In a perfect world, we would all be able to breeze through college with plenty of time to focus on our schoolwork and unlimited resources to fund our education. The reality is that many college students have to work their way through school to support themselves. That means thousands of young adults out there are struggling to balance school and work.
I’ve always had a job during college. For the first year or so, I worked full-time in publishing and fitting in classes wherever I could. Then, I moved to Korea and transitioned to freelance work while taking online classes. Now, I’m back in Alabama with two part-time jobs, my freelance business, and a full course load of classes on campus.
Working and going to school at the same time kind of sucks, and it’s not easy. I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to make it a little easier throughout my journey, though, and I’d love to share them.
Here are a few things you can do to make balancing school and work more manageable.
1. Get A Planner
If you’re trying to balance school and work, you absolutely must have a planner. It’ll free up a lot of the mental space you’re using to try and remember your schedules, tasks, and deadlines for work and school.
I prefer to use a paper planner because I remember things more easily when I physically write them down. There are also tons of apps out there for those of you who prefer to keep everything digital. Do some shopping around and see which planner format works for you and your lifestyle.
At the beginning of each month, I fill out my planner with bill due dates, my school and work schedules, and any deadlines I know about well in advance. On Sunday nights, I usually try to look over the upcoming week and fill in anything I know needs to be done or turned in.
I truly do not think I would balance school and work in any capacity if I didn’t have (and constantly use) my planner.
2. Be Intentional With Your Schedule
It’s super important to be as strategic and intentional as possible when planning your class schedule and work hours. You won't balance school and work if you don't plan your schedule with that goal in mind.
When I was working full-time in publishing, I had to plan my classes around my work schedule. This meant taking early morning classes, late classes, and online classes. I’m not a morning person, so those early morning classes sucked. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your comforts and preferences to get it all done, though.
Now that I’m building my freelance business and working my part-time jobs a few hours per week, it’s easier for me to schedule my work around my classes. I also try my hardest to make sure I have at least a few hours each day to take a breath and get some personal tasks done.
Before I register for classes each semester, I like to use a visual tool like Coursicle to help me figure out how to manage my work and class schedules.
3. Get Comfortable With Making Sacrifices
Remember: It won’t always be like this. You won’t be in college forever, and you won’t always have to worry about balancing school and work. For now, though, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices to be able to balance school and work.
You Might Not Be Able To Spend As Much Time With Friends As You’d Like.
I’ve definitely experienced this. I like to make sure I still get to see my friends by scheduling time to meet up and do work together. Even though it’s not as fun as just chilling out and watching a movie, having a friend over and being together while you’re both getting work done can still be enjoyable.
You Might Not Get To Take The Exact Classes You Want To Take.
This has happened to me before— I had to pass up on a super cool elective class because it just didn’t fit with my work schedule. I always suggest meeting with your advisor at the beginning of each semester and asking them for help with sorting out your class schedule. They can help you figure out the best way to schedule classes around your work hours while still making sure you’re on track to graduate.
You Might Not Get To Do The Extra Things You Want To Do At Work.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to pass on taking on more hours or taking the lead on a project I was really excited about because I didn’t have room on my plate or in my schedule. Obviously, you need to complete your work tasks and responsibilities to the best of your ability, but you might not be able to do as much as you’d like to work-wise.
4. Communicate With Your Boss And Your Professors
Let your boss know about your class schedule, and tell your professors that you have a job outside of school. If you communicate with them about your situation beforehand, they might be a little more understanding if you miss an assignment once in a blue moon or clock in a few minutes late on rare occasions. You shouldn’t expect them to make special exceptions for you just because you’re busy, though.
It doesn’t always feel like it, but your professors typically truly want you to succeed in balancing school and work. I know I’ve had professors who are willing to let me skip a class every now and then without penalty or attend office hours outside of their regularly scheduled times because they know I’m working when I’m not at school. Your boss might not be as invested in your personal success, but you’ll often find they’ll still do what they can to work with you and your schedule.
5. Take Care Of Yourself
There will always be other jobs out there, and there will always be another semester for you to attend school. There’s only one you, though, so you need to take care of yourself. No job or class is worth completely sacrificing your mental health and living a miserable life.
If a class isn’t working with your schedule and is really causing issues for you, it’s okay to drop that class. It’s not ideal, but it’s part of college life sometimes. If your part-time gig is taking far too much time away from your studies and is harming your mental health, it’s okay to start looking for a different job.
Whether it means intentionally scheduling in a 30-minute nap or blocking out a whole afternoon to treat yourself, you need to make time for self-care. If you burn yourself out and spend days running on no sleep, you won’t succeed at your job or in school. At that point, you’re gaining nothing and losing everything.
Conclusion: Balancing School And Work Is Hard, But You Can Do It
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to help young adults balance school and work, but there are strategies and tips out there you can incorporate into your lifestyle to make finding that balance more attainable.