How To Succeed In College While Working A Full Time Job
I put myself through my last 3 years of college during the evenings while working full time during the day. I don't deny the difficulty: you absolutely need discipline and an unwavering dedication to your studies to get the job done, when you have to work to pay the bills and get precious little time to rest and relax.
- First thing's first: make sure your planned work/school schedule is realistic. If you work 10 hour days starting at 6 am, going to class after work until 9-10 pm may not be realistic, because you're not going to get enough rest and down time to make it work. Also, don't take 4:30 classes if you work an 8 to 5 job under the premature assumption you can get time off from work, get your schedule shifted, or can work reduced hours... unless you have mapped everything out and have confirmed with your boss, your family and, most of all, yourself that it works and leaves you with enough financial and breathing room to do it.
- Make sure your schedule allows you 2 hours of time between work and school to get reading and homework done. This is absolutely necessary when planning your schedule. Don't schedule a class so you have to immediately rush to or from work to get to or from campus.
You need to set a block of time to get homework and reading done. Once you get home at 9-11 pm, you're simply not going to have time to get it done unless you don't plan on sleeping, and when you have this rigorous a schedule, you need all the rest you can get.
Get all you can done in that 2 hours, any reading, any homework, work on any major projects or papers... even if said assignments aren't due that night or the next day. Get as far ahead of the game as you can, so that you either don't have to worry about it at the last minute, or the assignment only requires partial work or finishing touches. You need to minimize stress during what's undoubtedly going to be a stressful quarter or semester, and staying on top of your work as much as possible will keep your options open should anything arise.
And, during this 2 hour period, NO SCREWING AROUND. Stay off your phone and the internet unless you're conducting research. In fact, if your assignment requires no computer usage whatsoever, I would suggest staying away from a computer entirely. If you go to school at night, go to the library after work and get your work done there. Eating during this time is fine as long as you do it efficiently. You don't need to stuff your food down the hole and go, but just make sure you get your food, sit down, eat it, and get to work or get up and go as soon as you're finished. No loafing. Speaking of food....
- Eat regular meals. I cannot stress this enough. You need a lot of energy to get through what's probably a 12-14 hour day, and if you go more than 4-5 hours without a meal, your body's going to crash without nutrients to keep moving, which will only complicate what's already a complicated day. You'll feel physically shaky and, worst of all, you won't be able to think clearly. Your head absolutely needs to stay in the game to get through days like this. Make a meal schedule, get whatever food you need to meet it, and stick to it.
- Start major projects and papers as soon as possible. Students today typically wait until the weekend or night before an assignment is due to get it done, and when school is your only responsibility, that's do-able.
But you not only have other homework, but other real-life responsibilities you need to attend to during the weekend, since work and school doesn't leave you with much time to get them done. The groceries aren't going to buy themselves, the bills aren't going to pay themselves and the laundry's not going to do itself.
Plus, having put in 50-70 hours during the week... let's face it: you probably need a rest, not just physically but mentally. If nothing else, you may not be sure you'll even get the time, as other duties may call. Don't put yourself in a position where you need to spend a weekend scrambling to finish a major assignment.
- Keep a notepad with you or on your computer at work. Note any ideas you get during work about assignments or projects. Don't stop thinking about school just because you're on the clock. Certainly continue doing your job to the best of your ability, but take every opportunity you can to mentally iron out any pending assignments from school, or take notes that will help you do so later.
- Do ALL of your reading and homework. Every assignment. For every class. You're not going to have a lot of time before exams to study or cram. Your instructors design assignments to pace your learning of the material, and do so with the idea that you'll do the work when it's given to you. We retain only a fraction of the material we take in at one particular time, and the more you try to take in at once, the less of it you will remember.
Read your reading when it's assigned, and do your homework when it's given to you... and you'll develop such a working knowledge of the material that you probably won't need to cram before an exam.
And, obviously, getting all your assignments in helps your grade, not just because you get credit for completed assignments, but the work helps you remember material that helps improve your exam scores.
- Get as much sleep as you can. Get to bed as soon as possible after you get home. Try to get at least 6 hours sleep each night, if not 7-8 hours, because your schedule's going to be difficult enough as it stands. If you try to finish a 12-14 hour day on 3-4 hours sleep... you're in deep trouble, both at work and at school.
One way to help your body if you must get short sleep is to recognize your body's sleep cycles. The body sleeps in 90 minute cycles (1.5 hours), and you wake up refreshed when you awake at the end of one of these cycles... but you feel like a wreck if you awake in the middle of one, as doing so disrupts your system. In fact, most people don't sleep 8 hours a day, but actually 7.5 hours, a perfect multiple of 1.5. We just think of it as 8 because the body needs time after going to bed to shift into sleep.
If you wake up after 7 hours of sleep on the dot, you'll feel like garbage, but if you wake up after 6 hours, or 4.5 hours, you may feel okay despite short sleep, which will give you a fighting chance.
Give yourself time to get to sleep, of course. Go to bed 6.5 hours before you need to wake, or 5 hours before. Time it so you'll doze off quickly and wake up at the end of a cycle, so you don't awake with a total system shock, compounding your effort to wake up and stay awake.
- Make sure you have free time to rest on the weekend. Yes, get your homework and errands done, but take a morning, an evening, an afternoon on Saturday or Sunday, and just don't worry about it. Go out to lunch with friends. Do something you like to do. Don't worry about how much homework you need to get done for a few hours. Use the weekend to recharge.
And needless to say, get as much sleep as you can on the weekends. Don't schedule a bunch of stuff to do on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, especially not early in the morning. Operate at your own speed for a couple days a week, and you can avoid burnout, a significant risk with a schedule like this.
- If you're feeling absolutely burned out... try to take a day off from class, but ONLY if the impact of missing the class session is inconsequential. Obviously, don't miss major due dates for projects or exam days. Try to miss a lecture or discussion class if you're going to skip, as those classes typically don't require daily homework and you can get notes on the discussion from a classmate if need be.
DO NOT do this more than once or twice a quarter or semester for any class. Whether or not the instructor imparts penalties, missing class, by my experience, tends to follow a three strike rule with regards to negative impact. Missing one or two classes won't negatively impact your grade or study, but once you miss a 3rd day or more in a quarter or semester, keeping up becomes a steep uphill battle. In fact, missing more than 3 days will usually get your instructor's attention, and not in a good way. Some in fact may even pull you aside and advise you to drop the class once they notice. But either way, most will take note, and if you're graded by the quality of your papers, absenteeism may impact how they grade you.
In any case, knowledge provides tools to succeeding in any class, and missing class eliminates opportunities to pick up those tools.
Ultimately, you can succeed at college while working full time. You just need to be realistic about your needs, be diligent about meeting those needs, and give yourself the space to meet them without running yourself into burnout.
This is a lot to take in, but it's all vital to a successful combination of work and school. I was a high school honor student who originally dropped out of college to work full time, and had to continue working full time when I finally went back to finish college years later.
I had to learn all this the hard way: if you want to succeed, you either do what you have to do... or you never get the job done and finish. I thankfully got myself to do what I had do, and finished my degree at the University of Washington with a 3.1 GPA. In the process I developed a strong work ethic that translated to my professional life and expanded my potential as a worker. It's a lesson many college kids never get the chance to learn.
You're getting a unique opportunity to develop perseverance and character most college graduates won't. Take it and make the best of it.
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