On being in school and working

dinosaurusrachelus:

realsocialskills:

What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading).
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Anyone want to weigh in? How do you pass classes when your schedule is very difficult?

dinosaurusrachelus said:

Oh hey, I did this for a while. Anon & others in similar situations, feel free to ask me stuff in my ask box if any of this sounds helpful or relevant.

For three semesters I had a full-time course schedule while working a retail job about 10-20 hours a week plus a few other side jobs on campus. My senior year I had a ¾ full class schedule while also working 20 hours a week in an office job off campus and 40+ hours per week on campus.

Unlike a lot of other students who work through college, I was actually well-supported by my parents and not in a precarious financial situation - I just wanted to build up work experience and be involved in a lot of things. I think most of this will still apply regardless, but it’s possible I have blinders on there and if so, I apologize. I also did not have kids, which might negate some of this too.

So here’s my advice.

If at all possible, find ways to study during work:

  • I think this is probably easier in retail or service jobs, where the tasks you’re doing are repetitive and leave room for your brain to think. I would often use my work shifts to study for tests, just by going over concepts in my head. Sometimes, I would even do readings at my checkstand (on late shifts when I didn’t have a manager there) or bring out flashcards.
  • Use your breaks. Even if it’s just 10 minutes (which is usually what’s required by law), pull out a textbook, skim a section of reading or look over some notes you can think about during the next part of your shift.
  • If you have a big assignment or test coming up, you might be able to talk to your manager about it. My manager once scheduled me to work the night before a midterm after I’d explicitly asked for the day off. He said he couldn’t change the schedule, so I asked him if it would be okay for me to have my book and notes at my register and review them when I didn’t have customers, and he agreed to it. Obviously you don’t want to seem unreliable, but asking for a small accommodation like that once in a while shouldn’t be a big deal if you have a decent manager and are otherwise a good worker.

Make school work around your work schedule:

  • You should have at least 2 days a week where you’re not working (maybe even 3 if you’re not quite full time). Set aside blocks of time on those days to tackle big assignments - papers, studying for upcoming tests, etc. Think of them as your second job, and try really hard not to let other things interrupt time you’ve set aside to study.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers/professors. If they have office hours, go in early in the semester, explain that you’re also working and discuss any challenges you think that might pose. Many (not all, but many) will think it’s really admirable you’re trying to go to school while also working, and will be interested in helping to accommodate you if you need something minor, especially if you ask them well in advance.
  • For example, I was able to take a biology test a day late (or early maybe, I don’t remember) because the exam was at 8 a.m. on a day after I got off work at 11. I think it’s helpful to ask in a way that suggests you understand it’s an imposition (eg. “I know this isn’t something that’s normally done, but I was wondering if there’s any possibility I might be able to take the test on x day instead”)
  • You might also see if you can find out what assigned readings are in advance (if they’re not all listed on a syllabus) and try to do the next week’s readings in advance during your off-days from work. I got into a schedule where I tackled a ton of homework on the weekend rather than doing a little bit each night on weeknights, which was what most students did.

Be really, really organized and efficient:

  • A lot of students spend forever on homework or assignments because they don’t have good study skills. That means you need to have really solid study skills to make up for your lack of time.
  • At the beginning of the semester/year, take a look at your schedule. Make a calendar of all due dates (I cannot stress this enough) - every paper, every exam, everything you know about in advance. If those items aren’t listed on the course syllabus, ask the professor.
  • Once you make the calendar, notice any times that are likely to be academically stressful (eg. three papers due the same week, midterms, whatever). Since you’ll be doing this well in advance, see if you can either a) adjust your work schedule to accommodate (maybe work fewer hours that week) or b) get some of the work done in advance (see below).
  • Set your own due dates. I once had three papers due on the same Friday, which was absolutely not going to work with my hectic schedule. So, I assigned myself my own due dates and treated them just as seriously as the ones my professors gave me. We had the prompts for the papers well in advance. I made one paper due the Monday at the beginning of the week, one on Wednesday and one on Friday and I stuck with those deadlines. That forced me to focus and work efficiently, and also prevented me from having some kind of sleep-deprived breakdown Thursday night.
  • If your school has an academic counselor or academic resource center, make a visit there early in the semester/year to get advice for improving your study and work habits.

Make other things less stressful:

  • My college had a club for first generation and working class college students. There could also be groups out there for non-traditional students (ie. students who are older than their early 20s) or students who are parents. See if there’s anything like that out there and what resources they might have. The group’s faculty advisor would also be a good source of support an ideas, and if nothing else, not feeling alone is so helpful and important.
  • If you’re in college, especially at a residential college, take advantage of the free food that’s often at events. (If you’re working during events, see if a friend can grab something for you.) I think about 50% of my meals senior year were discretely taken from events with food. Not having to cook as much frees up a lot of time for studying/work (and is cheaper!)

Try to avoid becoming miserable (this was always the hardest part for me):

  • Don’t do things like pulling regular all-nighters or working around the clock all the time. It might seem efficient, but it will make you exhausted and make it so much harder to do work and school.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking the occasional day off after you’ve finished a major assignment or project. You don’t want to burn out, and you need rest and social time just like every other human being.
  • Give yourself breaks. Ten minutes an hour, 15 every two, whatever. You need to stay sharp and alert.
  • Find a friend or two who’s in the same situation and has been there who you can vent to when you need it.