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Headed Back to School? 6 Tips for Professionals Hitting the Books

It’s that time of year again, back-to-school season. This time around, your kids might not be the only ones returning to the classroom. Employers are beginning to demand an increasing range of skills from their employees. This is leading many professionals to go back to school to get specific expertise. It may be needed for a new job, a promotion, or, in some cases, to retain their current position. Whatever the reason, going back to school puts you in a better position for success. It increases your earning potential and could help you avoid unemployment.

So now that you have decided that you’re going back to school, the next question is probably, “How am I going to go to school
and work?” Heading back to school while maintaining your work life, your home life, and your sanity might seem scary. The good news is, you are not alone. Thousands of people successfully earn degrees every year while working eight or more hours per day.

These 6 tips can prepare you to do the same.

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6 Tips for Professionals Going Back to School


1. Find the Right Program.

There are many different ways you can go back to school. They range from part-time to full-time. You can choose to go to school online, or sit in a classroom. You can even choose to go in the evening or on the weekends. There are also programs designed with working professionals in mind. There are plenty of ways to make going back to school work for you. You just have to make sure you choose the best option to fit your needs.

After you’ve done your research, think about what programs will fit your educational goals and your lifestyle needs. If the graduate program of your dreams is only offered full-time, and you need to work full-time, that program may not be the best fit. Dig deeper than a grad school’s website before you make a commitment.

Remember that finding the right fit is a two-way street. Not only are you looking for the right program, the program is also looking for the right students. Consider these questions:

  • Will you benefit from the experience and the faculty?
  • Will you offer a unique perspective to your classmates?
  • What will you bring to the learning experience?

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2. Set Realistic Expectations

Do you know why you want to go back to school? If you want to earn a degree simply to say that you’ve done it, now probably isn’t the time. Going back to school while working a full-time job is going to be difficult. It’s important that you understand just how difficult it’s really going to be.

You’re not going to be able to slack off on your work and family commitments to study or complete assignments. You’re not going to be able to miss assignments to complete a project for work. Expect to have some sleepless nights and to spend days at a time feeling completely drained. Knowing exactly how you will use your degree will help get you through the tough times ahead.

If you can only take one class at a time, so be it. It may take you a little longer to complete the program, but the last thing you want to do is over-extend yourself. That is not going to help you at work, home, or school.

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3. Start Managing Your Time Full-Time.

The biggest mistake that working students make when juggling both work and school at the same time is not organizing their time. Know your priorities and plan accordingly. Once you start attending classes, studying and completing your assignments will rise in importance.

At the beginning of the week, plan the entire week for both school and work. Figure out how much time you’ll need to spend on class work and studying. After you’ve done that, block out that time. Be sure to include deadlines, upcoming tests, projects and personal commitments.  Once you set that time aside, make sure people know it’s for you alone. This might mean heading off to the local library to get the quiet time you need.

There is only so much you can do in a day. Planning out your time and making the promise to manage it will help things run smoothly.

back to school4. Maintain a Support System

When things get stressful and they will, you’re definitely going to need a solid support system. Make sure the important people in your life will be there for you. Your friends, family, coworkers, and even your supervisor can be a tremendous support for you. Make sure they know what your commitments are. Keep them in the loop about your schedule. This will help just in case you need a babysitter or extra study time after class.

Share your successes! When you ace an exam or pass a class, let your support system know. This  will assure them that their help is making it possible for you to achieve your goals.  If you can avoid it, Do NOT take this journey alone. Even if you think you will not need anyone, chances are you will. It can be something as simple as a study partner. Those who really support you will be an invaluable part of your success.

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5. Use Technology…There’s an app for that.

From taking notes to keeping track of assignments, there’s bound to be an app for that. It’s easy to get carried away with tools you don’t need so find the technology that’s right for your needs. A few practical ideas? Keep separate email accounts for work, school, and your personal life. Use social media to connect with classmates about assignments and projects. Access course materials electronically, when possible; this can save you time and paper.

Figure out what learning methods suit you best. Habits that worked for you before might not work now. Taking notes by hand may help you concentrate, but using a laptop or digital recording device in class might make studying more effective. Explore new tools and tricks. Test things out. Don’t be afraid of trial and error.

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6. Make it a Win-Win Situation.

Going back to school often benefits your employer. Many organizations offer education benefits like tuition reimbursement so find out what is available for you. If you talk openly with your employer they may be able to give you some additional incentives. They may allow you to leave work early so you don’t have to rush to an evening class. Talk with your instructors about how you can use coursework to address your employer’s needs.

Other than that, keep work and school separate. Avoid spending time on the job finishing homework, and don’t spend class time answering work emails. Both work and school deserve your undivided attention.

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When things get tough, and they will, keep your eye on the prize. Remind yourself why you wanted to go back to school, and keep in mind that you can do this. Set milestones and reward yourself. Setting goals and celebrating your achievements is not only fun, it’s also a great way to stay motivated.

Plan a post-exam happy hour with friends or a date night with your significant other. And remember, grad school is a priority in your life while you’re in it, and you’re only in it for a pretty small portion of your life. So make the most of it.

If you prepare yourself well by setting realistic expectations and surrounding yourself with supportive people, you’ll make it to graduation in one piece. You may be utterly exhausted by the time you walk to the podium but getting there is what counts.

Related Article:  Work-Life Juggling – What Gives?