Getting a master’s degree can open up new career opportunities that you may not have access to with just an undergraduate degree. If you are currently working full-time, how much time can you expect to dedicate to your degree while still following your normal work schedule?
Standard Rule of Thumb
A good rule of thumb is to expect to spend at least two hours a week per credit hour. If you are going to school full-time to get your degree, you will take as many as 15 credits per semester. Those who go to school part-time can take as few as six credits per semester. This means that you may have to dedicate anywhere from 12-30 hours per week doing class work.
Don’t Forget Mandatory Field Work
In addition to the class work that you have to do, you may be required to do field work as well. Typically, you will be required to get an internship or spend time doing a practicum somewhere in the community. For example, if you are looking to become an administrator in a school, you may have to spend time shadowing a current administrator as part of your degree program.
Most Degree Programs Go Throughout The Year
Anyone looking to get their master’s degree should plan on spending an average of 15 consecutive months pursuing that degree. Although schools used to give you a break over the summer months, many schools have switched to a program that consists of four consecutive semesters.
Online Degree Programs May Finish Up Sooner
Anyone who is looking for a program that will not take as long to complete should consider taking an online master’s program. Online courses typically take less time to complete and offer students the flexibility of doing class work whenever and wherever it is convenient. While it may not shorten the time it takes to finish your degree program, and you still have to put in the same amount of study time, you may still find it easier to fit into your schedule by taking commuting and set class times out of the equation.
Do You Need To Complete A Graduate Thesis?
The amount of time that you dedicate to your classwork will partially depend on what degree program you are enrolled in. For example, those going for a doctorate in an advanced subject may have to do field work as well as write a thesis that is several hundred pages long. That alone could take hours of your time each week.
The Real Picture
So, while you certainly can earn your master’s degree while holding down a full-time job, should you? That figure of two hours per week per credit-hour is daunting. The figure given earlier in this article of a fifteen-credit semester is typical of an undergraduate load. Graduate students usually carry six or seven hours a semester, but many experts say that the graduates should expect to spend twice the time that undergrads would spend in out-of-class study. As a matter of fact, many schools frown on graduate students working while they learn, according to the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Those schools consider earning a master’s degree a full-time job in itself. Still, 70-80 percent of graduate students work while they earn their degrees. Of those students, a third are thirty years old or over and at a stage in life where they have other responsibilities, including wives and children.
The surprising thing is that students who work twenty hours a week actually have better grades than those who don’t work. Granted, the students in that survey quoted by CNBC were undergraduates. One of those surveyed said she had to become more focused and structured to work and earn a degree. Still, the same may be said for graduate students. The self-discipline that graduate students must develop to “earn and learn” at the same time helps them to maintain a good attitude and at least a minimally healthy lifestyle.
Juggling Work and School
One thing that may help graduate students is the connection between their jobs and their degrees. If your degree is in the same area as your job, there is more motivation to succeed. Most undergraduates who work to help pay for their degrees are employed in fast-food or service jobs that pay minimum wages. Graduate students, on the other hand, are often earning degrees that will help them advance in their careers. They are already earning adequate salaries. That is a great motivational factor, and the connection may make learning and retaining concepts easier. Additionally, some employers are supportive enough of their employees who are earning graduate degrees that they pay part of the expense of the degree. That is a big help because there is less financial aid available for graduate students, and one primary source of aid is graduate assistantships, which you can’t take if you work full-time. Still, you can juggle all the aspects of your life to earn your degree. The bottom line is how you do it.
You must be able to balance work, life and school. For instance, depriving yourself of family time and interactions can result in depression which can make it harder to focus and to remember what you learned in class. Overextending yourself at work can leave less time to work on assignments and increase guilt because you aren’t spending enough time on your degree program to get the maximum benefit from it.
Research seems to indicate that it isn’t infrequent big conflicts in time and responsibilities that overload students. It is the cumulative effect of day-after-day disparities.
One way to avoid that stress and the burn-out that can accompany it is to make a complete daily and even weekly or monthly schedule. If you see that a final exam is going to take place during the same time you are supposed to complete a project at work, you might talk to your managers or co-workers to see if it is possible to reschedule or even delegate some things.
Anticipate the Unanticipated
In spite of planning, the unexpected will occur. If possible, get your employer onboard with your education goals. It is possible he or she can make some adjustments in your schedule or allow you to take some personal days to do exams or complete assignments.
