How to Succeed Working Full-Time in College

How to Succeed Working Full-Time in College
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

According to Georgetown’s 2018 study, 7 in 10 students work while attending college (Carnevale and Smith, 2018). In 2018, 43% of full-time undergraduate students had jobs, while 10% were employed 35 hours or more a week (NCES, 2020). Referred to as the ‘working learners’ by Georgetown University, these students with full-time jobs still have to take out loans to finish a degree.

The high cost of getting a bachelor’s degree usually leaves students caught between chasing and earning a degree program on time and working full-time. Studies suggest that full-time college students are more likely to graduate, but working students are often affected by the competing demands of school and their full-time jobs. With this in mind, perhaps you may be asking yourself, “Should I work full-time in college?”

If you are about to make a decision on whether to simultaneously study full-time and work full-time, this guide is for you. This will help you sort out the factors that can affect the success or failure of your plan to work full-time while studying full-time. Tips are also provided to help you stay on track should you decide to go ahead with your plan to study and work at the same time.

Working Full-Time In College Table of Contents

  1. Should I work full-time in college?
  2. Reasons Why Students Work Full-Time While Attending College
  3. Can I have a full-time job and go to school full-time?
  4. How To Work Full-Time and Go To College Full-Time

Should I work full-time in college?

Working full-time and attending college full-time can be challenging, but it is possible.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) cites the rising cost of college as the primary reason why students have to work while attending college. On average, full-time undergraduates in the lowest family-income quartile had to allot $9,143 for college in 2016 (Perna and Odle, 2020).

According to AAUP data, between 2008-2009 and 2017-2018, the average tuition and fees increased by 36% in public four-year institutions and 34% in public two-year institutions. During the same period, the median family income increased by a mere 8%. Moreover, in 2018-2019, the maximum Pell Grant covered only 60% of tuition at public four-year institutions (Perna and Odle, 2020).

With these factors in mind, the cost of attending college has been increasing faster than overall family incomes. And while federal, institutional, and state grants are increasing, they are insufficient to meet the financial needs of college students. As such, working full-time has become the solution for many college students. This allows them to earn their degree while avoiding the accumulation of student loan debt.

However, doing this can be quite a handful. It will require excellent time management skills, grit, and determination to be able to balance these responsibilities. If you feel you are up for the task, perhaps working full-time while studying is for you.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education & The Workforce

Reasons Why Students Work Full-Time While Attending College

To finance the net price of attending college

The net price of college is defined by the federal government as the total cost of attendance minus any student scholarships. The total out-of-pocket expenses for one year of college is the net price. If the total cost of tuition, food, rent, books, transportation, supplies, and other expenses for one academic year is $20,000, and your financial aid amounts to $7,000, your net price or out-of-pocket expense will be $13,000. Students who do not have access to other financial resources opt to get a full-time job to finance their studies.

To avoid accumulating huge college debt

According to research by Georgetown University (2015), working learners have less student debt than students who do not work. From 1998-1999 to 2018-2019 the annual total borrowing among undergraduate and graduate students from federal and non-federal sources increased 101%, which is equivalent to $53 billion (Perna and Odle, 2020). The extra money that you will earn can be used to pay off your loans, instead of waiting for the time that you finally graduate to start making payments.

To boost future earnings

In a survey of more than 160,000 students who held part-time or full-time jobs while studying, Rutgers University and the City University of New York (CUNY) found that post-college earnings are at least $20,000 higher than students who did not work in college (Douglas and Attewell, 2019). One factor here is that working students are able to avoid taking out loans for their studies. Plus, if they did apply for loans, they are able to start paying for them even while they are still earning their degree.

To gain experience and develop transferable skills

Working through college delivers at least three benefits—skill acquisition, signaling, and social networks (Douglas and Attewell, 2019). Working while studying develops soft skills and also cognitive skills, which are valued by employers. Managing to work and study at the same time signals to your recruiter your potential value as an employee.

While working full-time and attending college on a full academic load may seem difficult, Wendy Patrick, a lecturer at San Diego University shares that based on a number of studies, working while still in school enhances the students’ ability to meet deadlines and to work under pressure. Working learners develop a sense of discipline, responsibility, and structure, which are important traits that contribute to a successful life (Waller, 2016).

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Can I have a full-time job and go to school full-time?

Keeping a full-time job and having a full load of coursework in school is doable. The Georgetown University report “Learning While Working” (2015) states that over the last 25 years, more than 75% of college students have been working while enrolled, and 25% of working learners are simultaneously employed full-time while enrolled in college full-time.

Huntington-Klein and Hill (2020) conducted a study on the relationship between semester course load and student performance. Among the variables mentioned that affect student performance is employment while studying. The authors were able to establish that there is limited evidence that work and other time demands harm the student’s academic performance. In most cases, multiple responsibilities even lead to improved school performance.

Another study by Beattie et al. (2019) examined the behavior and study habits of college students. Their work “What sets college thrivers and divers apart? A contrast in study habits, attitudes, and mental health” found that time management plays a huge factor in academic performance. Published in the Economics Letters, the study identified that “the sharpest difference between Thrivers and Divers is in terms of how they spend their time. Most Divers report studying for only five hours per week when not facing immediate deadlines, and show a large tendency to cram. In contrast, Thrivers study on average more than half a standard deviation more than Divers and are much more confident about their time management.”

One option to be able to work full-time while in college is to enroll in an online degree program. With the pandemic shifting the education landscape, more students are choosing online learning due to its significant advantages. This does not mean, however, that online learning will be easier. But it will give you extra time for your studies because commute time will be eliminated, and you will have the flexibility to access your lessons anytime.

