How to go back to school and keep your full-time job

Going back to school to finally earn your degree or receive training and certifications has many benefits. Expanding your skills and developing a formal expertise can be fulfilling and can often make you a more attractive candidate for a variety of jobs, which ultimately lead to better working conditions and a higher salary. Ideally, you would find a scholarship program or get financial support from family or friends while you focus on your classes. But, for many Americans, maintaining a full-time job is important – whether because you need employer-provided health insurance, can’t afford to reduce your income, or simply don’t want to give up the position you’ve worked hard to attain.

But figuring out the logistics – and the finances – of continuing your education without leaving your job can be easier said than done. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re looking to go back to school.

Consider becoming a part-time student

Don’t underestimate the meaning of the phrase “full-time.” Having a full-time job means your work is the dominant activity in your life. Being a full-time student – if you’re making the most of it – is no less demanding. It can be hard to balance the demands of both a full-time job and a full course load, so if you absolutely must keep your full-time job, it may be worth considering taking classes on a part-time basis. It will take you longer to earn your degree, but it may save your sanity and prevent you from being pulled so hard in both directions that you start to slip at work, at school, or both.

Part-time programs will usually offer classes that meet at night and/or on the weekend, meaning you will find few direct scheduling conflicts with the typical 9-5, Monday-Friday workweek. You’ll still have to carve out a few hours each week to attend classes and even more time to do research, readings, and assignments, but at least you won’t be prohibited from attending classes because they meet during the hours you need to be in the office. Online classes may also be a good option since they don’t require a physical meeting each week, but be sure to do your due diligence and validate the accreditation and legitimacy of an online program before you commit to it.

It’s worth noting that in many fields – particularly in the business arena – part-time programs are less competitive than equivalent full-time programs, especially if not centered in a large city. Whether or not this is particularly important to you depends on the field you work in and your desired career path. Generally speaking, whatever prestige a full-time program might bring to your resume could be weighed against the continuous job history you will maintain during that time and the determination you demonstrate by working and going to school at the same time.

Work with your employer, and get their help

Many people assume that going back to school is something they’ll have to manage themselves, but plenty of companies will offer support for qualifying employees that wish to continue their education. It can feel a little weird asking your boss to spend money on your schooling, but the reality is that employers who invest in the right employees will not only help the employees, but also their bottom line.

Right up front, businesses can qualify for tax credits and deductions for money they spend on funding employee education. But companies have other incentives, too. If you’re going to school to gain skills or develop expertise in an area that is useful to your company, it’s likely it will be cheaper to invest in you than it would be to hire a new employee with the same qualifications. With this in mind, it may be worth including your boss in your plans to go back to school so that you can be sure to select a program that your company will be willing to help you pay for. If you’re looking to earn an MBA or other similar business-based degree, it’s likely you’ll learn advanced leadership skills that your company will see value in even if your superiors don’t have a specific position in mind for you right now.

Employer assistance comes in many shapes and sizes, but the most common is some form of a tuition reimbursement plan. With this kind of plan you’ll have to pony up the cost of tuition up front, but your company will repay you for some or all of that cost. It’s more rare for companies to pay for books, housing, and other general living expenses. Be sure to check with your employer to see if any education assistance programs already exist. Your employee handbook or HR department are good places to start if you’re not sure.

If your company does have an existing program, make to do your homework and find out what they will cover and what you need to do in order to become and remain eligible for it. For instance, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan includes full tuition reimbursement for courses taken at Arizona State University and is available to any employee in the U.S. who has worked at least 20 hours per week for at least three months. Starbucks employees’ reimbursement appears directly in their paycheck, but other companies may cut a check directly to the college or give you a separate check.

If your company doesn’t offer a specific program, don’t be afraid to make the case to a supervisor of an appropriate pay grade that investing in you will be worth it. As with any proposal that involves asking your company for money, be sure to prepare your pitch in advance and rehearse it if necessary. Make sure to focus on the benefits for the company: the new skills you will have, which will allow you to be more productive; the fact that you will be able to take on expanded/leadership roles within the company; the positive image that helping employees continue their education will bring the company; etc. Your employer will almost certainly have concerns about time you may have to spend away from work and the expense to the company, so be ready to counter those concerns. 

Specifically, do some research on a program you’re interested in so that you can show how you’ll create your class schedule using night, weekend, and online classes, and remind your employer that investing in you may cost less in the long run than training a new employee with the qualifications you’ll have once you complete your degree.

Ultimately, going back to school without sacrificing the income and benefits of a full-time job will inevitably cause some strain on both your time and your wallet. But perhaps now more than ever before, it’s more than possible to pull it off and reap the benefits in the long run.

Post by Self Lender

Self Lender helps thousands of people build a strong financial future. Featured in Bloomberg, Newsweek, TechCrunch, and more. Discover us at selflender.com.

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