How can I balance school and work?
April 22, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I just started nursing school, and I also work 40+ hours a week. It's only been two weeks of school but it's already killing me - I work, sleep, school, sleep. I've already fallen asleep in class and tonight I overslept and missed my ride to work - the work is flexible enough that this isn't an issue today. But I know if it keeps happening I'll end up doing poorly on both, might lose my job, fail school or both.

The problem is if I cut down my hours at work I can't afford to attend school. I have to pay a large out of pocket cost because my parents make too much money. I live on my own, pay my own bills etc and it's already a struggle with the hours I'm getting now. I've applied for alternative loans, asked about dependency petitions (the school doesn't do them), and nothing has panned out. My parents aren't able to help out - they used up their resources on my previous attempts at school. I feel hopeless. Please tell me what you've done in this situation to get by. Thank you.
posted by Autumn to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I also went to nursing school while working full time. It was only doable for me because I was working in a hospital setting as a secretary. The hospital knew I would continue to work there as an RN once I finished school, and so they were supportive of my need for a flexible schedule. I also had enough years of employment under my belt that I had a decent reserve of sick and vacation time to use when school demands became overwhelming.

To be honest, I can't imagine working full time and going to nursing school unless you have this kind of special understanding with your employer.

If your current job is not healthcare related, try to find one that is. And remember that nursing school, though demanding, is finite. You sound young; I did it when I was in my early 30s. Don't quit school and see if you could work as a nurse aide or something that will help your clinical skills.
posted by little mouth at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is moving in with your parents and cutting your work hours an option?
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't go to school full time and work full time. Your options are either to only take two classes per semester or to work long enough to save enough money so that you only have to work part time while attending the program.

Other possibilities are to wait until you qualify for financial aid as an individual or to throw yourself at the mercy of your parents and beg them for help.
posted by deanc at 5:51 PM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Although I am loathe to suggest that someone goes into debt, have you thought about applying for Federal Loans? When I was in school for SLP, there was no way I could have worked 40 hours a week and keep up with schoolwork. I had to take out loans to support myself through school, and I got an RAship for 10 hours a week and got tuition breaks (is that a possibility for you?) Not sure where you are, but maybe there is some way to get some assistance since you're going into a high-demand profession?

I sympathize... it might get better, as you get into a groove. The first few weeks of anything are the toughest.
posted by absquatulate at 5:56 PM on April 22, 2013

What you are doing is not possible. As a data point, only one person who passed my nursing program worked at all in her first semester. I worked only in my last semester. You may be able to pull off working part time, depending on your program, especially if you are working in a hospital as mentioned above.

Find another way. Any way. Borrow. Cut all expenses. Move in with family. Whatever you need to do. It's wrong and fucked up that school is now so hard for all but the wealthiest, but it's the reality.

If you ever need more tips or encouragement, please mefi message me. It's so hard but it can be done.
posted by latkes at 6:55 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I tried this once, working ~50-60 hrs/wk (but not with a nursing program!). Failed spectacularly and at great expense. 2nd deanc, big-time.
posted by nelljie at 7:08 PM on April 22, 2013

I'll echo what others have already said. The concept of balancing implies that there's a limited quantity of things you are trying to balance. You cannot work FULL time and study FULL time....that isn't balancing, that's needing two separate lives. It is a bad situation, but if I were you I'd cut the work into half. Go part-time, stay with parents/cheaper accommodations, and manage expenses by taking additional loans (for example the GradPLUS loans). The good news is that when it is time to pay back, you will qualify for Income Based Repayment (IBR) and since you are in the health care profession you likely qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years of IBR.

I realize that might not sound like good news but that's the way education works in USA. Get in debt, spend half of adult career life getting out of debt :(. Seriously though, complete the schooling - it will be totally worth it in the long run.
posted by BitterYouth at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2013

I work almost full time (40hrs some weeks, 30-35 others) and go to graduate school full time. It can be done. I have had a very, very difficult year doing this, but it is possible.

You have to insist on sleeping at LEAST 7 hours every night. You just have to do it. Sacrificing sleep for work is only going to hurt you in the end. I do recommend trying to work somewhere where your hours are irregular or there are people who can sometimes fill in for you--a normal desk job can be really tough to juggle with school. One of my methods last year was to work a few different jobs and cobble them together to almost full time, and cram schoolwork in between.

I totally sympathize. The only thing I can tell you is that you must stay super organized and you have to study smarter, not harder. That means that you do things like set a timer to work/read/study for 30 min, take a 5-10 min break (walk around, outside if possible) and keep going. Take impeccable notes. Always show up. Make the most of your time in-between things--I got a lot of valuable work done on trains, buses, and lunch breaks at work.

Godspeed. I'm about to graduate and I think I will collapse with joy on that day.
posted by araisingirl at 7:28 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did this. Not nursing, but working full time and taking 4 classes at night towards my MBA. First, it is doable. It is going to take extreme mental toughness. I was going to say that your body will start to adapt to it in a few weeks, but it has been a few weeks. But hang in there.

My biggest advice would sound counter intuitive, but I would exercise. One, it will help your body and it will give you a mental health break too. I played basketball two nights and softball one weekend afternoon.

Unless you are working with heavy machinery or doing something where being tired could jeopardize your life or someone else's, you will adapt to being tired.

At some point (soon), you need to make the decision that YOU ARE GOING TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT WORK. Then, all your waking energy has to be geared towards making it work.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:31 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot, this was enormously helpful to me.

Just a note about the doing both thing: some nursing programs are much tougher than others, and I don't know the nature of yours, but as far as I know, all are an enormous amount of work, and most are much more intense than other graduate programs. I don't say this to downgrade the experience of folks above who worked so hard doing both. But I'd be very surprised to hear from folks who successfully worked full time while specifically in a nursing program, although the human spirit being what it is, I'm sure it's been done.
posted by latkes at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I teach a class on study skills and success in university and the guidelines I have read and pass on to my students are no more than 15 hours a week of work on top of a full undergraduate course load.

Now of course some people manage to pull off a bit more. Maybe 20-25 hours a week if there is an end in sight and they are extremely organized. We have a couple of superstars in this thread who pulled off full time or close to it apparently. But they are not the norm AT ALL. Unless you have a very flexible school schedule (ie, grad studies without much coursework or with work that can be tied into your job) or a very flexible job you will crash and burn. Nursing school is a lot of work. Something will have to give. Decide what it is now while you are still in control rather than letting it happen to you when things are out of control.

You have some suggestions above but if you want to stay in school full time they will have to involve either cutting expenses (move back home, take in a roommate) or getting a higher paying job where you can work fewer hours. The other option is of course going to school part time and taking longer to finish your coursework if this is an option at the school you attend. If not, can you find another program that does allow this?
posted by Cuke at 8:03 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh wow, nursing school is hard, once you are doing classes and clinicals, I cannot imagine being able to work's really worth it though so don't mess up school, quit the job. You also want to think about the fact that if you are exhausted you may actually hurt someone and that's no good.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:03 PM on April 22, 2013

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