How to Combine Postgraduate Study with Full Time Employment

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Are you apprehensive about studying for a higher degree because you are working full time?

Embarking on a postgraduate degree whilst working full time can be extremely challenging in terms of trying to balance work commitments and personal life, with the demands of academic studies. Full time employment may appear to be a stumbling block but it does not have to preclude you from taking a postgraduate degree.

As a mature student, I understand only too well the trials and tribulations of balancing family life with a full time job and the demands of a postgraduate degree, not to mention the feelings of apprehension that I experienced as I began my first year of a two year part time Masters in Health Psychology. At the time, I had a full time job working for the NHS in Public Health and wondered whether I would be able to meet the demands of the coursework deadlines, reading numerous research papers, and producing an MSc thesis.

There is no doubt that it is not easy to balance a full time job with personal commitments and the demands of a postgraduate course but it is certainly achievable, and with the adoption of a few survival strategies and good time management it can be achieved.

You should also bear in mind the importance of choosing a subject that you are really interested in, otherwise the whole experience may seem like a chore, especially as you will be making some sacrifices in relation to your lifestyle. The purpose of this article is to provide some inspiration and to suggest some strategies that can help maintain a happy work-life balance during postgraduate study.

How to balance studying with work and leisure time

It is important to remember when making this balance that it is not necessary to abandon your leisure activities altogether. Time spent with your family and friends is and definitely should be possible. Working out in the gym, for example, can make your studies more productive, as the time away from your reading can allow you to reflect on a piece of coursework.

You will also be more likely to feel relaxed and rejuvenated, and therefore more able to face your studies. It is inevitable that sacrifices will have to be made but maximising the use of your free time aside from your work and personal life is crucial to managing your studies. Quality study time is more important than quantity.  After being at work all day, it can be daunting to spend a couple of hours reading material that demands a lot of attention and often this time can be unproductive, especially if you are tired. In such cases it is very often necessary to change your plans and fit some reading in another time. By doing this you should not feel like a failure, but instead accept that you will need to do this task another time.  

On such days when you do feel more tired, an alternative could be to undertake a less demanding task such as reading a shorter article. The important factor to bear in mind is that doing work little and often can turn out to be just as productive. The key issue here is to maximise your time to your best advantage, be productive and be prepared to make adjustments to your study schedule, which in some cases may mean not studying on a particular day at all.

Other free time you have can also be maximised, even if it is only 30 minutes. Although this may not sound very much it can prove valuable. Depending on your work situation you could use your lunch hour to read articles, prepare notes and mind maps for revision.

If you have access to the internet at work and if it is permitted, you could use the facility to carry out literature searches in preparation for future coursework. Adopting this strategy does work and is extremely effective, although it may seem that you are not doing very much. However, as the year goes on and deadlines draw closer and closer, 30 minutes in terms of study is very useful.

How to meet coursework deadlines

For stress free deadlines, try to plan ahead, consider completing the work in phases, and begin the work as soon as possible.

Plan ahead 

The key to meeting those important deadlines is to begin to think about and plan the work as soon as it has been set by your tutor. Check to establish whether a deadline coincides with any personal commitments or work related activities. If it does then it would be a good idea to aim for the work to be completed a few weeks before the deadline which will also account for any eventualities that may occur.

If there is more than one piece of coursework that needs to be completed then it will be crucial to consider any clashes of deadlines and how you are going to work around those.  

Completing the work in phases

Completing the coursework in phases is an effective time saving strategy. For example, you could concentrate on the introduction phase or another phase of the work and complete that section before moving on to the next. By doing this, it means that at least one section will have been completed and so when you go back to it a later stage you can move onto the next section knowing that some of the work has already been completed; bear in mind that it may be some time before you return to this particular piece of work.

Finally, you may wish to carry out the work using smaller time slots such as those discussed in the previous section. Whichever way you choose to complete your work, it is important to make a start as soon as possible even if it only involves writing down initial ideas.


The focus of this article has been to provide individuals with useful information and tips together with inspiration on how to balance full time employment with postgraduate study. The end result of gaining a higher degree is extremely rewarding and although there may be times when it seems as though the ultimate reward is out of reach, it is important to remain positive throughout and to look forward to the day when you can be proud of your achievement.

Career Development Toolkit for Higher Education Professionals

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