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College can be one of life’s biggest investments. And, earning a degree or certificate is an important step forward down many career paths.
Many students work to cover expenses and gain on-the-job experience while furthering their education. Balancing the competing demands of coursework and a job, however, can be a challenge. For some learners, taking online classes while working is one way to fit school into an already packed schedule.
Online classes allow you to study virtually anywhere, not just colleges or trade schools located in your area. In addition, pre-recorded classes enable you to fit your coursework into evenings, weekends, or whenever your work schedule allows.
However, the quality of online programs can vary widely. And, getting a degree online may not allow you to make as many professional and personal connections as an in-person college experience.
Read on to learn more about taking online classes while also working full-time, including the pros and cons, and strategies for juggling the demands of schooling alongside holding down a job.
Pros of Taking Online Classes
Given the time and financial investment that earning a degree can require, it can be helpful to weigh different schooling options before deciding whether to pursue an in-person education, online classes, or some hybrid of the two. Online classes can have some distinct advantages.
Here’s a look at some potential pros of working towards a degree or certificate online.
Having a Flexible Schedule
Traditionally, college and graduate school courses meet once or multiple times per week throughout a semester or summer/winter session. The length of class time varies too. For example, large lectures may only span one hour, while once-per-week seminars could run for two or three hours.
If you’re taking a full-time course load, which usually constitutes a minimum of twelve credit hours, you’ll have to coordinate these blocked-out class hours around your existing work schedule.
As a result, in-person learning (where students are expected to be in class at a set time each week) is not always feasible if you plan to work and study at the same time.
If you work full-time, online classes can come with added flexibility. After all, online courses are often facilitated through pre-recorded lectures, streaming video tutorials, self-guided activities, and reading that can be done on a student’s timeframe.
In some cases, online classes do still include a certain number of live lectures or learning activities (typically hosted via streaming video) that enrolled students are expected to attend.
In those scenarios, you might need to arrange your work schedule so you’re not on the job during the times when live online classes convene.
Naturely, most online classes still assign homework, so you’ll also need to consider when you’ll fit in independent reading, projects, and studying. However, online degree programs and classes often offer a higher level of scheduling flexibility, allowing you to “attend class” and study at times when you’re not working.
Maintaining Location Independence
There are thousands of colleges and universities across the United States, but probably only a handful near your home or place of work. While taking classes as a commuter student might be logistically possible, sticking to programs hosted by local universities can limit your choice of faculty and subject areas.
Additionally, it’s possible that local options aren’t the top-ranked in a given field — and might not even offer specific degrees or pre-professional certificates.
On the flip side, the only location required for taking online classes while working full-time is a reliable internet connection and a comfortable study space. Online classes also save time traveling to and fro a campus, giving you more time to juggle post-secondary studies alongside your regular job.
Possibly Lower Living Expenses
Tuition is only part of the equation when calculating the total cost of attending college. Some universities may require students to live on campus for one or more years, which could carry dining hall and other fees (in addition to the base cost of living in a dorm).
Students attending four-year public universities can expect room and board to run, on average, $11,520 a year, according to the Education Data Initiative. Opting for an online degree program can help bypass some of these additional expenses.
💡 Quick Tip: Private student loans offer fixed or variable interest rates. So you can get a loan that fits your budget.
Cons of Taking Online Classes
In addition to online learning’s merits, there are some potential cons to think through when evaluating taking online classes while working full time.
Not Every Degree or Major is Available
Colleges across the U.S. offer a wide array of majors and types of degrees. Online programs, on the other hand, tend to be more limited. So whether or not you can take online classes while working will depend, in part, on your chosen field of study.
For online bachelor’s degree programs, majors focused on business and health professions are among the most commonly available. Students interested in earning a master’s degree online in business or healthcare are in luck as well. There are also opportunities to enroll in graduate programs in education, engineering, criminal justice, and various social sciences entirely online.
Other majors and degrees, especially those that require in-person lab time or hands-on apprenticeship, such as culinary arts or chemistry, might not translate as well to an online format.
Recommended: Return on Education for Bachelor’s Degrees
Limited Networking Opportunities
Attending college in person can provide opportunities to make friends and build relationships with professors. Building a deep social and professional network while in school can help you find internships and jobs after school ends.
Taking online classes, however, can make it more challenging to connect with professors and fellow students. That being said, it’s still possible to make a strong impression on professors and peers through course assignments, presentations (whether individual or group), and written correspondences.
If you are planning on taking online classes while also working full-time in the same field (e.g., a nurse or a teacher studying for an extra certification in those professions), this potential networking disadvantage may be less of a concern — since you can still connect with fellow professionals on the job.
Strategies for Taking Online Classes
Whether you just graduated high school or are returning to the classroom after years of working, being prepared can help you get the most from your online classes — and, ideally, help to create a healthier work-life balance. Here are some key ways to prep for working full time and going to college.
Making a Schedule and Sticking to It
The flexibility of online classes can feel liberating, but those readings, online discussions, and assignments still need to be completed. Keeping your work schedule in mind, it can be helpful to block out some non-work hours during the week or weekend just for studying and school assignments.
It may also be helpful to think about when to get school work done. If you’re not a morning person, it’s likely you won’t be cracking the textbooks at sunrise. If you find out that your present work-school schedule is hard to sustain over time, it’s perfectly okay to go back to the drawing board.
The important thing is to find a time-management system that works for the duration of the time you’re both working and studying full time.
Even if you feel confident and excited about returning to the classroom (virtual ones count, too), taking online classes while working full time may be a big adjustment.
Some online degree programs allow you to enroll as a part-time student, which can be a “trial-run” opportunity — allowing you to understand how demanding juggling school and studies can be (before paying full tuition).
Understanding how much time each online class will demand can help you to be realistic about how many classes you can take each semester without burning out.
Setting Goals and Rewarding Progress
Creating achievable goals at the beginning of each class or semester is one way to stay on track, grow as a student, and measure success. Attaching a reward to these periodic goals can help many learners to stay driven and engaged.
Whether you passed your first online class, completed a big group project, or got a key certification, you deserve to celebrate achieving your educational accomplishments.
💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.
Paying for Online Classes
For some students, the cost of online education (after subtracting dorms, dining plans, and transportation) can be an additional determining factor. The individual cost of online degrees and certificates will vary significantly from school to school — including price differences between public and private university programs.
In some cases, online-only programs may cost less for enrolled students. In others, online classes are priced similar to their in-person counterparts.
Whether you opt to work and go to college at the same time, how to pay for college is likely a big question. Making a plan for financing your education is one step in figuring out how to take online classes while working full time.
Completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you determine how much federal student aid (such as grants, scholarships, and federal loans) you are eligible to receive. You can also explore scholarship opportunities through universities, nonprofit organizations, and private foundations for additional funding.
Many students also borrow money through private loans to pay for advancing their education. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders and often may come with flexible repayment plans, allowing you to find a loan that fits your budget and financial plan. (It’s worth noting that federal student loans come with baked-in benefits, like income-driven repayment or public service loan forgiveness, that are not guaranteed by private lenders).
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.