Work ahead as much as possible. Procrastination can be spell calamity. If you finish a lesson, project or a writing assignment, work ahead. That will give you some breathing room when the unexpected happens. Be flexible. Even though having set study times and a comprehensive schedule are vital, be able to make alterations as needed.
Look Before you Leap
Unexpected things will pop up every once-in-a-while, but it is possible to avoid a chronic conflict between your job and your degree program by choosing a school and program that allow flexibility. You should also get a copy of each course schedule for the semester or even for the year and take note of when deadlines might coincide.
Realize that some online courses require a residence at the brick-and-mortar campus once or twice a year, and sometimes for a week or more. That in-person learning may be impossible with your full-time job unless you are able to use vacation or personal use days to attend.
Another way to avoid the stress of non-complementary jobs and studies is to talk to students who have taken the program you are considering, according to the website Idealist.org.. Find out how they handled scheduling problems, which instructors were more open to making concessions and even how they did in individual courses. You may have to lower your expectations for grades in exchange for keeping that delicate balance between your job, your family and your education.
Use Time Wisely
Even though flexibility is important, successful working grad students schedule every part of their day and make wise use of free time. A lunch break may be used to read or study for an exam. Students can plan to use days off to work on assignments or take tests. If there is too much activity at home, they can go to a library or other quiet spot.
Remembering the balance aspect of the “earning/learning” model, free time can also be used to take a walk and, while doing so, call a family member. Giving up some sleep may yield time to video-conference with a professor to get extra help.
Don’t Eliminate Social Time
The occasional party is fine. A family meal is a great release. The thing is, you should set boundaries and time limits.
Build Healthy Habits
While not getting enough sleep for a few days in a row may be necessary, it shouldn’t be the norm. Additionally, while munching on a candy bar while reading an assignment is ok, it shouldn’t replace a meal. Just as in every other aspect of life, your greatest asset is you. That means building habits of eating right, exercising and making up for those sleepless nights by getting rest when you can.
Earning a degree while working will be hard. Balancing those things with family and other responsibilities will be really hard. It may help to remember that if you take two three-credit courses each semester, you will earn your degree in two years or less. Students who have succeeded in this task say you need to set a goal and keep it in mind. You will have to sacrifice some things. Family members will have to pick up the slack for you if it becomes difficult to manage home responsibilities while working and studying. You may have to tighten your budget. Just keep in mind that there is a goal to achieve and that there is an end in sight.
This last thing is just an extension of visualizing the goal. Positive self-talk is important. There has to be a reward for staying the course. If you are earning the degree so that you can begin a new career, you can look toward that prospect. It is important to your success to be earning your degree in an area that you enjoy. If your goal is to advance your career, you probably enjoy your job. Additionally, with that job-study connection, you can apply your work experience to your studies and skills you build in your courses to your career.
As mentioned above, many schools are now utilizing four-semester programs instead of taking a break in the summer when students can take internships or participate in global programs. Indeed, the obligations of working full time may mean you will not be able to do an internship at all. If your job is in the same area as your degree, you may be able to utilize work hours as an internship. You might have to talk to an advisor to see if there is an alternative. That could mean taking an extra course or two. The important thing is to have a goal and to be realize that every obstacle you face is just another step toward accomplishing it .
So, the question at the beginning of this article is how much time you should expect to spend on studies if you work full-time while earning your master’s degree. Perhaps the question should be how you should spend your time while being a “working learner.” You could, of course, study part-time, but that might mean a reduction, or even loss of financial aid. You could also look into taking a lighter course load for a semester during a particularly taxing time at your job. Most graduate students work while they earn their degrees. That means they figure out how to make it work for them. The key is planning and staying the course. It involves flexibility and consistency. Your success depends upon your motivation and resiliency. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that people with professional or doctoral degrees earn three times what someone with only a high school diploma. Those with a master’s degree earn salaries more than $12,000 a year higher on average than those with bachelor’s degrees. Staying the course is an investment that pays off.
If you are going to get your master’s degree, you can expect to put in a lot of work to get it. At a minimum, you should expect to dedicate at least two hours per credit hour per week. This could limit you to taking classes on a part-time basis if you have a full-time job. However, if you are dedicated enough, it may be possible to work full-time while also going to school full-time.