I have never been terribly fond of black and white thinking. That is probably why I did not take well to debate in High School. In debate, people must argue for one side or another, whereas the issues always seemed gray to me.
If you are looking for a clear yes or no answer to the question in my title, you will have to go elsewhere. Because in this blog, I can’t give you one. Instead, I want to share with those of you who are either considering graduate school or already in graduate school, my experience working while in graduate school, and my observations and opinions on who should and should not work while in school.
A few years ago, when I had just graduated and was already thinking about graduate school, I asked a number of people if I should work while in school. They all told me not to. I talked to people who did part-time programs, full-time programs, those who went to Harvard, those who went to a state school, and they all gave me the same answer: Do not work. Guess what? I went ahead and did it anyway.
Initially, I had thought of taking everyone’s advice. I would enroll in a full-time program and take a break from working. However, I found myself overwhelmed with the thought of student loans. Additionally, when I decided to apply for my Masters in Business Analytics I did not have pressing responsibilities to my family, or other relationships. I did, however, have a job that required more than 40 hours a week, and travel on weekends, which I imagined would severely affect my ability to participate in a part-time master’s program.
Enrolling in graduate school caused me to rethink my career. I knew I wanted to keep working because I was not prepared to burden myself with hefty loans, especially since I did not have a ton of responsibilities outside of school. I had to decide what kind of job I wanted to do. I thought about doing part-time work, internships, general marketing, and business analytics. I eventually opted to contract in marketing for a large company and left a stable first job with a start-up. While this decision was hard, and a huge risk, in the end, it’s allowed me to gain some amazing experience with some Fortune 500 companies in tech space. Although I do not have as much time to dedicate to my work as a non-graduate student would, I feel that my mix of experiences as a professional and a student make me a better student and a better employee. I bring new skills to the table that I can leverage at my job, and I have real world examples to share in the classroom. Additionally, I have avoided having to take out loans. Overall, the two major pros of working while in school are that I gain invaluable experience and I am not in debt from school.
It’s not all sunshine and butterflies, however. And while my cons are relatively minor to what others who work while in school experience, they are still cons I want you to consider before I move on to speaking about what cons look like for those students who are prone to anxiety, have a family, or have a demanding job. The cons I’ve dealt with mostly have to do with a lack of ability to connect, workout, be there for my family and friends, and the fact that I can’t give work the 120% I try to hold myself to. Before I started school, I made it a point to spend a few hours a week networking and connecting with former colleagues, I went to the gym every other day, and I cooked a fancy meal, which I served with wine, for my family every week. I spent my weekends exploring different locales and going out with friends. I also spent a good amount of time outside of normal working hours working, and organizing so that I could impress my team. With the addition of graduate school, I consider myself lucky if I hang out with one friend, once on the weekend, make it to the gym twice, and I do not have any time to connect or network. Surprisingly, what I miss the most is having the ability to drink a glass of wine with my parents on a weeknight. Graduate school comes evening classes and homework, I’m lucky if I manage to scarf down a proper dinner let alone cook once a week. I’ve also grown distant from friends, and don’t have a ton of time or patience when it comes to cultivating new relationships. Finally, I do miss some work meetings because of my evening classes, and I cannot give my work the 120% that I would be putting in if I wasn’t in school. Fortunately, I have amazing managers who support me and don’t mind these issues, but not everyone has that support.
While I do think that the decision for me to work and go to school was right for me, I do not think it is for everyone. With any program that is rigorous and time-consuming; you will likely get 5-6 hours of rest a night, have homework, and work pressures. Add into this mix, children, a spouse, any sort of anxiety, or external pressures and you can see that it is a recipe for fatigue, exhaustion, stress, and anxiety.
The decision to work while in school comes down to one underlying question, which then leads to a number of other questions.
Do the cons outweigh the pros?
- How supportive is your family, or spouse?
- What are your responsibilities?
- How were/are you managing your current schedule?
- Does financial stability and career mobility outweigh the effects of lack of sleep, exercise, and quality time with friends and family for you?
If you answer yes to question four, then consider working while in school. It allows you to be debt free, and gain immediately applicable experience. However, if you need to prioritize your health, and or your family, do yourself a favor and dial down somewhere. Put off school or get just a part time job so that you can manage school without taxing yourself.
If you do decide to work while in school, prepare yourself to deal with stress, fatigue and significantly less free time.
Hope you enjoyed my pep talk (which I squeezed in between work and graduate school reading ;))