Once upon a time, the path toward a career was clear: You went to school, earned your degree, and entered the workforce. But this step-by-step linear process has given way, increasingly, to a scramble that forces students to balance their academic pursuits with part- or even full-time work.
These days, more than ever, young people are working to put themselves through school. Others are pursuing internships as they take classes. And many others already in the workplace are returning to school to pursue advanced degrees or obtain the education necessary for a career change.
Whatever your reason for working and attending classes simultaneously, consider these ideas to help you cope with the challenges of juggling the responsibilities of these two very different worlds.
Learn from the past
College is a very different environment from high school, but many of the lessons you’ve learned in life still apply. You had to be organized to succeed in high school (or, if you’re pursuing a higher degree, during your time as an undergraduate).
So you learned to stay organized, and that’s more important now than ever. You may find that your class schedule conflicts with your work commitments; if so, ask your employer about a flexible schedule. If you’ve been working from home in response to the coronavirus, this might present some additional possibilities. The same is true for online learning.
Remember: Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. What if your employer calls on you to cover a shift and you’ve waited until the last minute to “cram” for a test? Ask your professors how much time you should set aside for various assignments, then plan accordingly. Make use of calendar apps to help you block out times dedicated to each.
However you structure your schedule, be sure to stick to it. Work during the times you’re expected to work, and study when you need to study. Don’t allow your work responsibilities to undermine your academic pursuits or vice versa. Continue the good habits you’ve formed in life by setting aside specific blocks of time for classes and studying.
Focus on the present
As you pursue the twin goals of succeeding academically and professionally, you’ll have precious little time for distractions. Doing everything possible to eliminate them will help you conserve energy and boost your performance.
Start by creating a designated workspace at home where you can block out everything else and focus on your school work and any career assignments you tackle from home. Make sure family members know your schedule, so they understand when you can’t be disturbed.
As tempting as it may be, try to avoid making things “all work, all the time.” Make time for recreation and exercise, maintain good eating habits, and be sure you get enough sleep.
If you can, clear out a guest room or basement to serve as your home headquarters; or, if you live with parents or roommates, convert a section of your room into a workstation. Replace clutter and old, unused furniture with an ergonomic chair, desk, and the technology you need. Be sure the mouse you select fits comfortably in your hand, and set your screen at or slightly below eye level.
As for that clutter, you probably won’t have room for it anymore. Consider having a dumpster delivered, fill it up, and have it taken away again, hands-free. It may seem an extreme option at first, but a dumpster can be convenient and affordable. Plus, it will save you the expense and headache of paying for storage.
Prepare for the future
You’ll be busy. That’s an understatement. And it’ll be easy to focus so intently on getting things done that you forget you’re working toward bigger goals.
Yes, you want a rewarding career, but you’re also working to create financial security for yourself, so create a reasonable budget that doesn’t just keep you solvent in the moment but also prepares you for the future. So be sure to set aside some money for savings if you can, and take advantage of your employer’s retirement plans: 401(k), IRA, annuities, and other options.
Even if you’re just starting out, start building your credit. If you need to get your foot in the door, consider a co-signer or a secured credit card, which offers you a credit limit equivalent to a deposit (usually a few hundred dollars) you make as collateral to guarantee payment.
It’s never too early to think about life insurance, which can also be a mechanism for saving, and protect your present and future with automobile and health insurance, as well. Learn what each kind of policy provides and consider what you can afford in terms of deductibles. Also think about the amount and type of coverage you need, taking into account your age, risk factors, and other variables.
Balancing your job with your education is a difficult task, but balance is, indeed, the key. You can succeed by drawing on the lessons of your past, identifying priorities in the present, and setting goals for the future. As you meet these challenges, you can find success and fulfillment in all areas of your life.
Ann Lloyd is the author of Student Savings Guide.