The College Student's Guide to Balancing Work and School

Published: March 7, 2023

Going back to school is exciting. You’ve decided to invest in yourself and your future by earning a degree. But establishing an ideal work-school balance can seem daunting, especially if you’ve had trouble with it in the past or it’s been a while since you’ve been in school.

We’re here to help you put your best foot forward. Keep reading to learn about seven ways you can tip the scales in your favor when it comes to balancing work and school.

7 Tips for creating a good work-school balance

If you’re like many of our students at College of Western Idaho (CWI), you need to work while you’re in school, which is no easy task. It will take a lot of focus and organization to stay on top of everything. But there are a few handy tips and tricks that can help you set yourself up for success. Try the following:

1. Start planning ahead

It should come as no surprise that getting organized and planning ahead is the number one tip.  You’ll find that making a weekly schedule of deliverables, priorities, work, homework, tests, events, appointments, etc., sets you up for success and reduces stress.

Whether you prefer a physical notebook or planner, a digital calendar or a phone app, the important thing is that you keep it updated and use it consistently.

2. Use your time wisely

Now that you know what needs to be done, you can start optimizing your time management strategies. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. Procrastinating until the night before something is due and then spending six hours on a single task in one sitting isn’t an effective use of your time.

Not sure where to start? Familiarize yourself with some tried-and-true techniques by reading our article “3 Proven Study Strategies for College Students."

3. Create a dedicated space for studying

As tempting as it may be to work from your bed or couch every day, for most people, this is not the healthiest choice. Your body will thank you for making a workspace where you can sit and read or type comfortably for long periods of time. It’s also smart to find a secluded space that is free from distractions.

Creating a home office or study area doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of low or no-cost ideas for setting up a productive workspace.

4. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to balancing work and school with the rest of your life. Some students are naturally adept at organizing but have trouble writing long papers, while others are the exact opposite. 

You can help yourself immensely by thinking critically and honestly about your personal strengths and weaknesses. Start by reflecting on these questions:

  • What time of day are you most productive?
  • Are you a night owl or a morning person?
  • What organizing or planning strategies have you used in the past? Were they effective?
  • How much time do you have to devote to your studies?
  • What are your biggest priorities outside of school?
  • Which aspects of being a student come easily to you?

Understanding the answers to these questions can help you optimize your schedule and identify the areas you may need to focus more on.

5. Don’t neglect your own needs

Maintaining a healthy work-school balance does not mean that every waking hour needs to be devoted to work or school. You shouldn’t be so focused on these that you end up skipping sleep, social events, meals, exercise, or other important life activities. While it might yield some short-term results, this strategy is not sustainable or healthy.

For many CWI students, earning a degree is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking care of yourself is the only way to ensure you’ll finish the race. Try your best to make time for:

  • Rest and relaxation: Your brain needs downtime and a reliable sleep schedule in order to function at its peak. Even if you can’t get eight solid hours of shut-eye every night, you can limit screen time before bed and try to follow a consistent schedule for when you lay down and get up each day.
  • Movement: Walking, gardening, running, playing tennis, dancing, lifting weights—it doesn’t matter what you do, just move your body in ways that you enjoy. It helps reduce stress and muscle aches and pains that might occur after sitting for long periods of time.
  • Nourishment: Working so much that you forget to eat is not a sign of dedication. This leaves you feeling hungry or with low blood sugar, which can have negative effects on concentration. Eating regular meals and snacks will help you stay focused and effective all day. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, too!
  • Fun, family, and friends: This one needs no explanation. Spending time doing fun things and hanging out with your loved ones is important for your emotional and mental well-being. It’s also helpful to surround yourself with people who support you on your educational journey.
6. Be transparent and communicate

There are only 24 hours in every day no matter how many responsibilities you have. Going back to school is a significant investment of time and effort, and your priorities and availability may fluctuate.

Make sure to proactively communicate any changes in your schedule that may affect your friends, family, or colleagues. You can prevent hurt feelings and unmet expectations by keeping an open dialogue.

Your employer may be willing to offer you more flexibility (e.g., working remotely or having an atypical work schedule) to accommodate your educational goals. Your instructors may also be willing to work with you if unforeseen circumstances pop up. You won’t know unless you ask, so the key is to speak up.

7. Take advantage of your school’s resources

Most colleges and universities offer various support services, but many students don’t utilize them as much as they should. Don’t make the same mistake! Reach out to the student support specialists at your school to get the most out of your education and their expertise.

CWI students have access to the following resources:

Put your best foot forward

Going to school while working is a challenge, but it’s worth tackling in order to achieve your personal and professional goals. The simple tips outlined above can make balancing work and school seem more manageable.

If you’re a College of Western Idaho student, you have many resources at your fingertips. Explore more about the support available to you.

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