School full time, working part time?
October 26, 2013 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My question is how does one go to college full time and make ends meet working part time?

I've started going to college part time for a degree in HIT. I'm currently working full time, my health insurance is through my company which covers myself and Mr. Attackpanda. At this time we don't have savings and are paying off a large debt. Health insurance is offered through his job, but it's more expensive than what we currently pay. He's all for me going back full time and working part time, but neither of us know how to make this happen, or how this will effect our lives. Currently, we have no children and I'm in my early thirties. I also found out that a few of my required classes are only offered on the weekdays during normal working hours, I do not think at this time my job would allow any schedule changes.

My company isn't doing well and hasn't been for a long time; so the company going bankrupt is a very, very real possibility. My work situation is toxic and two of my co-workers refuse to speak to me since our work is being redistributed as one of our team members recently left the company. This makes me want to leave even more since they are being childish. (I'm responsible for over 4000 claims, while they are responsible for 1300-2500 claims each. My boss wanted to make this more equal by taking some work away from me and giving it to them and they have flat out refused. This lead to an hour long shouting match between the 4 of us. So classy, I know.) If I could be sure that we could manage without my full time salary, I'd quit very soon. I'm also thinking of going to school full time as plan A if I get laid off.

What should I be thinking about in order to effectively make a decision about this? How does a person go to school full time, work part time and keep a roof over their head and food in their fridge? If you've done this, what did you expect vs what actually happened?
posted by Attackpanda to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it depends what you do. I did a variation on this (school full time, working part time, some help from my parents) when I was in college, but I worked in a store. I worked weekends and scheduled my classes so that I could squeeze in shifts on certain weekdays.

For example scheduling all my classes for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I could work Tuesday and Thursday. Or scheduling so that I could have class in the morning and work the closing shift.

If you work in a "bankers hours" type of corporate setting, this is much more difficult to manage. Even working somewhere with more flexible scheduling, it was difficult. Everything would be going great, and then a semester would come up where the only class offered was at a time I needed to be free to work. It also definitely had an impact on the courses I chose to take once I got above the intro level and things were frequently only offered in one section. Also, it ultimately took me much longer to graduate than it would have if I had felt free to choose a course over a job.

And, as I said, I had some help, I didn't have to live only on the ~$200 a week I made working part time retail.
posted by Sara C. at 4:55 PM on October 26, 2013

Some things to consider are:
Is getting this degree is 100% necessary and will it definitely offer you rock-solid career improvement, contacts, internships, a portfolio, etc?

Are you going to rush through it too fast (taking too many courses at once and then not having enough time to spend on homework for all of them) because you need to get back to work ASAP?

If you're currently surviving on two full-time incomes, you're going to need to cut back your expenses. Can you think of things you can cut down? (cable, car, eating out, vacations, etc.) If you can't write up a budget with significant cuts then this is a bad idea.
posted by bleep at 4:57 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

So first, it seems like your current job is trouble regardless of going to school Get a new job. Some jobs offer work-from-home hours or you can be nearly full time. (My job has some workers that are at the 30 to 35 hour range, and working from home part of the week.)

There is a possibility that you can find a job that is nearly full time or is more flexible with taking class - for instance you leave for class but make up your hours during the week by staying later a few days a week.

So there are options that aren't either "full time" or "crappy 15-20/hr per week part time" range. I would suggest finding positions that are closer to full time but allow flexibility.

Next, I went to school and worked part time, however I paid for most of my stuff with student loans. We could pay the bills, but it meant not eating out, and getting whatever apartment we could afford. It doesn't seem from your question that you can or are willing to take out a large amount of student debt. But that's how I paid for things. I maxed out my loans and whatever I got as a refund paid my food and rent, plus I had to work to pay for stuff, especially over summer.

I wonder when this required class needs to be taken? Next semester? Two years? Is it available online?

My vote is to find a new job, with the option to be flexible, that is nearly full time, or will allow you to make up hours that you miss for class. Then you can still do school part time, or you might even be able to get your schedule to full-time with online and evening classes, and get a job that is nearly full time and flexible.

