Going to school while working on a career is not for the faint of heart, however, it’s becoming more common every year. In 1984 only about 5% of all students enrolled in college held jobs while going to school. But as of 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 42.1% of college students had either full-time or part time jobs while in attending the hallowed halls of higher learning. Sleeping_while_studying

The economy, obviously, has everything to do with this increase, in that pubic funding for colleges is constantly being cut at both the state and federal levels. This means schools have to raise tuition, which dips directly into the pockets of students.

It’s a vicious cycle in which the only ways out are scholarship, financial aid, or work. Unfortunately, if you’re one of those going back to school to make a career change, you probably won’t qualify for scholarships, and your financial aid options are limited. That leaves work. So if you’re in the situation where you have to use your current 40-hour-a-week job to finance an education that will eventually lead a new career, then I strongly urge you to consider these five college-versus-career tips so you don’t spontaneously combust before graduating.

1) Don’t Overload

Because you’re burning the candle at both ends (by working full time and going to school) your tendency is to speed things along in terms of getting through school. This can inspire you to take too many classes all at once, which will most likely lead to burn-out (and doesn’t leave much time to do homework).

The solution? Be patient. This upcoming spring semester, for example, sign up for only one class IF you’re working full time. A good rule of thumb is my very own 10/4 to 40/1 rule. For every 10 hours of work per week you take one less class, starting with working 10 hours while taking four classes. If you work 20 hours per week, take three classes; work 30 hours, take two classes; work 40 hours, take one class.

2) Limit Your Volunteering and Extra Activities

This means not only giving up your book club, but also don’t volunteer for too many extra projects and duties at work (even the fun ones, like planning the holiday party). Sometimes, of course, you have no choice, as your boss will volunteer your services for you. But even then, don’t be afraid to talk to your boss and let him/her know that you’ve enrolled in school, and that your extra time will be limited.

It’s up to you, however, how much you want to share with your boss and coworkers about your future career plans and why you’re going back to school. If it’s to get the heck out of your current job you may want to keep that little nugget of information to yourself.

3) Rethink Your Commute

Carpools are great, and I highly encourage them. However, if you have to be at school after work by a certain time, then DON’T sign up to drive in a company carpool – or at least limit your participation so that your carpool doesn’t depend on you on the days you have school. Nothing gets people more riled up than being stranded on a rainy street corner when they were expecting a ride home.

4) Plan Vacations Accordingly

Just like when you were in college the first time (or high school) life will be so much easier if you plan your vacations during school breaks; particularly summer, Christmas, and spring break. If you have kids this won’t be a problem because their schedules already run your life.

However, if you don’t have kids (or they’re grown and out of the house), friends and even your spouse may not be so quick to want to travel with the rest of the world. For example, Hawaii in October is less crowded than Hawaii in July. Just be firm and explain that because of school you’re now homebound fall through spring semester (except during the breaks). Eventually, they’ll get the idea that you’re serious about your education and will be supportive.

5) Take Online College

Of course many of these issues can be completely circumvented just by enrolling in online college. Most universities now have online versions of their degree programs, or you can find good schools online that cater exclusively to distance learning. In either case, the online degrees are accredited, just as accepted by employers as degrees from brick and mortar schools, plus you have the added luxury of attending class from the comfort of…where you happen to be. This means, for example, that you don’t have to wait for spring break to go on vacation (although, keep in mind it takes A LOT of discipline to attend online class when you’re on a raucous spring break vacation), you can keep your place in the carpool, and you don’t have to stress over showing up for class on time on those occasions you have to work late or pick up your kids.

You still, however, need to limit your class load and extra activities as online college is not a cakewalk. Just because the classes are online doesn’t mean they’re easier.

The irony is the worse the economy gets the more people go back to college to prepare for new careers. You’d think the increased enrollment would offset the budget cuts, however, it doesn’t. In many cases bigger enrollment simply increases the financial burden on the college – unless the school keeps raising tuition. The obvious solution is to work while going to school, however, that doesn’t mean you have to get worked up (and stressed out) in the process.

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