Can I get my graduate degree while working full time?

October 12, 2021 · 8 min read · By ASU Online
With the right strategy and support, you can strike a balance between your educational goals and busy life. Learn more about the time management and strategic planning it takes for working professionals to earn their online master's degree.

Graduate students come from all different backgrounds, each with unique goals. They’re working to take the next professional step while staying in their career and managing responsibilities. They do this because of the many advantages of attending grad school while working full time, such as expanding your network, connecting with like-minded professionals and increasing their career opportunities.

That said, striking a balance between your educational goals and busy life requires time management and strategic planning.

First, let’s address the most common concerns around returning to college as a working professional.


Key considerations for maintaining a career while you earn a graduate degree

You might have some reservations about returning to school to earn a graduate degree while staying active in your career and making sure you can give both pursuits the attention they deserve.

  • Am I ready to get back into a student mindset?
  • How can I give my career and my graduate program the attention they both deserve?
  • Will I have the time to take care of my professional and academic responsibilities?

The answers to these questions are different for everyone. However, many grad students stay employed while in school. With some planning and preparation, you could complete a degree that broadens your knowledge base and develops new talents that support further professional growth.


Can you work full-time and go to college?

Depending on the specifics of your career and personal responsibilities, you might be able to maintain full-time schedules in both college and your profession. Or, you may simply not have the time to deal with both in a full-time capacity.

There’s a solution for everyone that can end with earning a degree.

  • Master’s degrees are generally 30 credits, or 10 courses of three credits each. Exactly how many you take in a semester is generally up to you. You have six years to earn your graduate degree, so you can spread them out or condense them as you see fit.
  • While some programs may require you take a certain course during a specific semester, you generally have the freedom to set your own schedule. Some students complete their required courses in as few as 18 to 24 months, while others take longer. Those options are all viable and are designed to support you in achieving your goals at a pace that works for you. Your degree won’t reflect how long it took you to complete it; only that you earned it.


Attending grad school and working full-time: What are the benefits?

While you may already be in a stable or strong position with your current level of education and professional path, a graduate degree may help you advance your career and increase your earning potential.

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shared data that indicates a clear financial advantage for professionals holding a graduate degree.

Earnings data from 2020 indicates workers with graduate degrees have a median per-week income of $1,545, while those with bachelor’s degrees earned median pay of $1,305 in the same timeframe. In other words, professionals holding a master’s degree have median yearly earnings that are $11,520 higher than their counterparts with undergraduate degrees. While every individual, degree and career path are different, there are clear big-picture financial benefits that come with an advanced education.

There are other distinct advantages to being a part- or full-time student while working a full-time job.

  • Earning a degree while you’re employed means you can count on a steady income.

Certain financial obligations are associated with higher education. Tuition is a constant, as are books and other class materials. Some courses may also require specialized software or equipment. A regular salary offers peace of mind as you pay for these needs.

You can still consider applying for any kind of scholarship, financial aid, grant or other assistance that you qualify for, too. Pairing some form of outside support with the income from your career can make it easier to address the costs of earning your graduate degree. 

Keep in mind that your status as a full- or part-time student can influence your eligibility for some of these programs. For financial aid specifically, you must take at least nine credits in the fall and spring semesters, and three or more credit hours in the summer session to qualify as a full-time student.

More stable finances aren’t the only additional benefit of going to grad school and working full-time.

  • As a professional, you’ve likely developed certain abilities that can make it easier to progress as a student. Critical thinking, effective communication and time management are a few examples.
  • Similarly, you might also have an advantage when it comes to networking — especially if the degree you want to earn has a strong connection to your current career. You probably have existing relationships with other professionals in your field, which makes it easier to meet new people and grow your network. As you work to complete your program, you’ll have the opportunity to enrich your current group of contacts by building connections with educators and fellow students, too.
An ASU Online graduate students works on their computer at a library.

Planning for success at work and in graduate school

You may encounter challenges that come with pursuing a master’s degree while working. Creating a strong strategy for being a full-time student with a full-time job means thinking through your own schedule, talents and needs as a student as well as your career goals. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and important obstacles, with a focus on how to address them.

  • The amount of free time on your calendar is a good starting point. Could you set aside an hour or two most nights during the week for coursework, reading and studying? Would scheduling a block of time each weekend more easily fit into your schedule and better align with your strengths?
  • Plan on dedicating at least a few hours every week for each credit hour you take in graduate school. Depending on your schedule and available free time, you can assess how many courses to take each semester. If your calendar doesn’t have as much free space, you can take a more conservative approach and still complete your degree. ASU offers a wide variety of support services for students, including time management support.
  • Coordinating with your family, friends, colleagues and managers may be critical. In general, providing advance notice and finding compromises can go a long way. You might need to make a new schedule with your partner or family to ensure your children are cared for while you focus on your classes, for example.
  • Every business is different, but some support their employees in advancing their education — especially if it aligns with the company’s trajectory and available positions. You could look into opportunities to alter your schedule or set certain deadlines so they don’t conflict with major exams and projects.


Taking things one semester at a time

While it’s important to plan out your strategy for balancing school, work and your personal life, you shouldn’t feel pressured to schedule everything for the length of your master’s program.

Setting your schedule each semester helps you account for the different needs related to the specific classes you’re taking at that time. It can be easier to establish a compromise with your family, friends, colleagues or manager when your request has a clear time limit attached to it.


Finding a graduate program that aligns with your goals

You know your goals better than anyone. Whether you want to complete a degree that qualifies you for a new, higher-level position at your current company or one that can totally change your career, it’s your choice.

If you already have a specific degree in mind, that’s great! If you’re still exploring your options, check out our full list of online graduate programs. ASU Online offers more than 100 master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates fully online, designed and taught by world-renowned faculty.


Resources that support students

Everyone has different priorities and goals in terms of how earning a graduate degree can empower or transform their professional path. Finding a similarly supportive university is a crucial step to make sure you can benefit from an effective, relevant and enriching educational opportunity.

Engaging courses, experienced professors and programs that encourage students to learn and grow are all foundational needs. It’s also important to consider how the schools you’re interested in provide support beyond academics.

ASU Online connects students like you to a variety of resources that can make it easier to focus on your studies. Support services include:

  • Counseling and life services, including 24/7 counseling, personal care services, child care services and more.
  • Student wellness services, including career and health counseling, along with financial services. 
  • Success coaches, who advise and motivate you throughout your program.
  • Technical resources, including a 24/7 help center and online library access.
  • Time management coaching, which can assist you in balancing your schedule.

You may have some late nights, weekends spent on coursework and creative scheduling ahead of you, but a strong support system can make a big difference when pursuing a master’s degree while working.

ASU Online is dedicated to supporting students academically, personally and professionally. An environment that empowers learners inside and outside of the classroom creates a stronger foundation for academic success, no matter which graduate program you’re pursuing.

What master's degree should I get?

Learn how to choose the right master's degree for you and what makes ASU Online so popular for graduate students.


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