My Story on How to Successfully Take Courses While Working Full Time

One of the things many of you may or may not know about me is that my entire university education has been acquired while working full time. Here is a little history:

Ever since I was a little kid I have had a keen interest in  medicine. When I was allotted TV time, I didn’t use it to watch the standard children’s shows. Instead I watched the Discovery Channel and the Life Channel where I could see emergency room traumas, ground breaking eye surgeries, and post stroke therapies. My mind was glued with the fascination of the human body, how it worked, and how people like me had the talents to fix it when needed. This fascination was just the start.

At school during costume parties I would dress up as a doctor and as I got older I started to watch TV series like ER. I was hooked on medicine. I guess part of it came naturally as both my mother and grandmother worked in the medical field at the time.

Once I hit high school my career choice was made up. I was going to be a Diagnostic Imaging Technologist- you know the people that take CT scans and X-rays. I didn’t have to go school for 10+ years to be a doctor and job options were good as there was a technologist shortage. I looked up the program at a local college and found out what pre-requisites I needed to take in high school to qualify for entrance. This was what I thought to be the first step to starting a career in medicine. In Grade 12 I received a scholarship for the college that offered this program. Things couldn’t have gone smoother right?! Wrong…there was a  glitch.

I had received a letter from the college stating that there was  a 2 year wait to get into the program. This threw me off my game. When you are 18, two years seems like a life time. What was I going to do?

I had already been working at the family business for 4 years and had developed some skills with office management, accounting, sales, and customer relations but this wasn’t my dream. I wanted to be in medicine. I had to come up with an alternate plan.

My mother mentioned to me that a colleague she used to work with was looking for some summer help in the diagnostic department at the hospital she used to work at. She said I could work there for a bit and get some experience and make some money while I waited to get into school. This was awesome news! I had already had most of the skills I needed since the support staff roles required similar skills to those I was using at the family business. I just had to write a medical terminology exam and apply for the job. Well I studied, wrote the exam and got the job. The back up plan was working. However at this point I couldn’t have anticipated what the future had in store.

2 years passed and it was time for me to start thinking about school again and going back to my original plan. Well I received another letter from the college. This time they had informed that the course entrance requirements had changed and that I would need to spend another year doing classes at the college before I would be accepted. This really pissed me off. How can you plan when things keep changing?! However, since I had worked in the field for the last two years I had gathered a lot of insight around what goes on and what the job of a technologist was like in real life. I started to realize that it maybe wasn’t what I wanted after all. Maybe I wanted to go a different direction.

I gave things a lot of thought and decided to pass on the program. Sure I waited for two years to get in but I grew a lot personally in that time and found myself changed as a result. So what happened you ask?

Well to make a long story short, I worked numerous front line clinical positions for 2 more years in various areas: cardiac sciences, nuclear medicine, pediatrics, and neurosurgery. I had seen and learned a lot. While working these jobs I found my niche and where my talents and interests lied. I wanted to improve services and develop more efficient systems of doing things. This was the start of my health administration career.

There was a joint program being offered at the local college that was affliated with the organization I worked for. I could take it in the evening while working full time and when done I would be able to advance internally. After completing this program, I applied for a management job and got it. I was super happy.

Since then, I have worked in 4 other jobs dealing with large government projects and have completed two more additional university programs while working full time. The journey has just continued. Currently I work for our provincial cancer agency as a manager and am working on finishing a third program. I am hoping to be done in the next couple years.

So, why I am sharing this story? I want to show that it is possible to go to school while working full time and that by implementing a few tips I have learned, you too can make school and work an option in your life.

Here is what you need to do:

Use Discipline

You will need to be very disciplined when you take on the double workload of work and study. Before you embark on this adventurous program, make sure you have complete commitment and dedication to it. The most important aspects include prior planning, organization and maintaining a balance in your life.

Assess Your Time

Make sure you can fit both full time work and study into your life. List all the things you do, with the average time each activity takes on a weekly basis. Once you have a total, you can easily see if there is sufficient time in your life for study and classes. There may be some areas where you can shave some time off or you may need to drop some activities for a while. GMU, a graduate school in Pennsylvania, offers traditional graduate programs as well as accelerated programs for those with limited time.

Find out how many hours you will need to attend classes, what time needs to be allocated to researching and completing assignments. Remember to allow time out for family, social life and recreational activities for yourself. This is really important; without some down time you will burn out before you have completed your course.

