Postgraduate life is more intense than its undergraduate counterpart; however, with good forward planning, it's possible to achieve a healthy study-work balance
This postgraduate funding approach is a challenging balancing act between earning enough to self-support and getting the best from your study experience in a limited timeframe. Highlighting this is the fact that, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 88% of students who mix work with study take a part-time course.
Lectures and seminars in many part-time courses are hosted at weekends, or even recorded for students to access online in their own time. This flexibility makes it an attractive proposition for many - though prior research into your chosen programme is paramount, as some universities have strict regulations regarding part-time study.
How do I get the most from working while studying?
Working while studying can be financially and professionally beneficial, but balancing earning and learning is difficult. Getting the best from postgraduate study requires resilience, good time management, genuine enthusiasm for your course and dedication to see it through to its conclusion. To succeed, you must implement routines and plan each day in advance.
Most importantly, you must have open and honest conversations with your employer and potential course leader before applying for postgraduate study, as this will make the arrangement run more smoothly. Discuss study timetables and working hours, and be clear that you'll need to amend each accordingly. There may also be times when you need leave for exam preparation.
What are the advantages?
The key advantage of self-funding is that working enables further development of essential employability skills that'll look great on your CV - especially if your job is related to your study area. It develops skills such as organisation and time management, since you'll be prioritising multiple workloads. You'll also have a greater number of opportunities to network within your chosen field, and recruiters will admire your commitment to progression and lack of employment gaps.
In addition, self-funding allows you to have better control of your financial future while still achieving an impressive postgraduate qualification. The motivation that you'll demonstrate will pay dividends when applying for graduate jobs. In addition, your employer may be willing to wholly or partially fund your course through employer sponsorship. The future investment by you in terms of time, finance and effort may even be a stepping stone to funding for a PhD.
You'll also have a much wider support network than you may think. This doesn't just come in the form of employers, tutors, family and friends, but also other students who are completing their course on a part-time basis while working in a full-time job. You can seek out these peers, and consider their advice.
What are the disadvantages?
Self-funding in this manner doesn't suit everyone. Part-time study is intense, stressful and requires great discipline. With few lectures to attend, you're prone to concentrating on work and leaving your assignments until the last minute. Distracting work commitments may even result in occasional deadline extensions or module deferrals. Ultimately, your job could take precedence in terms of quality and time - which is not ideal as you should typically dedicate at least 20 hours a week to part-time study.
Balancing work, study and your family life, without causing a negative impact on your academic output, is extremely difficult. Both employers and academics may not appreciate the conflicting demands that you face on your time. Employers in particular may need careful handling to ensure that your academic work isn't neglected.
While annual part-time tuition fees are lower, course lengths may actually mean that you pay more. Programmes can also provide less value. You mightn't access resources that could enhance the university experience and, more importantly, your future career. These include societies, academic staff, guest lectures, networking events, the library, and the careers service.
What's more, such time pressures can leave you feeling isolated during the tough times. Close support from friends, family, peers, tutors, colleagues and employers is therefore vital.
Is part-time work and full-time study an option?
This is the most popular self-funding alternative. Almost half of full-time postgraduates have part-time jobs that contribute towards their study costs, fitting around 10-15 hours of week per week around their studies.
Universities provide flexible administrative and customer service work in, for example, students' unions and libraries. Working for the university is your best option - and some jobs even come with free accommodation.
Off-campus openings in your local town are also common. All work can fit around your studies and you can do longer hours during holiday periods. There may also be opportunities to work from home.