Balancing work experience and college?
July 2, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I am switching from full-time college with a part-time job to part-time college with a full-time job to gain more experience. I'm in the Web software development industry. How do I keep motivated and not get discouraged?

I have had a part-time/full-time job since I was 15 developing a niche Web application. I've since graduated from high school and completed my freshman year at a nearby university working 30+ hrs/wk with classes 15 hrs/wk (not including studying) with a 3.5 GPA. The job is going downhill quickly with new management and many of my smart coworkers leaving for bigger out-of-state companies. If I could, I'd work somewhere else, but there isn't a lot of companies doing what I do in this area.

That's why, a few months ago, I resolved to quit the job by the end of summer to focus on getting my degree in Computer Science while living with my parents to cut expenses. I planned on doing some consulting type work, not for the money per se, but to keep my current skills.

A month ago, an ex-coworker called me asking if I'd be interested in joining their team at a company I always dreamed of working for. It's at a relatively large company in California. I decided that I should give it a shot because I have noting to lose-- and got the offer. It's definitely not over my head but it'll give me a new challenge. The job will start out using the skills I developed at my present job and I'll have the opportunity to learn more as I continue to work there. I'll get paid a lot of money and can live on my own. The people are great, I feel wanted, and the environment rocks.

The only problem is that I'm not through school yet! My friends and family think that this is a non-issue because I'm getting relevant job experience and the company will pay for school. My parents argue that continuing with school here will leave me without relevant experience when I graduate. Indeed, many of my coworkers are working below market to gain Web app experience-- and they have CS degrees from the university I have attended.

At the same time, I recognize the need for a good education. I know that the "CS theory" & math skills I have must be improved on if I want to continue a career in this field because the Web isn't going to be using my current skills forever. I plan on going to a local community college part-time with this full-time job. There is a university nearby but, of course, my admission there isn't guaranteed.

I'm concerned that I'll be a greater risk of getting discouraged with school. I'm concerned that I should be focusing on school to potentially transfer into a better school. (Basicially, that I should be a "traditional student" and not going part-time.) I'm concerned that if I don't take this job opportunity doing what I love, I'm going to regret it forever. However, I could leave this job after a year and return to the same university.

I'm looking for advice. I'm pretty much committed to taking the job right now but I'd like to get some perspective from others who have more experience than I do.

Here are a few starting points:

How do I transfer from a community college to a university as a part-time student? Should I look into online or distance education? Any gotchas? Should I be concerned about 7-10 year time limits on undergrad degrees?

Any wise words to keep me motivated to get through school and work? Will this job be an asset or a liability to applying for a university in a couple of years (think application essay and/or my knowledge gained on the job)?

Thanks everyone! You may contact me here:
posted by anonymous to Education (4 answers total)
I moved from a major college town with minor tech job opportunities (UIUC) to silicon valley and then we recruited a lot of friends and friends of friends, etc. The only people who regretted jumping before they got a degree were people who were uncertain that they really wanted to be software/hardware/web folks and then weren't motivated enough to accomplish projects in the work world.

You get a degree to get a good job that you're interested in and that gives you growth potential. Is this job a good one that you're interested in with growth potential? If you love what you do, all the dithering about college (which is a means to an end unless you want to be an academic) is going to seem silly in 5 years to you.

Admission essays that say, "I worked in the field. I accomplished X, Y, Z. Getting this degree will allow me to apply X, Y, Z to (field of study) in a way that..." is far more powerful than, "I really love (subject)".

I got my master's degree after working in the industry for a while, and I have to tell you that if you're not more motivated to learn, you you don't do better in class after working in the real world, than something is seriously wrong. You will get the teachers that know less than you problem, particularly in a community college setting.

Whatever school you're interested in, if they accept you, will have an office that can help you transfer your files and your credits over. Talk to the university you're at about how long those credits can stand without losing them.

My experience with transferring is basically, if you have the professors' names and syllabus for the courses you took, you'll be in better shape to argue for the credits should you need to, but unless it's something really obscure or unrelated (my history of computer science transferred as history rather than math which it should have honestly been to start) you won't need to argue much.
posted by Gucky at 10:21 AM on July 2, 2008

I had a similar experience – biggest difference was the grades. I partied school away while working part time then went full time when a great opportunity arose. I left school saying I’d eventually be back…

What I can tell you is that FOR ME I had to do it on my terms and school at that time is not where I wanted to be so I worked and had fun doing it. I quickly realized that I was being underpaid (enough to live comfortably, but was in a college town so not a lot of loot) and a degree was the only way to get more $$.

While I wouldn’t have done it another way it did take me almost 8 years (not concurrent) to get my undergrad. Recently I have been seeing my “colleagues” 2 and 3 levels above me (promotion wise) – while I did have experience when it came down to jobs I still started off pretty much entry level and have been working up since then (good thing is my salary has been above par). I see people slightly older and younger than me who are really successful and it is frustrating because I would be there if I didn’t have that extra 4 years in school.

Again – I wouldn’t trade anything not to be where I am today.

So you have to ask yourself which do you want to do – work or school? Now here is the kicker: the job you may take now over school you could be the next Einstein and be ceo with them in 10 years time – or realize how I did that the only way up was with a degree.

Either way, congratulations and good luck!
posted by doorsfan at 10:39 AM on July 2, 2008

I had a similar situation, too: After my junior year of studying CS, I was offered a job I had dreamed of a few hundred miles away from college. It was really unexpected, so I was rushing around like mad to figure out the logistics of moving, school, getting my own place -- but, really, you can't pass the opportunity up when it comes a-knockin. Experience is invaluable!

Naturally, getting a degree is a nice goal. But I will tell you this: For me, finishing school part-time has been *long* and *hard*, and I was only a year shy of graduation when I moved. When you're working full-time, it can be incredibly difficult to schedule the classes you need, especially for a degree like CS. You'll probably be looking to find evening classes, but the only times classes like CS340 are offered is three times a week at noon. This gets infuriating! The more flexible your work is, the better. Internet classes are helpful.

And then there is the motivation factor. Inevitably, after many long semesters, while sitting through some boring class, you'll get thoughts saying, "This is such a waste of time. Why do I even need school? I have awesome work experience in my field now. Should I really be wasting my money and time on school when I'm already in the industry?" etc. It's tough!

But don't let this get you down -- the key is to realize that you're operating in parallel. You're improving your value by working AND going to class simultaneously. That's double the output. You'll be a better worker, you'll know more, you'll be more disciplined. Just keep chugging away! Good luck!
posted by Herschel at 4:56 PM on July 2, 2008

The company you work for may be going downhill but you HAVE to look at it through the lens of an entry-level resume builder. This is just a first line-item on your resume. That's all. It's not your ultimate dream job.

Perhaps your older co-workers are all leaving because their stock options are worth nothing. But if it's a company with a good reputation, it will look good on your resume. And do you even have stock to worry about?

Don't just run with the pack or worry about what other people say/do. Think about what this job brings you, which is short-term income and some basic experience for your resume when you get out of school. If you're getting those things, great.

Sad but true tip: People who get hired after graduation get hired because they're smart and energetic. Not because they went to a good CS school. Not because of anything they learned in school. And not because of any shit job they had. Be smart, be really, really into your subject matter and area of expertise. Have some independent projects to show off, and you will get hired (degree or no, but preferably with the degree).
posted by scarabic at 11:51 PM on July 2, 2008

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