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.