Part-time Masters courses are a viable option for those hoping to continue working full time but are concerned about the costs involved
Working while studying can be financially and professionally beneficial, but balancing earning and learning is difficult. You'll need to be well disciplined and have access to a good support network to be successful.
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 a Masters degree, 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.
Why choose part-time postgraduate study?
The option to study part time is invaluable to postgraduates who need to balance their studies with work or family commitments.
Many others choose to study for a part-time Masters degree to lessen the financial burden somewhat. Part-time postgraduate courses are usually cheaper year-on-year than full-time programmes and part-time study makes self-funding more realistic, as you have the option to continue working, either on a full or part-time basis.
For those already in employment, one of the main attractions of a part-time course is that you get to maintain your salary while studying. If your aim is to self-fund, your wages could help to pay your fees upfront (avoiding the need to take out a loan) or put them towards your living costs.
Working while studying also opens up the possibility of employer sponsorship, whereby your employer pays your tuition fees and course expenses so long as the qualification is relevant to your job and benefits the company in some way.
What are the advantages?
There are many benefits to part-time study - the first has to be its flexibility. Lectures and seminars in many part-time courses are hosted at weekends or recorded for students to access online in their own time.
This 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. To explore what's available, search part-time postgraduate courses.
Part-time postgraduate courses are also popular because they can improve your career prospects without you having to take a break from work. Additionally, you'll make connections with other working professionals studying the same course.
Working while studying also has advantages. For example, working enables development of skills that'll look great on your CV - especially if your job is related to your study area.
At work you'll develop skills such as organisation and time management, especially as you'll be prioritising multiple workloads. You'll also have opportunities to network within your chosen field, and recruiters will admire your commitment to progression and lack of employment gaps.
What are the disadvantages?
If you're considering studying and working full time you need to be aware that part-time study is intense, stressful and requires great discipline.
With few lectures to attend, you'll be 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 family life without it having a negative impact on your academic output is extremely difficult. Both employers and academics may not appreciate the conflicting demands 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 might not have time to 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. Getting to know course mates in the same way as you would if studying full time may also be a challenge.
What's more, time pressures can leave you feeling isolated during tough times. Close support from friends, family, peers, tutors, colleagues and employers is therefore vital.
Following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with many people working from home in keeping with government guidelines, also choosing to study in the same environment may adversely affect your wellbeing - due to the amount of time spent looking at your computer screen. Read our advice on looking after your mental health at university.
Part-time work while you study
Even if you choose to study full time, you may still be able to help to fund your studies by taking on a part-time job. Many students opt for this method, fitting work around their studies and working longer hours during the holiday periods.
Once society starts to recover from the pandemic you could find work both on and off campus. For example, you could take on bar, restaurant, retail or promotions work. Alternatively, your university may be looking for students to take on administration or customer service roles in the campus library, shop, bar, careers service or students' union.
Wages from part-time work can contribute to study or living costs, but alone probably won't be enough to cover your expenses, so research alternative sources of postgraduate funding.
This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.