Making the Most of College While Working Full-time

Many years ago, the majority of college students spent four years at school. In those four years they would attend class, participate in activities on campus, hang out with friends, go to parties, and spend lots of time studying. Many of these students lived in dorms, or at home with their families, and most did not work. If they did work, it was part-time and often on campus.

I used to believe that I was missing something because college has been so much different for me. However, as I have talked to people in my classes and taken a look around my campus, I realized that there are many students like me. When I went to pick up my books last week, I was not the only student in line with a baby in one arm and books in the other. Nowadays, I am the typical college student.

I am 22 years old and I am about to start my last semester of college. I have been going to school non-stop for five years; when I complete my degree it will have taken me 5 and Ã?½ years. I started out at a community college, working part-time while going to school full-time. Shortly after starting college I chose to get married. At this point I switched to working full-time and going to school part-time. It has only been within the last year that I began taking a full-time course load again. Last year, I got pregnant with my first child. I spent the past semester dealing with the struggles of morning sickness and a lack of energy, followed by heartburn and lower back pain. This summer I gave birth to a beautiful son, and when I go back to school this fall, I will need to get used to studying with a baby on my lap. Despite the fact that I have never seen our school’s student union, and I never had time to pledge a sorority, I have made the most of my college experience.

Nowadays, the face of the typical college student has changed. While some students still have that traditional four-year college experience, many students now work full-time while going to college. A large number of students now live on their own, off campus. They have bills to pay and many responsibilities. Fewer students are involved in activities on campus, and many students go to commuter schools where school is a place to go to class and leave, not hang out with friends.

About two years ago I had a meeting with a college advisor during which I was told that I had quite a few more units than I thought left to graduate. When I left that meeting I felt like I would never graduate, and I called my mom crying. After pouring out my woes to my mother, I ended with an exasperated, “I just want to graduate college and start living my life!” There was a moment of silence before she responded, “Honey, you are living your life.”

That was a much needed wake-up call to me. I realized that I had so much in my life. I had a great job that I might even consider making a career. I was married to a wonderful man, with whom I lived in a nice apartment in a nice town. I had good friends who I somehow always managed to have time to hang out with. My mom was right- this is living life! From that moment on, I vowed to stop always looking forward to the end of college and to start enjoying the experience.

If you are working full-time while going to school, you too are probably feeling like you are never going to finish school. It may take you longer than you had initially expected, but eventually you will finish. In the meantime, the trick is to have the right attitude. Instead of thinking about how tired you are after a long day at work and how much you don’t want to go to school, try to get excited about going to class.

Change into a comfortable outfit before going to class. Getting out of your work clothes will help you get out of work mode and into young, fun college student mode. This has become so important to me that I have even changed my clothes in the bathroom at fast food restaurant when I did not have time to go home before heading to class. Comfortable clothes can make all the difference!

If you have time, stop for a frappucino or a smoothie on the way to school to help you get energized for class. Jamba Juice always gets me in a fun mood, so this is one of my favorite pick-me-ups!

Make the effort to get to know some people in class! It helps to have friends in your classes. Even if no one is talking to the people around them, be the brave first one to look at the girl sitting next to you and start a conversation. If all else fails, just say, “Hi! I’m Niki! What’s your name?” When you have friends in classes, you can exchange emails in case one of you misses classes. This has come in extremely handy when I have had to do overtime at work, and when I got sick. Another benefit to making friends in class is that you can form a study group before major tests. Last semester, I am convinced I would not have passed my “Major Critical Theories” class if it were not for the hours I spent with a study group. We met at Starbucks on the Sunday evenings before tests, and every one of us improved our grades after forming this study group.

Talk to your spouse, family, or friends about what you are learning in school. Although working full-time might prevent you from taking advantage of on-campus tutoring or other helpful resources, you still have people around you who offer suggestions. If something in class really interested you, it might be interesting to other people as well. Bring it up at dinner with your husband or wife. Talking about it will help solidify the information in your head, and your spouse’s insight might give you something good to add to the next class discussion. If you are struggling with deciding on a topic for a research paper, bring up some of your ideas with a friend. Even if your friends have no experience in the topic, they are still a valuable resource. As you try to explain your concept to someone who is not familiar with the information, you may discover a way of writing about the concept that you might not have thought of otherwise.

Take advantage of email! One of the challenges I have found in working full-time is that teacher’s office hours and often during my work hours. Sometimes I can barely manage to make it to class on time, let alone come early to talk to the professor. This does not mean that you cannot contact the professor. Most professors put their email address on the syllabus. I have often emailed professors to ask questions about assignments, get insight on an essay topic, or apologize for missing class. Most professors appreciate the open communication, and I have developed great relationships with these professors, which has often helped me out further down the road.

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