You can also choose to take the accelerated degree programs or the competency-based curriculum offered by institutions, both on-campus and online. Look for schools that grant credits for life and work experience, and also for schools that identify your competencies through test-out methods. There may be no easy way but you can definitely find the right programs and course formats that will fit your requirements.

So, can you work full-time and go to college full-time? Yes, you can. The more appropriate question, however, should start with the word “how.”

Source: Douglas and Attewell, 2019

How To Work Full-time and Go To College Full-Time

Life hacks are good to know, but in working full-time while in college you will need more than that. As a student and as an employee, you will have to solve problems that differ in intensity. Moreover, you will face situations that will require you to carefully examine your priorities and make trade-offs along the way.

One thing is certain — devising ways on how to work full-time and go to college full-time requires a strategy. It pays to have clarity, and hopefully, the following tips will help you as you work full-time while earning a college degree.

Have a Plan

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” is a well-known quote from Benjamin Franklin. Just as you have an awareness of your key performance indicators (KPIs) in the workplace, in the same manner, check your syllabus before the semester starts. Check the tasks and other coursework requirements in school. Plan ahead. Identify which tasks in your syllabus would require the most amount of time and start working on them.

Develop Effective Study Habits

What kind of learner are you? How is your reading speed? Take time to identify the most effective way for you to engage with your coursework and all the reading materials. This will not only save you time, but in doing so you will also develop new strategies that will deliver the most value to your study time. In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg (2012) explained that MIT researchers identified three core elements that contribute to the formation of every habit — cue, routine, and reward. You may use Duhigg’s model to establish habits that will contribute to your self-improvement.

Stay Organized

To avoid being overwhelmed, list down your tasks and make a schedule every day. Creating a to-do list keeps information instantly available and keeps you less overwhelmed. Familiar with the phrase “Eat the frog”? This means that you have to do your most important task, which is often the one you dread the most, first thing in the morning. Getting a major task off your back will help you calmly run the rest of the day.

Focus on One Task at a Time

By now, you probably know that multitasking is problematic and inefficient (Ricard, 2020). Research by Stanford University and the University of Michigan both established that multitasking reduces performance and productivity. Your brain is only wired to perform a single task at a time. So practice being in the zone. Just flow. Shut off your notifications while working or studying. If possible, stay offline until you finish that reading material.

Keep Your Manager Informed

It is important that your manager knows your school schedule. Keep your manager informed of your school-related activities as you do not want to disrupt your everyday operations in the workplace. Most employers give working learners benefits in the form of flexible work schedules, while others allow work from home arrangements so long as assigned tasks are turned in on time.

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Explore Work-Study Programs

In the event that your manager seems uncooperative, explore your options. You may look for work-study programs offered by colleges and universities, or you may also look for another job that can accommodate your current situation. Employers differ but it is good to know that there are organizations that find value in employees that persevere to study while at the same time keeping their full-time jobs. Keep exploring and you will find the right organization that will fit your needs.

Use Productivity Tools

Now is the best time to use the productivity methods you have learned in previous seminars and training. From Covey’s Four Quadrants of Time Management to the Eisenhower Matrix, there is a wealth of free productivity apps for students that you can try. Mobile productivity apps are also available to keep you on track. Check which one fits your requirements.

Take Care of Yourself

We only function optimally if there is alignment between mind, body, and spirit. Performing multiple roles can take the best of you, but do not let that happen. Take care of your body by getting enough rest and staying healthy. Take care of your mind by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness promotes academic resilience (Baumgartner and Schneider, 2021). Remember, your productivity is compromised once you neglect yourself.

Recharge Often

In exercise and in any taxing activity, rest and recovery are important. Your breaks need not be a vacation to the Bahamas, but it will not hurt if you can afford one. The point is to allow yourself to unwind and recharge. Work smart. Do not try to accomplish everything at once. If possible, ask for help. You will be surprised how people around you would be more than willing to help you out.

Focus On Your Ultimate Objective

Identify the endgame and picture it. Whenever you get distracted and discouraged, remind yourself of why you are subjecting yourself to all the studying, reading, and working. You have a goal, and you have identified your win. Keep going.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education & The Workforce, 2018

Take the First Step to Working Full-Time in College

There is a complex set of factors that determine one’s performance, most especially those who manage to earn a college degree while at the same time working full-time. While psychological capital, intelligence, and personality play an important role in managing to simultaneously work and study in college, the basic tenets of hard work, self-discipline, and excellent time management remain.

Students have different reasons and different motivations as to why they need to work and study at the same time. It can be a real challenge to manage multiple priorities, but nothing beats hard work and perseverance. With the right approach, and perhaps the right school organization apps, you can definitely succeed in working full-time while studying full-time in college.



  1. Baumgartner, J.N. and Schneider, T.R. (2021), A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction on academic resilience and performance in college students, Journal of American College Health,
  2. Beattie, G., Laliberte, J.P., Michaud-Leclerc, C. and Oreopoulus, P.(2019), What sets college thrivers and divers apart? A contrast in study habits, attitudes, and mental health
  3. Carnevale, A.P. and Smith, N. (2018), Balancing Work and Learning,
  4. Carnevale, A.P., Smith, N. Melton, M. and Price, E.W. (2015), Learning While Earning: The New Normal,
  5. Douglas, D. and Attewell, P. (2019), The Relationship Between Work During College and Post College Earnings,
  6. Duhigg, C. (2012), The Power of Habit, New York: Random House,
  7. Huntingtom-Klein, N. and Gill, A. (2020), Semester Course Load and Student Performance,
  8. Perna, L.W. and Odle, T.K. (2020), Recognizing the Reality of Working College Students,
  9. Ricard, S. (2020), The Fallacy Of Multitasking,
  10. Waller, N. (2016), Full-time students double workload with full-time jobs,

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