It is vital that you allow enough time to continue to perform your duties at work while you are doing courses. You can’t allow your work to suffer or you might find yourself unemployed. It is a good idea to tell your boss that you intend to study as well as work, especially if your courses will add to your knowledge for your job. Find out if you will be able to take time off for study leave and exams. Make sure that classes are held at times that fit in with your work schedule.

Make a Plan

Make up a plan that includes work, leisure, classes and study. Allocate set times in which you will be doing required reading and completing assignments at home. Allow sufficient time to get between work and college in time for class, remembering you may have to eat. Make sure there are enough hours for a good night’s sleep. Talk to your family when you have a draft plan set down to make sure you have allowed for family activities and responsibilities. You are going to need their support and they must be considered.

Review Your Finances

Check how your finances will be affected. You may not be able to take on any overtime work and this can affect your income. Make sure you can cover the cost of classes, books etc. Calculate whether studying will place a financial burden on you and your family. Remember there are always scholarships and bursaries you can apply for so check out what is available to you online or at your local college/university.

Be Strict

Be really strict with yourself and follow your planned schedule closely. When you have allocated a block of time for study, be disciplined and allow no interruptions – turn off your phone, ignore emails, ask not to be interrupted by family members. Even if you have no assignments due, still spend that time getting a head start on work that will be due in the future. This will help to avoid stress.

Look After Yourself

You have set yourself a challenging task with working and studying, so you need to keep yourself in the peak of health. Eat regular, nutritious meals; avoid eating a big meal late at night, get plenty of sleep, keep hydrated and get regular exercise.

You might find eating 6 small meals suits your busy lifestyle better; make sure you include lean protein and complex carbohydrates in each meal. Keep healthy snacks handy for when you are studying or rushed. Take a short brisk walk during your lunch break if you have difficulty finding time for regular exercise.

These strategies helped me successfully take courses while working full time while still keeping some balance in my life and they should help you do the same.

Remember, life is full of curve balls and sometimes you have to change your plan but that isn’t always a bad thing. Just because you didn’t go to college right away or have to work to support your family doesn’t mean all  opportunities are closed. There are options. Just look at my story as an example of that. I allowed myself to adjust and made a new plan which in turn has brought me more satisfaction in my career and in my life.

Above all else, remember this “Anything is possible as long as you have the passion.”- Guy Forget

So readers, I have two questions for you today:

1. Have you ever had to change your life plan and if so, what did you do?

2. If you have had to work and go to school at the same time, what is your story? How have you made it work and what has been the result? 

PS: Don’t forget to check out the new “Share Your Voice” section on the PET homepage


My Story on How to Successfully Take Courses While Working Full Time — 32 Comments

  1. I’ve never attempted full time work and school–I think I knew I didn’t have the necessary level of commitment. I have worked part-time while schooling full-time. But I found a job with an extremely flexible schedule. I had to work a certain number of hours per week, but I could put those hours in any day and any time of day I chose. That made working and schooling at the same time relatively easy.

  2. That’s absolutely a beautiful story. I didn’t know that about you, so your background is very enlightening.=. I worked part-time while going to school full-time for a LONG time to complete multiple degrees, but it is very interesting to hear about an alternative path. I agree with the time-management aspect wholeheartedly. It is a critical LIFE skill to do most things of significance. I say this as I look over my plans for the next 8 months and am trying not to be intimidated by all of the personal and professional changes I will be trying to implement.

    • I swear time management has got to be one of the most important things in every aspect of my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am.

      I am sure everything will work out ok for you. Don’t let your fear take over. With due diligence and some organization you too can reach your goal.

      Glad to hear we have a similar history in common.

  3. If there is ever a time where having good time-management skills is important, it is when you work and go to school full-time simultaneously. It’s very hard to do, and requires a lot of personal commitment, persistence, and determination. Needless to say, you need a a good work ethic, because this is not something that you can do halfway, and expect to emerge victorious.

    What a powerful story, and an important life lesson! The take away is that when you are presented with obstacles, you must figure out a way to break them if you want to succeed in life.

    • Thanks Anthony. I really did learn a lot from this experience. Not only do I now know what I am capable of but I have also learned some skills in life management, persistence, and patience which have translated to other parts of my life. It has definitely been worth the journey.

  4. It is great that you were able to go and work in the diagnostic department prior to going back to school. That way you got a real taste of what it would be like to do that job and you were able to plan your future based on that experience. I think that is so much better than how most of us decide what we want to be. We think we want to be in a specific career but if we all had a chance to experience our choices prior to going to college for 3 years, we would most likely make better decisions.

