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Getting a degree when you work full-time is one of the most challenging things a person can do, but if you have a firm objective, it’s worth chasing. If you know what career path you want but you need a degree to get there, you can still do it even if you’re a non-traditional student.
You’ve got bold goals. But you’ve also got bills. Here are a few ways to finish your degree while keeping a roof over your head.
1. Pursuing Your Degree Online
This is the simplest solution, but it does have some potential complications to consider. Online classes hardly ever have requirements to be online at a specific time. They give the ultimate amount of flexibility to make time for your school work around your work schedule.
However, online learning isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t sure it’s right for you, I’d recommend trying an online class at your local community college to make sure you can enjoy the online environment. This way, you can explore the experience relatively cheaply and make sure you like it. Online courses are highly independent and will be perfect for someone self-motivated.
Additionally, if your dream career requires you to get a PhD down the road, you may face some unpleasant judgment from the programs you apply to if you have an online undergraduate degree. PhD programs and highly-competitive master’s programs sometimes will favor students with a traditional undergraduate education. Though it isn’t fair, there can be some prejudice against degrees completed strictly online. It shouldn’t be this way since online students sometimes need to even harder than students going to a classroom. However, I received this warning from faculty members many times when searching for a solution to finishing my BA and I want to pass on the information.
I do think eventually, there will be less of a stigma surrounding online education. Plus, if your target career doesn’t require anything beyond a BA, you should be completely fine with an online degree.
2. Braving the Night Shift
Coffee will be your best friend in the world, but this is your most viable option if you want to take in-person classes. Most undergraduate programs will put essential classes right smack in the middle of the day; they aren’t scheduled with working professionals in mind.
If online classes don’t mesh well with your learning style, that’s completely fine. But if that is the case, finding an evening shift or night shift job and toughing it out for a few years could be your best option to finish a degree.
This route worked best for my goals and needs. Undergraduate education is built with the traditional student in mind. Institutions expect the traditional student has some type of familial support or enough student loans at their disposal that they only need to work part-time or not at all. When a program schedules a course essential for graduation at nine in the morning, they’re thinking about traditional students with few other obligations, not the 9-5 warriors with the weight of the world on their backpacks.
For me, I took classes in the morning and worked as an evening tech support specialist. It was challenging at times since my university was an hour away from my place of employment, but I’d leave my apartment at seven in the morning, take early morning classes starting at eight o’clock, finish my learning day by noon, then drive and get to my work day by one.
Speed limits were violated. Energy drinks were consumed. A degree was earned.
3. See if you can find a job with a flexible schedule or support yourself freelancing.
The freelancing route can be an excellent way for a creative soul to keep the cash flow going and keep the rent paid. If you can establish a solid client base and some long-term projects that will keep steady paychecks coming in, juggling freelancing and the tricky scheduling of undergraduate classes is quite feasible.
However, not every profession has the option of freelancing. There is the small chance of seeking out a job that would be fully flexible, but these types of opportunities are few and far between. It’s worth trying to find though, if other options, like online education and working evenings, does not work with your other obligations in life.
4. Explore Working at a College in a Staff Position
There’s a vast amount of opportunity in working at a college; there’s room for writers, editors, advertisers, designers, finance specialists, scientists, cooks, technically inclined folks, gardeners, janitors, tutors, and ample room for people with general customer service experience that can translate over into student service skills. There are plenty of opportunities and different types of jobs, I am only naming a few in no particular order. Universities are interesting little ecosystems where people with many different skill sets can find positions.
If you secure a job at a university and take classes at the same school, the dilemma of traveling from work to class becomes dramatically simplified. Walking across campus takes much less time than driving from work to school. You’d want to feel this out during your interview, but some offices will be flexible and allow you to take classes during your lunch break. Not every position can be understanding and accommodating of this, but your chance is a bit higher.
Additionally, look into the human resources policy on tuition remission at the institutions you apply for jobs at. Many institutions will give discounted tuition rates to employees who work for a certain duration of time. These policies vary massively between organizations; some will give you tuition remission after a few months, but the remission will only be enough to cover one or two classes. Others may make you wait a year or more to qualify for remission but may cover tuition in full. It varies a lot, but do your homework!
Embarking on this road takes a lot of perseverance.
It isn’t easy to juggle working forty hours a week and pursuing a degree, but it is doable.