degree this way...but what degree worth its salt is ever a walk in the park??

Memail me if you're interested in Stanford's program in particular.
posted by crinklebat at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2009

I got my Master's in 3 years working full-time at an internet startup that ate up 8 to 13 hours a day of my life, and it was really freaking hard.

Basically the most important things that helped me get through it was keeping some kind of food around that travels well (dried fruit, nuts, energy bars, that sort of thing) and reminding myself of how much money and time I'd have wasted if I DIDN'T finish. I lived in the library; it was easier to study there than anywhere else. Fewer temptations/distractions.

I'm really happy I did it, but I didn't get a lot of sleep, ate pretty crappy and spent entirely too much time in the car and in front of the computer.

Drink a lot of water, rest your eyes as much as possible and try to balance the amount of time you have to skip a class and times when you call in "sick" to work to get school obligations done. And yes, there WILL be times when you have to sacrifice one or the other. Choose wisely.

As far as keeping your sanity when doing coursework after an 8-hour office day? Turn off your phone ringer when you're studying or completing assignments, throw away your TV and find a way to only access sites on the internet that you genuinely need for study or research during certain hours of the day. When you're tired, hungry, despairing and ready to say FUCK IT, any distractions at all can be a terrible thing. Doing coursework and studying in a place like the library can make a huge difference vs. trying to finish it in your office or at home; try to keep each place you go sacred, focused and isolated from the other things, if you can.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:23 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I work full-time and go to school full-time and am married. I just don't do anything else.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:54 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Last year I worked full time and did the final year of my full time physics undergraduate degree.

Some things that helped me do it:

- Spoke to all of my lecturers as soon as I could, and let them know the situation. I made it clear to all of them that if I missed a lecture, it wasn't because I was drunk/hungover/watching daytime tv, but because I was stuck at work. They understood this, and appreciated knowing in advance. This made them much more forgiving with extra help etc when I needed it.

- Got all of the syllabuses early and decided what I could afford not to learn. I simply did not have the time to spend 20 hours chasing 5% of the course like some people. I had to do the same with coursework, I would do the easiest 60% of the questions first, and then fill in the gaps if I had time.

- I made myself unpopular with one group doing group coursework. I made it very clear the second we were assigned into the same group that I only had strict hours available for this, and if they decided to leave the whole project until the final weekend, intending to spend 30 hours in the library, I would be simply unable to be there. I divided the work into quarters, and did my quarter quickly, passing it onto the rest of them. Unfortunately they decided that I hadn't contributed to "the grafting" so they decided to leave my name from it. As I had established a relationship with my lecturer, and could show him the e-mails discussing the split of workload, and my original quarter of the work (which they included in its entirety) he understood, and quietly gave me my marks, without making a fuss in front of them. Be aware of stuff like this, and be strong enough to stand up to people.

- I was very careful to keep my life in separate sections. I wore work clothes to work and uni clothes to uni, I didn't do uni work at my office, or take work work to uni. I bought a desk at home, and did all the uni work I could there. I was also very careful to make sure that I allocated myself fun time, it is simply not possible to work or study 24 hours a day. I actually bought an Xbox 360 when I started my course, which people said I was crazy to do, but it really helped me. I'd set myself a piece of uni work that I thought would take 3 hours in an evening, and I'd give myself a 4 hour slot to do it in. After every hour's work I'd reward myself with 20 minutes of gaming, this made me focused on the work, as I had an immediate reward and it helped me chill out.

It'll certainly be tough, but don't force yourself to work the entire time, if its not going for you, just stop and relax, anything you force yourself to do in that section will be rubbish anyway.
posted by chrispy108 at 12:10 PM on October 31, 2009

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