This wasn’t an admonishment to myself. It was a truth I realized every time I reviewed everything I was trying to accomplish in the span of a 24-hour day. It was a statement of fact, brought about by the reality that I was attempting to work full time while studying 20-25 hours a week. Yup, I was crazy.
Trying to earn your college degree while working full time is no picnic. Yeah, I had it easier than a lot of people because I was using Accelerated Pathways, which meant I could fit school around my work schedule. But since I was living alone and supporting myself, I still had to make choices like, “do I read this chapter in my textbook or go grocery shopping so I have something to eat?”
Over the course of 18 months, I completed the final 59 college credits of my degree while keeping up a full-time work schedule (and eating regular meals). It was exhausting, and I had little-to-no social life. But because I’d already been working on my degree for six and a half years, I was super motivated to graduate as quickly as possible.
Despite the insanity that was my life for those 18 months, I survived with remarkably few mental breakdowns. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, trying to balance school and work and wondering how you’re going to survive, I know exactly how you feel. Here’s how I got to graduation with my sanity (mostly) intact.
You’re trying to juggle a full-time work schedule and a full-time course load. That means if you want to have any amount of sanity in your life, you must schedule everything out—work, study time, study breaks, course assignments, etc.—then you have to stick to it.
I’m not going to lie, this is hard. But you’ll thank yourself in the end when you finish your courses on time without any late assignments.
However, no matter how well you schedule your life, something unavoidable will come up. Your car will need new brakes (speaking from experience here), you’ll have an unexpected work trip, your coworker will give you the flu when you expressly asked them not to… rude.
So when life throws a wrench into your best-laid plans, be flexible. Let yourself off the hook for events that are out of your control, because trust me, you don’t want to waste precious energy freaking out about something you can’t change.
Okay, now don’t hit me, but if your roommates (or friends or coworkers) invite you to dinner Friday night, you need to be ready to say no. It’s pretty depressing watching friends have a great time while you’re chained to your desk with a textbook shackled to your wrist. But remember that this is temporary. You won’t always have to say no because someday you will finish your degree. But you’re not there yet.
I had to bow out of a lot of social dinners, coffee-shop crawls, and parties, which was really hard because I’m an extrovert. But I knew attending those events would throw off my carefully-planned schedule, creating more stress in my already stressful life. No thank you.
Breaks are important. They give your brain a chance to reset and make it easier to focus when you hit the books again. However, not all breaks are created equal. Scrolling through Instagram won’t set you up for success in your next study block. But getting up, walking away from your desk, and doing something totally different will.
Try a couple different study/break routines to find what works for you. Maybe you’re a Pomodoro Technique person, or you like to study for several hours straight then take a longer break. Find what works for you, then stick to it. Soon enough, it’ll become second nature.
(My personal favorite technique was to study for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break. I used the 30/30 app to schedule my study and break blocks for the day and then let it run. It kept me on track and ensured I used my time wisely.)
While you may have an iron-clad internal motivation pushing you through your degree, having some cheerleaders in your corner can get you through those really tough patches when you’re feeling discouraged or tempted to ignore your schedule.
I had a work friend who would check in with me and cheered me on. My family were also great cheerleaders, letting me vent, proofreading papers, and giving me a loving push when I was lagging.
Find ways to celebrate accomplishments as small as reading a chapter in a textbook or finishing a course. Don’t make it complicated, just do something that helps you unwind and relax, and tell yourself “good job.”
Celebrating the wins—big and little—will help you keep pushing forward. Not only will you feel your hard work is appreciated, but you can also look forward to that next episode of Stranger Things.
I love my routines, but during the insanity of working-while-studying, I discovered that changing things up every once in a while actually helped me focus. Spend a few hours on a Saturday morning at a local coffee shop instead of in your apartment, or head to the library for a quick hour-long study session during your lunch break. Read textbooks or write your papers from a cozy chair instead of your desk to break up the monotony. Whatever works, right?
I noticed I studied better when I fed my body (i.e. my brain) well and worked out a couple times a week. I had more mental clarity and generally felt better. It’s ok, you can yell “are you crazy, lady?!” I can take it. Finding time to make healthy meals and snacks on top of working and studying does seem impossible. But remember those study breaks I was talking about earlier? Those are great for making easy snacks, tossing a 3-ingredient meal into the slow cooker, doing an online yoga video, or making a quick grocery run.
Even if you do your very best to sleep, eat well, and take good breaks, you will be tired. My mom gave me one of the best pieces of advice when I was exhausted and trying to survive my hectic schedule. Embrace the tired. Understand that you’re just going to be tired for the next few months. And maybe have an extra cup of tea. Tea always helps.
When you finish school, you will catch up! It took me a couple months of Netflix to feel like a fully-functioning human again, but I got there. And you will too. That being said, don’t push it. Do your best to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep. Yeah, it will cut into your late-night study time, but honestly, it really will help you keep up the crazy pace you set for yourself.
Sometimes you just need a break. And I’m not talking about a 15-minute study break here, but a longer, several-hours-to-GASP-a-full-day break. This was really hard for me, because, as I said, I’m an overachiever and don’t like to break when I’m on a roll. But even I had to take a day off between courses sometimes. It felt really weird, like my body was instinctively thinking, “Why aren’t we studying? We should be studying!” But without fail, those breaks always helped me start my next course feeling rejuvenated and ready to crush it.
Studying while working full time is not easy, and you’re amazing for doing it! When you start feeling overwhelmed by what you have to accomplish before you graduate, take a minute and think about everything you’ve already accomplished.
Think about the skills and knowledge you now have from balancing so much at one time. Think about how you’re graduating without debt and may even have some savings, since you didn’t have to set work aside to finish school. Remind yourself how it will TOTALLY be worth it. You got this. Now go conquer the world!
Working and studying full time is no easy feat. Give yourself a leg up by choosing a college program that’s affordable and can fit into your already hectic schedule. If you want the flexibility to earn your bachelor’s degree while furthering your career, click here to learn more about how Accelerated Pathways can help!
Emily loves business and marketing. To prove it, she graduated from Thomas Edison State University with a marketing BA, joined the Pearson marketing team, and runs a small business on the side! For fun, she likes to cook, ski, and collect vinyls.