    • In hindsight, I would agree. Being exposed to the field and getting some hands on experience definitely helped me see where my strengths and weaknesses are. We are talented in different ways and to be able to figure that out at an early age is a huge time saver. I have been fortunate now to be able to be more direct with my career choices and what I need to do and not waste time.

  5. Miss T – I gotta fess up. I’ve never done schooling while working full time. I barely seem to keep up with my blog while working full time. 🙂 Kudos to you. As for changing a life plan..hmm..yes, I’m still trying to sort that out. The wheels grind slowly..

  6. I’m in school full-time and I find it difficult to keep up let alone work a full-time job and go to school. I don’t think I could do it – I value my free time too much, I would have to be very passionate about whatever I was studying. But I definitely understand the ever-changing life plan. I am now about to enter the third version of my career plan, and I’m not even out of my 20’s yet.

  7. Great story – nice to hear more about you. I’ve been working full time and in school, and for me it goes in fits and starts. It seems like sometimes I get a lot of stuff done, then cant quite get over the hump. Hopefully soon, though i’ll finish!

  8. I’ve done both, worked fulltime and attended school fulltime. I think there is some benefit to both approaches. However, I think more young adults ought to consider working through college. It really builds character and forces you to manager your time better.

  9. Amazing! I did this for a little while…but you really did it all! Mad props to you. And I hope all your readers really take the making “you” time to heart…socialization and recreation is so incredibly necessary if you don’t want to go crazy.

    • Thanks. I am humbled, really.

      Yes, free time is really important. I did have some moments where I was neglecting that part of myself and being too much of a workaholic. It wasn’t healthy and it was taking it’s toll. I found by keeping things balanced I did much better.

  10. Great post Miss T! I’m currently doing the juggling act of blogging, part time school and full time work as well. I must admit that as a teacher I have a large advantage in many aspects in that I have parts of the year that are ideal for cramming courses in. I hate when institutions change entrance requirements and other things so arbitrarily. It is ridiculous the god-like powers they have, and so frustrating.

    • I agree. I hate the constant changing requirements too. I have a few friends who have been completely screwed over.

      Congrats to you. This is a challenge, I know, but definitley worth it in the end. Are you working on your Masters in Education?

  11. Inspiring story. Never attempted working and going to school at the same time. Way to follow through. I needed to find a Plan B when my college degree didn’t translate to a job. Did you apply all your tips to yourself when you were going through it? Excellent advice!

    • Yes I did. That’s how I know they work. For example, when I talk about looking after yourself, I used to fit the gym in after work but before class started. It helped give me a boost of energy for the class so I could stay awake. It also kept me healthy through those long nights studying.

  12. Yes it does. Being committed to the end goal is what carries you through the tough times. Without it you can lose motivation pretty quickly.

    Now don’t quote me on this but as far as stable careers go, there will always be a need for health professionals so you might want to explore that as an option.

  13. Looking after yourself is so important. I remember taking classes after work and feeling so tired. It’s important to get enough nutrition as well as relax your mind, and not get too stressed out.

  14. I have changed my mind 3 times between starting university and now. Originally I wanted to work in public policy for the United Nations (big dreams, I know), but I was prepared, thought I loved the field and went head first into the program. I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer at our local MPP’s office during the summer one year and realized that by the time I was able to get to the point where my voice and say made a difference in the UN I would be 50 or so I changed course, and then again. Long story short, I am doing something today that had nothing to do with my education, but I love every minute of it.

    Also, you may have just given me an idea for a blog post.

    • Sounds we like have had a similar path. I really think there should be more work exposure and volunteer programs out there to help young people decide what they want to do. It is really hard to guess the unknown.

      Cool idea about the UN though, but long journey like you said.

  15. Wow, very impressive story, and a very impressive life lived so far. I’ve had to change my life plan a few times, and I’m actually in the process of getting my Master’s degree, in no small part because my attempts to build a good life for myself without one hadn’t been going well. Now, in fact, is about the closest I’ve come to working and going to school full-time; trying to juggle the needs of the work I do for school, the research I have to do to finish my thesis, my studying for my courses, and my side work on my blog takes quite a bit of time and effort. (Sad to say, I’m still learning how to prioritize my goals and manage my time well.) Still, I’m maintaining a high B average, building up my blog, and (with some luck and more cooperative bacteria) will be able to graduate by the end of the summer, so things seem to be going pretty well.

    • This is great Roger. You have made the commitment to make your life situation better and are doing the hard work that this commitment takes. That is a great example for many.

      Congrats on the B grades. That is awesome. It is really hard to keep good grades in school when you have other parts of your life to manage on top of studying.

      I am wishing you all the best. I know that you will do great.

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