Also, if you have to pick, I vote to get a better full time job rather than go to school full time. You need the money NOW and can always go back to school later.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:23 PM on October 26, 2013

Another thing I thought of is if you can qualify for many kinds of jobs at a local university you can usually get tuition benefits.
posted by bleep at 5:40 PM on October 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have many students who do this. Obvious contributing factors: our college is extremely inexpensive, they qualify for Federal Financial Aid (you have to be a full time student to qualify), and their Pell Grants completely cover tuition, fees, and books, possibly with money left over for living. They generally have jobs that are flexible in scheduling, and they do things like go to class all day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and work all day on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. They qualify for our student health insurance, which isn't bad, and which is cheap. And they do live fairly inexpensive lifestyles in a low cost of living place.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:48 PM on October 26, 2013

Student loans.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:37 PM on October 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

The only way to make sure a job lets you work around your class schedule is to get a job on campus.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:39 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"How does a person go to school full time, work part time and keep a roof over their head and food in their fridge?"

Most people have student loans and/or financial support from parents or a spouse who works full time.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:00 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to echo some of the above: all of the work I do is through the school so that I can be sure that each job will respect my course load, etc. Essentially I have three part time jobs at the school I'm attending. There isn't any way I could make that work at another organization. It's likely to be similar for you. And, sadly, I've also had to pick up some loans. So even with three part time jobs it's not enough to cover tuition and living expenses.
posted by safetyfork at 9:03 PM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I worked 30+ hours to keep my benefits while I went to school fulltime. This arrangement matched my expectations once it was set up with my previously fulltime job. I hadn't been expecting them to go for it.

It sucked, but I kept my GPA up and got through it.

My motto was "the only way out is through."

I am now working full-time in my new field and taking some online classes.
posted by RainyJay at 10:38 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

How does a person go to school full time, work part time and keep a roof over their head and food in their fridge?

Work backwards: figure out how much you can make part time, and make your expenses less than that. It might be trickier for you, you're more likely to have set expenses at this point in your life, and be less willing to live with 3-4 roommates in a 1-bedroom apartment.

Anyway, I did it when I was 19-22. For the most part, I took morning and early afternoon classes and worked as a nanny for a family with school age children that I picked up from school. Student loans and a pell grant covered tuition, and I made enough as a nanny to cover my living expenses, books, and materials ($1000/m in Berkeley about ten years ago). I had lots of roommates, and subsisted off coffee, peanut butter toast, Annie's mac & cheese, and apples. I pretty much was at work or at school ALL the time - so no hobbies, and there was no food in the fridge 'cause I was on a budget and didn't have time to cook anyway. I didn't party, didn't really date, really didn't do ANYTHING else. I didn't work on campus because nannying and babysitting paid significantly more (up to $18/hr for a 4am-8am shift, at least in the Bay Area).

The semester I had a boyfriend (he lived in Palo Alto, so we spent Saturdays together) I broke out in stress-hives during finals and nearly didn't pass a class.

When my nanny family moved, I patched together some regular babysitting gigs and part/time nanny type work around my schedule for the last few semesters. I looked for gigs that were regular, and had early or late start times (they paid more), or housecleaning. If you live in an urban area with a solid nanny market, it's a great option - once the kids are asleep (for the night or for a nap) I could study. Even with school age kids, we could all do our homework together, and I'd at least get a little bit done or get some scheduling/planning done.

I did not receive any 'outside' money/help (parents or family).
posted by jrobin276 at 10:48 PM on October 26, 2013

I took a full load in grad school and worked almost full time (30 hours a week) at 3 part time jobs. One was a fellowship, one was at the school's language lab, and one was selling tickets at a community theatre on the weekends. Health care through my parents. I had a roommate and did nothing but work, although it was nice to have someone there to wash dishes sometimes, even though her income did not affect my bottom line.

I would definitely look into work study opportunities, multiple ones if you can. As stated before, they know how to and are willing to work around class schedules. Supplement with retail. I also took out loans for tuition, so look into that as well.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:54 AM on October 27, 2013

Ways that people make ends meet while studying full time, working part time:
- they live cheaply.
- Sharehouse/rent out your spare room.
- Cheap hobbies, if any.
- Most people in this situation spend their time working or at school. They do not have time to spend money on anything else, whether they have it or not

- get a job that works with campus hours. Or go to a school that has classes at convenient times. Or skip the clashing classes.
- Summer jobs.
- Loans.
- Degrees with paid work.
posted by Ashlyth at 4:33 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It really helps if you can find a job or jobs that pay you for "presence," rather than activity. I worked as a commercial radio transmitter operator at nights, for an AM radio station that was required by law to have a licensed operator at the directional antenna site, whenever the station was operating on directional (night time) antennas. They didn't care what I did during my shifts, as long as my log entries were made hourly, so I did my school work. I worked as a parking lot attendant on the graveyard shift for a bonded shipments broker, which required me to process maybe 5 to 10 tickets a night, keep an eye on a bank of CCTVs, and make a couple of tours of the lot a night on a golf cart, and I got a lot of school reading and writing done.

