You want to advance your career by going back to school, but how could you ever find the time when you're holding down a job? Many colleges and distance-learning programs offer a number of flexible options to help students out. Your employer may even pay for your courses if they're relevant to your job.
- Skill level:
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Explore colleges, night schools and online programs to find one that meets your needs (see 149 Decide Which College Is Right for You and 155 Get Into Grad School). The range of options will surprise you--in one program, you might study on your own and report to class one weekend a month; in another, you might take summer courses and then write your thesis at home.
Talk to counselors at the schools and programs you're considering. Discuss your professional goals, and whether you want to advance in your field or make a career change (see 160 Go Back to Work After a Long Absence and 167 Prepare for a Career Change).
Shop around before you commit to a program. Ask professionals in your field about a school's reputation. Compare costs at private and state colleges, as well as distance-learning programs.
Decide how much time you can devote to your studies. If you have many other commitments, you may need to take fewer classes over a longer period to reduce stress and increase your chances of completing the program. Ask your boss for a flexible work schedule to fit in with your studies. Make sure to mention how your new skills will benefit the company.
Arrange for a sabbatical or use vacation time to take classes (see 162 Plan a Sabbatical). If you can afford it, work part-time.
Check out your options for student financial aid. If you ask, your employer might even pitch in, particularly if it adds value to your existing job. See 234 Organize Your Financial-Aid Package.
Combine work and school for mutual benefit. For instance, if you do a project or thesis, make the subject applicable to your work (see 154 Organize a Research Paper).
Buy the equipment you'll need for school. If your computer is old, you may have to invest in a new operating system to handle specialized software, or a new computer all together; look into educational discounts once you're enrolled. You might need to use the same operating system (Mac or PC) that your school most commonly uses. Some stores offer student discounts, so you may want to wait until you get your student ID.
Set aside a quiet place for studying at home. Get help with child and/or elder care so you have time to hit the books. See 159 Work at Home with Kids.
Tips and warnings
- Your school's guidance counselors can suggest ways to coordinate work and study schedules.
- Investigate any online program before you enroll. Check its credentials and affiliations, and how long it's existed. You'll find everything from fly-by-night operations to programs connected to well-respected colleges. UniversityAlliance.com, for instance, is affiliated with several universities, including Villanova, Tulane and Jacksonville.
- If you have to drive to school, arrange your classes so you're not hitting rush hour. Carpool if possible.