5 time management tips for working students

time management tips for working students

Balancing work and school is no easy task, especially for full-time students who work more than 25 hours a week. Juggling academic demands and a busy work week takes more than dedication and determination. Careful planning can help you avoid overloading your academic and work schedules, which can lead to poor performance and less favorable grades. Avoiding outside distractions during study time can also help keep you focused on your academic work.

Staying on track: One student's academic journey

Giselle Nichols enrolled in the University of Nevada, Reno in the 2002 fall semester as a biology major and now has just a few classes left to earn her bachelor's degree. Throughout her academic career, Nichols worked about 20 hours a week as a barista, and for the past five years she also worked a minimum of 20 hours a week as a server and bartender at a popular restaurant chain.

Many semesters Nichols carried more than 12 units, but that balancing act proved extremely difficult. The last few semesters she's scaled back to just nine semester units and found that her studies didn't suffer.

"Don't try to do too much in school," Nichols advises. "You don't need to take 12 or even 18 credits. Back off on your credit load and focus on doing well in those classes. If you take too much, all your classes will suffer and you will do mediocre or average work instead of doing well and getting more out of them."

  • Lesson 1: Don't bite off more than you can chew in your current schedule. College is a marathon journey, not a 40-yard dash. Sprinting can expend too much energy and fail to find the finish line.

Web 101: Focus on the work at hand

Brian Mauro, Dean of Students at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Florham campus in Madison, N.J., says students must control the amount of time they spend online. Facebooking, Tweeting and reading Wikipedia pages about your favorite bands may be fun, but it also wastes valuable study time.

"Students use computers and technology for studying all the time," Mauro says. "It is a blessing--it helps with research and paper writing. However, it is also a curse. There are so many distractions online. Students need to manage their online time. If you are going to surf the Web, limit that time to 10 minutes."

  • Lesson 2: Don't get lost online. Make a clear distinction between study time and play time. Have a fixed goal in mind when you sit at your computer to write a paper or complete online lessons, and work as if you are on a pressing deadline.

Socialize smartly: Reign in your social activities

The social lives of full-time students who also carry a heavy workload can often take a hit, but college also provides many new opportunities to expand your social skills and make new friends. Mauro often cautions students about getting too caught up in the social aspects of college life.

Adults who are thinking of returning to college don't face the additional social demands of participating in sorority or fraternity life, but oddly enough, Nichols says her sorority actually helped her with her studies because it became a supportive network.

"I lived in the sorority house, so I was surrounded by a group of young college women who were all doing the same thing," she says. "We would stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning studying, and it gave me inspiration to stay awake and study. I did better in those years of school than I did in other years."

  • Lesson 3: Limit your social activities. It's one thing to show your school support by attending a football or basketball game on the weekends, and quite another to hit the college bars every weeknight.
  • Lesson 4: Adult students should seek out support groups. Students going through the same thing you are can help you focus on your shared coursework, as well as commiserate on the pressure you face.

Life lessons: Hard work is what life is all about

Mauro recommends students cap their workload at no more than 20 to 25 hours of gainful employment. Also, he says, try to tie in your work experiences with your career ambitions to get ahead in your field. For instance, many journalism or communications majors find employment as interns at newspapers or as associates at public relations firms or advertising agencies.

"Keep your priorities fixed and look at long-term goals," he says. "Working now, you might have more money, but you might be sacrificing on your goals and delaying your long-term goal of graduating."

Many adult students must work part or full-time to pay for their educations. Nichols says that without the pressures of work, she would have wrapped up her studies years ago. However, she realizes the benefits of her struggles over the years.

"People like myself have learned some amazing lessons by learning to work hard in life," she says. "If I have kids one day, I will make them pay at least a little bit for school to make them understand the balance."

  • Lesson 5: Figure out the right work/school balance for you and your family. Students who must work to support themselves while enrolled in school show dedication and perseverance, traits employers seek.