School Life Balance

Tips for “Nontraditional Students.”

I’m passionate about advocacy for students who work full-time because I know first-hand what a challenge working while going to school can be. As a waitress pulling in sometimes 50 hours a week while attempting to get a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication, I’ve seen my fair share of all-nighters, ridiculous amounts of caffeine consumption, missing out on extra-curricular activities, and melt downs over scheduling conflicts.

“75% of undergraduate students are considered nontraditional students”- You Can Deal With It.

It turns out that most students can relate to these struggles. According to You Can Deal With It, a public service of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, 75% of undergraduate students are considered “nontraditional students.” Nontraditional students include students who do not immediately attend college, work full-time jobs, are financially independent, or have dependents of their own.  Some students fall into multiple categories within this definition.

It is an incredibly impossible struggle to be the best at everything. In the fight to memorize 50 definitions for a psychology class in the middle of working a 12-hour-mid-shift, something has to give. I personally calculated my suggested hours of study time, work schedule, factored in sleeping an average of five hours per night and found that I have exactly three hours of free time every week.  Three hours. Three hours to binge on Netflix, take an extra-long bath, read a book or go grocery shopping. With a portion of that three hours I have decided to compile a list of tips for students like me.

Tips for “nontraditional students”:

Student with laptop computer

Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360

  1. Be realistic. There are times when you need to have fun. There are also times when you are going to have to say no to an extra shift and focus on your school-work. When you are signing up for classes, be realistic with what you can actually handle.


    Photo courtesy of Mike Baird

  2. Take good care of your body. Going to school and working full time can be a marathon so you need to treat your body right. Nothing is worse than getting sick in the middle of finals week, especially when you throw work into the mix too. Eat healthy food and balanced meals, even when you want to go for the ice cream and potato chips. Sleep as much as you can. Take some time out for some personal care.

    Students gathered around laptop computer

    Photo courtesy of Parker Knight

  3. Be honest with your employer. I’ve been known to be a moody employee during midterms and finals, but my employer knows that of me- because I’ve warned him. I also don’t take the late shift unless I absolutely have to (8 a.m. is very early when you don’t get off work till 2 a.m.) Most employers are willing to work with hectic student schedules. If your employer can work with you, take advantage of it. If not, then I am truly sorry (and you may want to consider finding a new job.)

    A calander with sticky notes

    Photo courtesy of Seth Werkheiser

  4. Set goals for each day (or week.) Sit down with your calendar and plan out as much as you can so that you can successfully battle the beast known as procrastination. Setting daily, or weekly goals can help you stay focused and can keep you from missing important deadlines.

    Three women talking on the beach

    Photo courtesy of Chris Clogg

  5. Find someone you can talk to. I would recommend not making this person a student that does not have to work. That can get ridiculously frustrating, very quickly. Finding someone who can act as a sounding board and can talk you off a ledge or two will be your best shot at staying sane. It’s easy to fall into the deep end of despair in the middle of a busy work and school week. If you have a voice of reason reminding you of why you are going through this whole crazy situation, you will probably be able to keep your cool.