Factors to Consider When Balancing Work and School

Being a full-time post-secondary student is far from easy—in many respects, it’s like having a full-time job with a hefty work load and regular deadlines. When not attending class, you’ll be reading assigned materials, conducting research, writing papers, preparing for group presentations, organizing projects, and studying for midterms. Here’s a common dilemma many students face: Is it realistic to try to take on a demanding job while simultaneously contending with a full course load? Weigh the following factors before making this important decision.

Factor one: How intensive is your course load?

University and college courses demand varying amounts of time and energy, depending on the type of program. While some courses require only that you attend class, pay attention, and write the occasional exam, other professors will dole out new assignments week after week. You may think you have a good handle on how much free time is at your disposal in a given semester, only to see your course load increase dramatically in the next semester. When you start to feel overwhelmed by heavy course requirements, you may find yourself regretting the 20+ hours a week you promised your boss. University and college-level projects, tests, and assignments often require your full attention if you want to receive impressive grades. This brings us to the second important factor in balancing work and school.

Factor two: How demanding is your job?

It’s very important to figure out precisely how much mental and physical energy your job will require. After a string of long, tiring shifts, will you have enough reserve energy to tackle your course work and maintain good grades?  It’s also important to pinpoint  how flexible your employer can be when it comes to adjusting your weekly schedule and number of hours—in the week leading up to a midterm or final exam, for example, you may need to take a couple of days off work to allow for extra study time. It is absolutely essential that you discuss the possibility of rescheduling shifts with your boss well in advance. It also helps to have a friend at work that could cover for you if an unexpected time crunch at school requires you to drop everything else in order to meet a deadline or prep for a test.

Factor three: What is your transportation situation?

If it takes you all morning to get to work via bus and just as long to get home, this trekking around will eat up valuable time that could be spent studying or completing assignments. Besides calculating how much time you’ll spend getting from home to work, you must also take into account how long it will take to get from school to work since this journey may also become part of your daily routine. If possible, bring your course readings/materials along with you so that you can stay on top of things while taking transit (if public transit is how you get around) and while on your lunch break at work.

Balancing work and school can pose stiff physical and psychological challenges, so try to keep your stress level to a minimum. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and periodic intervals of relaxation and downtime can all help combat stress and anxiety. Keep your responsibilities in order—course work should always be a top priority, but don’t neglect your day job unless you feel it is absolutely necessary to reduce your working hours (especially if your job is in a field that you want to stay in for the long haul). And whatever you do, don’t exhaust yourself by taking on too many things at once. Listen to your instincts and take on only what you know you can handle so that your time as a student remains a productive and rewarding experience.

By Dan McDonald


Dan is a Sales and Marketing Development Associate at Baxter Media. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 2011.