Monday, June 9, 2014

Ask Isa: "Can you succeed in college while working full time?"

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I just graduated from high school and I plan on going to community college. During my sophomore year of high school my dad got deported and that led me and my mom to have a financial burden. 

In my senior year of high school, I worked 30 or more hours a week so I could help my mom with bills and etc. The reason I chose community college is because I need to work full time so I could help my mom pay rent. 

However, I know being a full time student and having a full time job will be extremely difficult but I also do not want to take a long time just to finish community college. Is it possible to go to college full time and work full time? Do I have any options?



Dear Pessimistic,

First of all I am so sorry to hear about your dad. You sound like an incredible and brave person. I admire the work you're doing to help out your mom, and I'm so happy to hear you've decided to attend community college and get your education.

To answer your question right away: YES. It is possible to go to college full time and work full time.

But - you are right in that it is extremely difficult. I've heard many more cases of students who drop out and get poor grades who're working full time while going to college than I have of those who've done it successfully.

I don't say that to bum you out, but I want you to know the truth, because you seem to already understand how difficult this will be. 

You asked if it was impossible. And it's not. But in order to make it possible it will take an incredibly amount of not just effort, but strategy.

Here are some things I want you to consider that I hope will help:

1) Remember that the sooner you get your education the sooner you'll have the capacity to make much more money to help out your mom than you will with the kinds of jobs you can get now. When it comes to having to choose between work and school, as much as possible for you, choose school. 

2) Check out and research some of the careers you're interested in. You need a solid plan. Think about what it is you really want to do and what kind of education you'll need to get there. 

3) Sit down with your mom and show her some of the career profiles on that interest you, especially the salary projections. You'll need your mom as a partner in this, so let her know what you're trying to accomplish both for yourself and for her. As much as possible you'll want to be in this together and you'll want her to understand why you'll be studying so hard and why sometimes you might need to work less for a longer-term payoff. 

4) Find a job that will support your college success. This is more possible than you might think. The best job I had in college was being a nanny. I actually found the job through my community college career center (a place you should visit ASAP to ask for help in finding a job that will meet your financial and college goals). 

I was a nanny after-school on evenings and on weekends, and it was the best job in college I could've ever asked for. It's really great if you can find a family who needs a nanny or babysitter for late-night outings, as then you're able to do your homework after the kids go to bed. 

Putting together a few part-time jobs that will be flexible with your college schedule can also be an option. Working on campus is also a great way to stay connected to the college while making some money - look into work study options as well as positions at the tutoring center. 

Be creative and dedicate yourself to setting up the right situation that will allow you to make the money you need while still putting your education first. 

5) You'll have to become a master of time management. If you're going to work full time and go to school full time you'll probably have to say "no" to doing almost anything else. And you'll need to make sure you set aside dedicated time for studying while still making sure you sleep at night. I recommend looking for a good time management book at the library and brush up on your skills. 

6) Do monthly check-ins with yourself, your professors, and your grades. Constantly re-evaluate if your plan is working. You'll know it's working if you're getting the best grades you know you're capable of (which is probably all A's) and you're feeling energized and excited. If you're feeling overwhelmed and overburdened ask your professors and advisors and the career center for advice. There are always creative solutions to make it work - just don't try to do this alone. 

7) Ask around for great jobs. Sometimes the best jobs come through who you know. Tell everyone you can about what you're trying to accomplish; you never know who will know someone who knows someone who can give you the kind of job(s) that can help you make money and reach your college goals. 

8) Find someone who's worked full time while going to college to ask their advice. Ask around in your classes or ask your advisors if they know anyone who has done it successfully. You'll definitely want to find a mentor who can give you monthly advice as well as tips on how to make this work. 

(If someone is reading this right now who successfully went to school full time while working full time please add your comments below with your tips and advice for this reader!)

9) Remember scholarships and loans are also an option. Work doesn't always have to be the only way to make the money you need for rent. Don't scoff at loans if you think they'll allow you to work less, get better grades, and graduate faster. Also remember that the better you do in school (and the more time you have to get involved in leading clubs and other activities) the better chance you have at winning scholarships.

If you plan on transferring to a 4-year university consider the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer scholarship. Read books on getting scholarships and make that a job as well. When you can get enough scholarships they'll not only pay for tuition but also give you extra money for room and board that you can apply to rent if you're not living on campus. 

10) Find a mentor. I know I've mentioned this already but I want to leave you with this thought. Get to know EVERYONE you can at your college. Ask them for advice, be open and honest about your situation and what you're trying to accomplish. They will want to help you figure this out. 

This will be hard and it cannot be done alone. You will need an entire community and it's up to you to build it. What I would hate is for you to do this alone. It won't work. 

Instead, visit all your professors during office hours and ask for their advice. Visit the career center often and get to know a career counselor there who might be able to become your mentor.

Ask for advice about this from everyone you can at the college and keep asking advice of whomever you really connect with. That's all a mentor really is - someone you admire who you can ask advice from and who's advice helps you reach your goals. 

Thanks so much for reaching out and of course feel free to continue reading this blog as well as check out my YouTube channel for more advice that I hope will help you on this exciting journey.

You can do this. 




  1. Hey Isa,

    This is a great question that one of your readers posed! I am currently a full time student and a full time worker and I would love to say to this reader that it is definitely possible to be successful in both! I started my college career at a community college where I focused my time on leadership roles and getting scholarships to pay for college (which is a lot easier to do in Community College then a University).

    When it was time for me to start at a University I came a across a great work opportunity for myself that I could not pass up. I was very scared and reluctant to start working full time while going to school full time. I thought that my grades would definitely suffer but I took a leap of faith and began working anyway and looking back I would not do it any differently. With a lot of hard work and TIME MANAGEMENT I have been able to successfully do both. I have maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.9 and a University GPA of a 4.0.

    With that said my biggest piece of advice to this reader would be to use your time very wisely. What works for me is to use my Google calender and to literally schedule when I will be doing homework assignments. As Isa mentioned, a strategic plan is very important! Having a great support system always helps too.

    Lastly, remember that it's okay to give time for yourself to rest. This can actually be your hardest challenge. I also schedule time for myself to rest (mostly on the weekend).

    I have complete faith that you can do both! Just never forget your overall goal and remember that your education really is more important then a full-time job. If you need someone to talk to about more about working full time and going to school full time please let me know! I would love to give more advice.

    Isa, awesome job responding to this reader!

  2. There are a lot of companies that are not only willing to work with a school schedule but that'll also reimburse you for classes if they align with the business. I, for example, was extremely fortunate to work for Publix Supermarkets during my time in college. Every semester they worked with my class schedule to provide me with hours, and as a business major they reimbursed me for a percentage of the cost if I could prove that I obtained good grades. They also paid really well compared to other part-time options. I would strongly suggest finding a company willing to invest in their employees. Perhaps even if it means starting off as an unpaid intern. I had a cousin who interned with a company that later offered her a permanent position in addition to tuition assistance.

    It's possible!!!


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