Earn a Degree While Working Full Time: 5 Strategies for Success

It can be easy to imagine earning your bachelor’s or master’s degree as a “traditional” student—an 18-year-old who’s starting college full time a few months after graduating high school, or a recent college graduate transitioning directly into a master’s program––but these days, student demographics are changing.

More students are beginning college when they’re older, returning to college after a break, and maintaining full-time employment or caring for their children while working toward a degree. It’s entirely possible to earn a degree while working full time, and thanks to technology, there is more flexibility than ever before.

Answering a Newfound Calling

If you want to earn a degree while working, Azusa Pacific University alumna Joy Dye, MFT ’19, provides an inspiring example. Dye, who is married with two sons, enrolled at APU in fall 2015 and graduated in spring 2019 with her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT).

Happily employed as a teacher, Dye began considering a return to college nearly a decade ago, after a few developments in her life. In 2012, her family welcomed several foster children. “We fostered love, acceptance, and safety while they and their families healed and grew,” she said.

The experience opened Dye’s eyes to marriage and family therapy, social work, and the process of healing relationships. At the same time, she found herself questioning her 20-year career in education, wondering if she had journeyed as far as she was meant to professionally. “Will I continue in the education field and retire when I reach that golden age?” she asked herself. “I wanted something more.”

5 Strategies Working Adults Can Use to Balance School and Life

Returning to college as a working adult can present challenges, but it's more than manageable with the right methods. Dye identified techniques that helped her manage the different demands she faced, which enabled her to balance her life and earn a degree while working. Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Organize responsibilities. Dye lists her priorities as faith, family, work, school, and friends/social life. “Whenever I had a dilemma, it helped me to fall back on my priorities,” she said.

2. Enlist the support of family. While Dye was studying, her husband and sons reorganized the family’s routine duties. They quickly rose to the challenge and took over the grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Dye pointed out an unexpected benefit of this reorganization. “It was hard at first, but amazing things happened,” she said. “I still hardly ever do grocery shopping or cooking because my sons have stepped up. They are now excellent chefs and bakers, and know how to shop for food on a budget!”

3. Organize your time. Dye scheduled her weeks in a planner. She blocked out time to tackle required readings and assignments, and she also scheduled time for herself. “I found that when I scheduled my free time, I was able to enjoy it more. It removed the feeling that I should be doing something else,” she said.

Vicki Ewing, MA, LMFT, chair of the MFT program at APU, noted the importance of accommodating students with packed schedules. “The unique design of our program allows students who are working, have families, or other obligations, to begin classes in the evening,” she said. “We are always willing to work with students.”

4. Practice self-care. Amid her personal and professional responsibilities, Dye still found time to unwind and prioritize self-care. “I took walks and hikes, listened to music, and would often spend a Saturday relaxing at home,” she said.

5. Turn to professors for support. Dye said the APU faculty were extremely supportive. During her time as a student, they consistently answered questions, encouraged students, and made themselves available to help.

"The faculty in APU’s MFT program are awesome. They made it a priority to get to know all the students in the program, including me,” she said.

Are You Thinking about Completing Your Degree?

It’s never too late to go back to school or continue working toward a degree from years past. Ewing points to the many successful students who have returned to complete a degree while working: “In our program, we have students ranging from ages 21 to 85. Taking the first step seems difficult, but once you complete your first semester, there is momentum to continue.”

Dye encouraged anyone who’s considering returning to college while working full time to ask themselves one important question: “What will I be doing a few years from now?”

Dye explained that answering that question revealed two paths:

  • If she didn’t enroll in the professional degree program, she would be in the same job in four years, and her future options would be limited.
  • If she enrolled, she could earn a second master’s degree, become an associate marriage and family therapist, and have a variety of options to explore in a few years’ time.

“This question helped me make that final decision to enroll—and continued to be a source of encouragement when things got hard,” Dye said.

Thinking that a degree from APU may be part of your future plans? Learn more about APU’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs to start creating the future you want.