Though the idea of working full time while earning a degree may seem daunting, more and more students are finding a way to balance both with the flexibility of online programs.
A recent report from the Department of Education found that 62 percent of undergraduate students work either full or part time, and 28 percent have at least one dependent.
Many prospective students might have considered going back to school for a while but are consumed with thoughts about how they will complete a degree, either that they were already working toward or will start from scratch. They might wonder whether now is really the best time to go back to school, or how they will juggle work and an education.
The reality is that there will never be a perfect time to return to school. But that doesn’t mean that earning a degree is beyond reach. Heading back to school requires organization and patience and support from those around you.
Higher education also remains the best pathway to career success, directly impacting employment opportunities and wages. A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that bachelor’s degree holders earn 31 percent more than those with an associate degree and 74 percent more than those with only a high school diploma.
[Learn why online learning works well for working adults.]
Here are a few things to know about earning an online degree while maintaining a job.
• Many online programs are high quality and flexible. While prospective students may have shied away from online programs in the past and thought the quality of curriculum and instruction would be subpar compared with on-ground schools, that simply isn’t the case. Many online programs from reputable institutions largely offer the same quality of teaching as the on-campus options with the advantage of being tailored for students to learn online and according to their own schedules.
Students with predetermined career paths can usually find degrees that are tailored to meet their goals and personal passions with the right training they can use in the real world. Online degree programs often enable students to advance their career and do so with enhanced skills and a greater impact than they would have otherwise had.
• Time management can be a challenge. As many prospective students can imagine, earning an online degree requires strong time management skills. Students who have a full-time or part-time job might have already developed these skills, but being able to balance school assignments with work can be challenging for anyone. This is a component of online learning that we often see students struggle with if it’s not addressed from the beginning and expectations are not set.
Pending their current work schedules, students often complete their coursework early in the morning or late at night after they leave the office, so it’s important to take this into consideration when pursuing an online degree. Significant progress toward an online degree can certainly be made – it just takes focus and determination from the student and support from their inner circle.
• You can apply what you learn to your job. Many students find that what they learn in online courses can be directly applied to the work they are currently doing. In some cases, they may develop applicable skills through the coursework that they otherwise wouldn’t have gained.
The takeaway: While online degrees allow students to get to the next level of their careers and apply what they learn in the workplace, they should be aware of the time management skills required to succeed in online courses.