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What I Wish I’d Known Before … Taking College Courses While Still Working Full Time

April 21, 2018 What I Wish I'd Known Before No Comments

That taking classes when you’re over 40 is pointless. Few, if any, employers believe that those over 40 have anything left to offer, regardless of one’s interest in continuing their education and staying current.

Nothing. I was glad I earned my MBA while working when I was 24-25 years old. At the time I knew it would be a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain and it was. I started the program part time in the evenings while I worked full time and concluded full time while working part time for eight months. To those of you in your mid-20s thinking about earning an advanced degree, get practical work experience for a few years first. It will make the degree more valuable as you will apply professional experience to course work and learnings from the program immediately in your work setting.

I wish I had known just how little sleep I would get! I went back to school after a divorce. I was a single parent working full time, carrying a full load of at least 12 credit hours, and it was a huge test of my stamina. However, it was the most rewarding experience. I wish there were online programs when I did it, I had to physically go to school.

I encourage all of my employees to follow their dreams and go to school as well. One finished her MBA, another just graduated with a BA, another is in school now. They all found programs that are online and that seems to be more manageable.

It’s worth doing. Time management, prioritizing and letting the unnecessary stuff go are the keys to sanity. And remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just get through one class at a time and eventually you’ll be done.

Engage with your full-time college student peers sooner — they can help you through. I worked full-time nights as a nurse, taking graduate-level business classes in the morning. I was so tired I didn’t sense how curious the ‘regular’ students were and how much they wanted to get to know me. Once I made the effort, they became a great support system.

I tried to do it 20 years ago with young kids, a more than full-time job, and travelling. Not surprisingly, I could not sustain the effort and was unprepared for the amount of non-class time I would have to commit, so that effort ended. Fast-forward to 2016, and tried again, this time with a completely online program. The coursework was still extremely challenging (more so than I remember from my brick-and-mortar experience), but the flexibility made all the difference in the world. Bottom line: be ready to commit the time and be realistic about your current life situation before jumping back in.

The course that seemed so valuable to gain new expertise ends up being little more than a high-level theoretical overview of the area. After a day of professional work with software, a computer science course seems like a step backwards, learning old techniques and theory. I find myself questioning the expertise of the professor compared to my professional colleagues. After a week of full-time work, I rarely have much energy to spend on deep learning, so I find myself doing the bare minimum to get by. I’m surprised at the low-quality work that is acceptable to get a decent grade.

I wish I’d had the foresight to schedule time for social activities when I first went back for my master’s. If I don’t look for opportunities to meet up with friends early, I either end up becoming a hermit or accepting last-minute invitations too close to class deadlines.

I wish I’d known how helpful programs like Khan Academy and even YouTube channels can be for brushing up on the basics. My advice for anyone going back for another degree after a long time out of academics would be to put pride aside and find a way to test how much you may have forgotten.

That I would immediately want to quit my job and go to school full time, forever.

It’s 100 percent worth it when you’re done. MBA.

You will be forced into TOUGH choices. After a while, it becomes hard to juggle school, work, and family. Additionally, I had travel related to school and for work. I ended up quitting work midway through the degree because my employer didn’t care about my MBA and I felt that I had reached my ceiling there. That helped me regain sanity.

I wish I’d known how much effort it would be. I knew college courses were hard, but I signed up, waxing nostalgic over going to college full time. Working then going to class after was totally different. It was basically paying a ton of money to do extra work. It feels especially hollow when you realize there are a dozen courses online where you could learn the same things for free.

That as time-consuming as it was, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had put off getting my master’s degree for years because I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle all the extra hours. Once I got into my new routines, it was challenging but doable.

That success in school meant getting up early before work to read, staying up late to complete assignments, eating lunch at my desk at work while reading, and basically using every free moment to pull out my tablet and/or phone and chip away at assignments. Oh, and doing schoolwork on every vacation for four years, including on cruise ships.

Even though it was hard, it was worth it.

Academia is very different then real world and professors have a book perspective on leading business. Look for a school that has professors who have worked in your field and can provide real-world perspective.

There were three things I wanted to do well: work, family, and school. I found that one of these always suffered, and since family had the least-noticeable short-term consequences, that’s usually what I sacrificed. In the long term, however, the family impact was significant and I ultimately stopped taking classes. For anyone who is married or has a family, I would ask them to seriously consider whether a lack of degree is truly what is holding them back in their career. For me, it was not, and school was not worth sacrificing family time. If you’re single, go for it!

I wish I had known that my academic medical center’s (!!) implementation of software and a third-party vendor was done to suppress the usage of their highly-touted education benefits. I stopped taking classes after it became too much of an exhausting chore to utilize the “XX credits per year free!” benefit. (The “Benefits” [sic] department kept insisting I needed to pay for classes and fees that should have been covered by the education benefit.)

That it is well worth it – should have started sooner! Don’t be afraid to take more than one course at a time so you can finish your degree.

That I would be giving up my personal time completely for three years to complete my graduate degree. Online and flexible sounded wonderful when I started, but on top of a 50-hour work week, it didn’t take long for me to be on the computer every waking hour just to keep up.

The struggle was worth the effort. It took me five years to complete what would have been a full year on campus, but having that BS degree allowed me to move on. Without it, I would have not been eligible for most of the positions around the country that I have enjoyed and friends I made along the way. Now getting ready to retire from this life in HIS-land after 41 years.

That it was going to take five years for a master’s. I would still do it; it was the best thing I did for my career.

That work levels are exponential with more classes when you have a full time job. One class seems like a class load of work, two seems like four, and three seems like eight. I suspect with so much time taken up with your real job, being a full-time student makes the impact on limited free time more forcefully felt.

If there was an option to move the registration of the course to incomplete, audit, or pass/fail when work falls apart. Time allowed for completion of incomplete.

I had a very positive experience in completing a master’s degree while working full time. But it could have been a very different experience and outcome if it weren’t for the following factors:

  • The program was an asynchronous distance learning program, so I could do the work at night regardless of when I finally got home.
  • There was a lot of flexibility in the time for completion of the degree, so I could limit myself to one course at a time.
  • The faculty were excellent. I was impressed by the other students in the program. The topics, even in the required courses, were interesting, all of which kept my motivation high.
  • I had some flexibility in juggling my work responsibilities as I wasn’t doing full time patient care and my work deadlines tended to have some advance notice.
  • I had very minimal travel requirements for my job and for the degree.
  • My spouse was supportive in every possible respect

Taking two+ courses while working full time is incredibly difficult, especially if you come home from a day at work mentally exhausted. My tip: wake up early and get schoolwork done before you go to work. It’s tough, but it can be done! I would not recommend taking more than two courses at a time.

I did this in my late twenties while earning my MBA and enjoyed it thoroughly. Having context for the classwork in my daily life kept my engagement level high and helped to develop my time management skills. I would not necessarily recommend approaching undergraduate work this way, as there are important social aspects to a college education.

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