The program I am going to does not offer any stipends or financial aid. Is it doable to work full time and be a full time grad student?

--Busy Bee

Hi Busy Bee,

This is a great question that pertains to many people, so I’m glad you asked it. A lot of people may be either too proud or afraid to ask this. Working full time and being a full-time grad student simultaneously is doable, but be cautioned that it is difficult. I know a lot of people who are in similar situations with full-time jobs, full-time student status, and families, and I can see them struggling with it. However, it works for some.

Here are a few things you’ll want to think about when looking for full-time work while maintaining full-time status as a student:

Talk to your advisor about online classes.

Online classes can help you create your own schedule without having to attend lectures. For the most part, online classes give large windows of time for you to complete your work and take tests and quizzes. If you decide to complete your graduate coursework online, you will be able to work at your full-time job during the day and then complete your coursework at night, or vice versa.

The thing to look for in online classes is to make sure that the university you choose is accredited and has the necessary credentials so that your degree is worth more than a piece of paper at the end of your schooling. You can download a list of accredited universities from this website. This list can be overwhelming, but try to narrow the search down to your chosen locations and types of programs to minimize the amount of information you see.

Research work opportunities for your program.

Ask faculty, staff, and other graduate students about work opportunities that either your program or your school offers for financial support. Usually, graduate programs offer teaching fellow positions and research assistant positions. These job prospects will allow you to grow as a professional in your field and as a more advanced student in your program. I found information about the US’s high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and the amount of time they work full time or part time. The information is from the United States Census Bureau. This information should help you stay encouraged knowing that many other graduate students are in the same boat as you.

Something to keep in mind when wanting to work for your program is that there are two main jobs that you will probably be eligible for, teaching positions and researching positions. Your specific university might have different choices for you, but teaching and research assistants are two positions that many graduate programs give their students. If you decide to become a teaching assistant for your program, your duties would include teaching a class (possibly a couple of classes) of undergraduate students, grading, and helping other teachers and faculty members with their classes. Research assistants usually work with professors who work on research projects. These projects can include manuscripts, books, journals, etc. If you have an option for either TA or RA, think about your long-term objective. Do you want to be a researcher or work at a researching institution, or do you want to focus on teaching?

Consider taking your time with your graduate degree.

Don’t feel that you have to earn your diploma in a certain amount of time. Try registering for fewer classes so that you can spend more time working on your experience in your field. This doesn’t work for everybody, so take this advice with a grain of salt. The only thing that this decision could affect would be the time it takes for you to graduate. If it is very important for you to graduate within a specific time period, just try the above suggestions, but if you think you could spend a few more semesters in graduate school focusing on gaining experience, try to slow down your pace in the classroom.

Please know that these are just suggestions for you. I understand that the issue of balancing full-time work and school can be difficult, so I hope everything works out for you. Good luck!

--René Paulson, PhD

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