Balancing Full-time Employment with Pursuing a Graduate Degree

The other reasons besides income of why students are working full-time


The pursuit of higher education isn't easy nor is it cheap, whether you've secured scholarships or received grants, school is still expensive. And what makes this worse is the poorer you are the more expensive school is because you most likely are not able to pay cash.

This means taking out loans which will accrue in interest over time, become debt on your credit, and become a looming anxiety that for many is insurmountable.


While the assumption may be that students are working full-time to help pay expenses, when it comes to post bachelorette graduate students, working provides more than just income.

When someone enters into a graduate degree, they may have already been working for several years. Perhaps they've even been working for the same agency for quite some time: paying into retirement, comfortable in their role and responsibilities, and used to a certain quality of life and stability.

Education as a Stepping Stone

For these students, going back to school is a stepping stone. The expectation being that by learning advanced skills and earning a graduate degree, they are able to: increase their earning power, change or improve their work responsibilities or title, and continue to work with better proficiency in their work.

This expectation doesn't always manifest as some graduate degrees are very practice based. This means they require dedicated time in the field practicing what you learn in the classroom. Field work can be unpredictable and often not as flexible as one might need when working full-time.

Therefore, it is extremely important to plan for contingencies that may interfere with your arrangement of working full-time while pursuing your degree so that you are ready to make the hard decisions if they ever pop up. You can view my PhD Contingency Plan in the endnote to give you some ideas of what are realistic decisions and discussions you may need to have as you pursue your graduate degree.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”

– Nelson Mandela

Education as Opportunity

Some students see education as opportunity: a place to elevate their understanding of an issue or cause, to meet like-minded individuals, to make them more competitive or to simply take advantage of being in a new/safe space.

Working is inevitable because a students' expenses may exceed any grants or loans they are using to attend classes. Being the main earner for your family, or already having large debts and bills that exceed any tuition refunds, or needing the medical insurance are just a few of the reasons why working is still necessary for many students.

It's never too early or late to do some contingency planning but for students pursing higher education as opportunity, it's going to be very important to make sure you are balancing your dream educational experience with your dream professional experience. You can view my PhD Career Plan in the endnote to give you an idea of what how I am connecting my educational opportunities with my overall career goals.


Full-time employment doesn't always come with enough benefits to warrant a full-time work while pursuing a graduate degree. At the end of the day, it is a decision that will have it's ups and downs, and stressors and accomplishments. The reality is that many students may realize that working full-time while in school just doesn't work for them.

Whether being a student becomes less of a priority or working full-time becomes less of a priority, what's important to understand is that in the moment when you have to make a difficult decision, make sure you are making it for the right reasons.

You may feel pressure from family, coworkers, mentors or even friends who are giving advice you never asked for. In that moment, take a step back and evaluate all the things you've already accomplished. Be proud and take solace that even if your path looks a little wonky, you will get to the end of the road someday - even if it's not today.



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