Ask LH: How Can I Study While Working Full Time?

Ask LH: How Can I Study While Working Full Time?

Dear Lifehacker, I am just about to start studying at university by correspondence while still working full time in a blue collar job. What advice do you have for someone in my position? Thanks, Nervous Student

Studying picture from Shutterstock

Dear NS,

Nerves are to be expected, but tens of thousands of Australians can testify that it is possible to work full-time while studying. To make it feasible, we’d offer this advice:

  • Don’t overcommit. Especially when you’re first resuming study, it can seem overwhelming. Start slowly — take on just a single subject.
  • Set a study timetable and stick to it. Committing regular hours every week will ensure you get through the subject. For some topics, an hour every night will prove more effective than trying to cram it into the weekend, but that also depends on your learning style and existing work commitments. Whatever fits in, make sure it’s regular, and not a frantic end-of-semester cram.
  • Grab every interaction opportunity you can. Many courses offer online tutorials at specific times, and most universities have online forums where you can chat with fellow students. Take advantage of these — studying is not an entirely solitary activity, and you can lots of helpful advice and support from your fellow students.
  • Eat healthily and get plenty of sleep. Study is tiring. Ensure you’re at maximum potential by sticking to a healthy diet and making sure you allocate time for sleep. Staying up until 3am working on an assignment won’t get you good marks and won’t help with your day job either.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Universities have plenty of resources to help out if you’re struggling, whether that’s with essay writing or grasping a particular aspect of a topic. Don’t be shy; ask when you’re not sure.

Those are the basics — we’d love additional suggestions from readers who have been there in the comments. Good luck!


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  • I’m currently studying an advanced diploma 2 nights a week while working full time. I’ve gone up to 3 nights a week before, and its do-able, but I ended up with very little time to do anything.
    Having said that, its a tafe qualification so the work load is a bit lighter, definatly start with one subject and work your way up from there.

  • I find utilising my time helps ie if i’m driving or stuck on a train listen to lectures online if available and read while on the train it not like you can do anything else.
    all these suggestions are good i had to learn these the hard way.
    !st year subjects are harder than 3rd year as there is more to learn and the longer you study the more subjects overlap so it gets easier.

    • I’m a part time uni student (mature age , 31). I work and study at Sydney uni and have two kids at home and a third on the way. The two and a half hour round train trip is a guaranteed study session without distraction for me. At home I don’t get this and my wife is helpful but it odd ways so rather than make a couple of hours for me over the four weekend days to read and prepare to write an essay she will block out one full day without the kids which is nice but unhelpful somewhat.

      Its not easy but its very doable but LONG, my mates who are full time will be in their careers and established for two years before I finish my part time study……so I have established contacts in the industry.

  • I’m doing the same and stuck to a timetable for the first time this year. I’m doing a Masters by distance and have normally just done the assignments when they were due – I scraped pass marks, but they were done.

    This year, I set aside one hour a night to do readings and then set myself writing goals to do assessments. 500 words a night until it was done. It was tough to stick to, but the results were worth it. I’ve gone up to a Distinction/High Distinction average. It’s definitely do-able and definitely worth it if you can stick to the timetable.

  • I’m working full time in IT, while doing a full time Bachelor’s in Computer Studies online.
    From personal experience, the hardest thing isn’t time management as much as it is motivation. As much as I love what I do, by the time I get home from work I struggle to focus let alone get motivated to start.
    If you don’t want to be studying forever (ie try finishing asap), I suggest warming up with some part time for the first 3-6 months. After that, do full time for about a year, then back to part time for a little while to get a little break, or you’ll likely burn out (as I did). Then repeat.
    It’s all about you though, everyone handles it differently.

  • Good for you Nervous Student!! You’re already planning ahead so I can tell you’ll do just fine. I’m in a similar position and am looking to finish this year. All great advice above, stick to some set times to do work and get your writing done early to give yourself a chance to do something of quality. Its hard work and its easy to get bogged down in the relentless responsibility that comes from assessment item after assessment item, but just keep reminding yourself that you have life goals and this is the reason you decided to do this in the first place. Never forget your goals and what you want to do with this qualification, this will help keep you motivated in the tough times.

  • There’s only so much you can do in 24 hours, you’re going to have to sacrifice something
    Try to automate as much as you can to reclaim time, but you will still need rest, and some things like cooking are best not rushed.

    Either you phone it in at your day job, or you won’t have enough attention and energy to absorb anything from the course,
    or you sacrifice marks by spending less time on assignments and homework,
    or you sacrifice your social life by never going out,
    or you let the dishes pile up for a while,
    or you just decide not to bathe lol

    Either way, something’s getting cut, and the sacrifices will be larger depending on how demanding your day job and desired course are.

    But NEVER, EVER sacrifice your health
    Shower everyday, get plenty of sleep because you will need it, don’t get overstressed, don’t eat only instant noodles and takeaway food…
    Once your health is compromised, you get sick easily and you won’t be able to work or study for a while.
    That is THE important thing to stay on top of, once you lose your health, nothing else matters.

    But hey, least you’re not me,
    I’m living in hell crisis mode everyday hahaha

  • It might also be worth cross examining your assignment due dates / exam dates against any significant work commitments so you don’t end up running out of time / resources. Takes a few minutes but it will save you a headache later on. Good luck!

  • Im currently working full tme in a shift work environment, at the same time I am studying a Diploma of Marketing online full time. My bigest advice is remove distractions and set aside time. My girlfriend knows that when I go into my office at home, its study time and leaves me alone for a couple of hours. I have found if we try and study in the same room as each other or i try and fit in some assignment work while she watching TV it just doesnt work its too easy to get distracted. She is currently studying on campus and doesnt have time to work aswell so one of us needs to pay the bills, but the work / study life ballence is deffinately doable, I was supprised how much time I had when I prioritised study over say catching up on facebook or reddit.

  • Great tips in the article and some great comments from people too! I’m doing my MBA and working full time so I know how you feel I follow the above tips fairly well so I can vouch to say they work. The only thing I would add (although it’s implied in the article)… Pick one day a week that you don’t study or work. This does wonders for my stress levels and mental health. For me it’s from 5pm Sat arvo (when I finish studying all day sat) to 6am Monday morning when it all starts again. Of course for this to work, you need to stick with points 1 and 2 in the article and be organised! Best of luck to all of you studying 🙂

  • It’s absolutely doable if your schedule allows it and you have the energy. I did my Masters with three nights per week of classes for two years, with a fairly punishing daytime white-collar job. I somehow managed to also fit in another evening job and went to the gym after class two nights per week, I think the fact that I was wearing full-metal mouth braces for the first year and didn’t anticipate anticipate dating was a great incentive to focus on other parts of my life.

    That was 20 years ago, and the thought of doing all of that now sounds frightening. However it absolutely paid off in regards to employment and as a terrific life experience.

  • Here’s a tip: as you get further into your degree, try and get a job that is somewhat related to your degree. There is no point in sticking with the blue collar job if the work experience you get does not relate at all to your career goals.

  • I’m currently studying a Bachelor in Creative Industries (Major: Interactive & Visual Design; Minors: Advertising & Graphic Design) with the Queensland University of Technology as well as work two casual positions.
    It is achievable and I have found although it is very hard I have been able to work on my Time Management skills and Communication skills, which has been a great help. Also by starting to have a more frugal finance situation my partner and I make our own bread & cook up healthy meals & rather than going out with friends we invite them over and all cook.
    It will be hard to juggle relationships, university/educations, work as well as giving yourself your own time but it is totally achievable!

    Good luck!

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