How to Work Full Time and Earn a Master’s Degree

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Man walking across a board between two cliffs: work and life

Making the decision to return to school in pursuit of a master’s degree is a major undertaking on its own. Add into that mix the fact that you are working full time can and will complicate the matter even more.  The educator must consider how this endeavor is going to impact every aspect of their life. This of course includes those students that are depending on you for their education. Fear of shortchanging them should not be a reason to abandon the idea. As an educator/now student it is a matter of carefully planning and communicating with those around you.

If a person has the desire to pursue the goal of a master’s degree, make sure that all stakeholders in your life are aware and support your lofty goal. Again, as the old saying goes, “plan your work and work your plan.” If you truly want that master’s degree and are willing to dive in wholeheartedly, then do it! Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you step into this new and exciting time in your life.

Find Opportunities in Your Schedule

So you have decided that the time is now to take on this major pursuit. You will need to research opportunities to obtain your degree that fit into your schedule. Chances are, as a teacher, a person has a plate that is already full. This is especially true when you factor in family and other activities that we are usually involved in. Someone looking to go into a master’s program could look for summer opportunities or short courses during holiday breaks.

Additionally, many programs offer evening and occasionally weekend classes. Many programs offered today also offer some type of hybrid programming. You can attend some classes in person, and other classes are self-paced and online. Still other programs offer classes online through “chat” or video conferencing. Some of these classes are even recorded so that the student can view the class and complete assignments when they are free to do so.

Look for Flexible Class Options

As you search for the perfect program that will allow you to work full time and pursue your degree, flexibility becomes the order of the day. As you plan for this endeavor, seek a program that offers this flexibility. Colleges and universities today are constantly seeking students, and because of this, they are often very flexible in their course delivery methods. A potential student should not hesitate to schedule a meeting to discuss options and how to make this situation work for everyone. Cohort master’s degree programs are very beneficial because they offer a support group that allows some flexibility as well.

Lean on Your Cohort

As you enter the degree program, you are likely to find that many in your cohort are paddling the same boat you are paddling. Others are working full time, balancing families and civic responsibilities, as well as going back to school. It is important in this situation to lean on each other. The old saying, “there is strength in numbers” has never been more true than in the life of a graduate student working full time. By working closely within your cohort, each of you can draw from the strengths of each other and help each other in those areas you might not be as strong. For example you might find in group projects that one cohort member might have superior writing skills while another might be strong in the area of research.

It is also important within the cohort to be a strong team player. Working full time and in a graduate program does not yield itself to weak links in the group. Everyone in the cohort must pull their weight. But remember, at the end of the day, you are responsible for your final work. Just be willing to pull from others and allow others to pull from you.

Build a Strong Support Network

As you begin this new chapter in your life, it is imperative that you bring in all of your life stakeholders. This should include but perhaps not limited to: family, coworkers, your boss and others that are important to you. You must remember that this program you are undertaking is going to impact their lives as well as yours. You should solicit support and understanding with each of these important people in your life.

Additionally, you should assure them that you are going to do your best to balance them in your life during this time so that none feel slighted. This is probably most important with family and your boss. By convincing all of them that this endeavor is important to you and will be beneficial to you and to them in the future will help to get their “buy in” to what you are about to undertake.

Employ Strong Time Management Skills

As you begin the graduate program, managing your time and balancing life overall can be quite a challenge. It is imperative that you manage your time wisely. It is also imperative that you try your best to stick to your plan. Invariably there are going to be things that come up during your course of study that are going to knock you off of your schedule. You should realize this up front, and always have a contingency plan for when those things occur. A myriad of things can and might come up such as illness, death in the family, car trouble just to name a few. If you have been working your plan and have not allowed yourself to get behind, hopefully you can weather those storms and can quickly and efficiently get back on track.

In building your time management skills, remember to allow yourself opportunity to take an occasional breath. If even for a few hours, a person can benefit greatly with some time away from the grind. Whenever possible, while working efficiently, work ahead. Above all, strive to not procrastinate.

Run the Race

As you begin this graduate journey, hit the ground running. But as you run you must remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Run your race with patience and with a fixed and steady purpose. Pursuing a master’s degree while working full time is never easy and in fact it can be quite difficult. However, with a great plan in place and strong support, you can do it and will be better for having run the race. Many a person has pursued this lofty goal while working full time. You can do it to. Go for it!


*Updated September, 2020
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