Another guy I knew worked third shift as a stationary engineer, basically watching a building boiler produce heat and steam for a building. His was another "presence" job, which paid well because it required a state license, which took him all of a couple weeks to study for and pass a 3 hour test, to get. "Presence" jobs generally value your dependability and perhaps some kind of licensed skill, and you can often work second or third shifts for good money, with little supervision or interruption, as long as the employer can count on you to cover the job reliably.

Sometimes, supervisory jobs on off shifts can be, more or less, presence jobs, if you have good workers. I was a lead maintenance technician in a plastics plant on 3rd shift for a while, with several mechanics and electricians working for me. My job was basically making sure that work was distributed and accomplished to minimize downtime, and costs, and that paperwork was done reliably. It was actually boring much of the time, but union rules prohibited me doing actual maintenance work, except under specific circumstances, so no one minded what I read at work, as long as I was at work, and my crew was on the job, every night.
posted by paulsc at 6:19 AM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Stoodent loons, eating out maybe three times in a semester, buying in bulk (sirloin cost 1/3 less than hamburger in the 90's; I despise that particular cut of meat now but I'll never forget fooling with 15lb slabs of meat like some jr. butcher... chop, slice, dice, grind, then freeze), somehow fitting 50 rolls of TP into a small space, heat low, AC all but off, yah even got on food stamps for a while and in an efficient manner soon had more food than I could eat in an entire semester thanks home ec classes, dropped car insurance for six months and rode bike five miles to skool, hung laundry outside to dry, used pens from banks businesses etc, cut own hair, Ivory soap instead of shampoo, -zero- media purchases or trips to the movies (Siskell and Ebert were my trip to the movies), coupon shopping and coupon hunting, if clothes/bike parts/anything was needed it was always bought on sale and usually over the internet (I guess Campmor, Nashbar, and Sierra Trading were mail order then) for lots less than local, no smoking or alcohol, etc.

Paid with checks for everything, or cash. No, none, zero credit card usage. My debt was purely student loan debt. Just seeing the interest rate bilk the CCs included repulsed me from ever going down that path to debtor servitude.

I overborrowed on my stoodent loons so that I would have some funds for cost of living expenses. I do not know if that is a Stafford loan possibility now.

I expected it to suck horribly in many ways, and maybe it did... I'll relate some of it to people and really get some OMG looks, and many a date has been broken just by mentioning how I completed my pithy degree...but I did not want to be another 7/8 of a degree is not a college degree person, and I also knew that my stoodent loons would begin building interest and come due as soon as I stopped taking X# of hours a semester.

What actually happened was I graduated, finally paid off loans, and try to remember that being near broke and not going out and doing much of anything can be very underrated. Mostly happy warm memories of good learning, social interaction time v. spendy 'do something' time; and a degree at the end.
I suppose it all worked out ok. College seems like more of an expense and ordeal of dedication every year now... I'd see people park in Hyde Park Austin, then take a bus to campus, and then undoubtedly have to walk 1/2 a mile to class. The multi-step commute to school would drive me nuts, and textbooks today cost 3-4x what they cost years ago.
I never sold back a single book. Getting 10% of the cost back just seemed like usury.
Bought and sold camping and outdoor items... I'd call manufactures' like Brunton for example, see how much of what I'd need to buy to get a price, explain what I was doing; and Craigslist them ( school again in the 2000's). Didn't get rich, but profit is profit and an item sold was often the same as grocery money for the week.

No help with grouches at work. I had perfect attendance and got a 5cent raise once. Some coworkers went bonkers over. My 5cent raise. Eh, whatever. Loud, angry, upset. Tolerated it because I was not working for tomorrow; I was working to finish college and move on. Luck, and glad I finished it myself.
posted by buzzman at 7:11 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that "presence" work is a great bet. I worked full time and went to grad school part time (well, and full-time one semester), and I got most of my schoolwork done at work-work. Also I was working second shift (3:30-midnight) which was great for me because I got to use my early-in-the-day brainpower for my schoolwork and veg out a bit at work-work.

Also look into whether you can schedule any short classes. You school might offer condensed courses where you can take a full three credits in one or two weeks of full-time (9-5) class.
posted by mskyle at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2013

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