How To Balance School and Work: The College Student’s Guide

Are you one of the many college students who needs steady income while completing your studies? Then you may already be wondering how to balance school and work when there are only so many hours in the day.

It’s not easy—but it can be done! And I’ll show you a few tricks to balance a full schedule (and still have a personal life) while you’re in college. If you haven’t already, check out our guide to working while in college, which has lots of tips for this lifestyle. 

For now, let’s look at 7 tips to find an equilibrium between school and work for the next few years.


1. Be upfront with your employer and your professors

Figuring out how to balance school and work will be much easier if you can be upfront with the people who demand some of your time—namely, your manager at work and your professors at school. 

As early as you can, make time to speak to all involved about your schedule. Make a simple copy of your course schedule and give it to your boss so they know what hours you need off to attend courses.

Be clear with them about when and how much time you’ll need to study as well—it’s best to come out with this information upfront so they have plenty of time to make a schedule that suits your needs. 

Your professors won’t have as much flexibility to give you since they have many other students who need to operate on a schedule.

But letting your professors know you are working early in the semester is still a good idea. This way, if you need to ask for an extension or extra time due to your work schedule, it won’t sound like you’re simply making excuses when you tell them your job is taking up too much of your time. 

Finally, it’s also a good idea to talk to your college counselor/advisor about your work schedule. They can help you find ways to balance your time, and they’ll also make it easier to design future course schedules around your working hours.


2. Map your time to a trusty calendar

There’s no way around it—if you plan on working while in college, you’ll need to get good at time management. But fortunately, there are lots of free tools that make it easier. 

And the best one is a good calendar. If you aren’t already using a digital calendar, like Google Calendar, then it may be time to start. (Though if you prefer the old-school handwritten calendar method, by all means, go for it!)

The key to making a good calendar is to block out time not just for your courses and work schedule, but also for other important things you need to do. For example, you might block out the hours you’ll need for study time during finals week and social clubs you’re a part of, or even block off time for personal engagements you want to attend. 

Try using different colors for the different parts of your schedule, so you can easily see what you have coming up at a glance. Use one color for courses and another for your work hours. When you see these colors, you’ll know those blocks are unmovable. The other colors you can tap into when you need to adjust or make more time in your schedule.

A screenshot of Google Calendar shows how a student might block out time for work, school, and social engagements.


For more tips on how to manage your time effectively, check out these resources: 


3. Learn how to say no like a pro

When you’re working and studying simultaneously, there will be times when your schedules conflict. There’s simply no way around this, so it’s best to learn how to say no now, so you don’t end up double-booking yourself (which can be pretty awkward).  

Learning how to politely refuse requests from your boss, your professors, and your friends can come in handy in several scenarios: 

  • If your boss asks you to pick up extra shifts that would cut into study time
  • If a professor suggests extra credit that would interfere with your work schedule 
  • If a group project or study group wants you to meet when you’re otherwise occupied 
  • If friends are inviting you to a social engagement that will conflict with your work or course schedule 

Saying no isn’t fun or easy, but it’s vital if you really want to know how to balance school and work at the same time. And thanks to your trusty calendar, you’ll have an easier time knowing what you can say yes to based on your schedule.


4. Make timers, alarms, and reminders your best friends

A well-managed calendar can help you stay on top of predetermined obligations, but there’s more you can do to manage your time effectively in the moment. 

Your phone is equipped with reminders, timers, and alarms; these can be a big help when it comes to staying on top of your busy schedule. 

Obviously, you want to use alarms to make sure you’re getting up early enough every day to do what you need to do, but they can also help you remember when it’s time to start getting ready for work, wrap up a study session, or email your professor an important assignment. 

Reminders on your phone are a great way to keep specific tasks in mind that aren’t ready for your attention yet or don’t need to happen at a particular time. For instance, you might set a reminder to message your boss every Saturday for the new schedule or to book your tickets back home for a visit. 

Finally, you can use timers to better understand how you’re spending your time and keep yourself on task. For example, to make sure you study without distractions, set a timer on your phone and put it in another room. This will help keep you from flicking through Instagram when you should be studying. 

Setting alarms, timers, and reminders is as easy as using the voice assistant on your phone. But there are also some good online options, like the free Toggl timer or Pomodoro timer.


5. Consider going part-time

If you’re feeling overwhelmed figuring out how to balance your job and course load, a good option is to go part-time—with school or work. 

A full-time work schedule when trying to earn a degree is nearly impossible. So your first consideration should be cutting back on work hours if you can spare the income. (If you need tips on making your money stretch further, check out our College Savings Guide). 

Even if you’re already working part-time, there’s no harm in asking your boss if you can reduce hours, even if only temporarily, when your coursework is ramping up. If your employer is used to working with college students, they’ll hopefully understand. 

If you’re more concerned about income and less concerned about how long it will take to earn your degree, consider becoming a part-time student. This would allow you to take fewer courses (and earn fewer credits) each semester, freeing up your time. You can then make up the extra course credits by staying in school for another semester (or more) beyond the typical two- or four-year period.

Or, you can make up credits on school breaks. (You could even go to a community college to earn extra credits if you plan to move back home. Just be sure your primary college or university will accept those as full credit.)


6. Find a way to combine your work and school

Sometimes, there are ways to combine paid work with school credit. For example, your school may allow certain jobs to count toward credit; you may find that a paid internship, externship, or apprenticeship can earn you credit as well. 

You can also consider working on campus within your department or at one of the service-based facilities (like the bookstore or in the dorms, for example). While these jobs may not pay as well as an external job, they’ll be much easier to balance with your course schedule while also allowing you to earn some extra income. 

Another option is looking for remote jobs or other potential income streams that don’t require you to be in a physical location. This can cut down on commuting time and may require less of a time commitment overall. 

For more tips on ways to find alternative jobs like these, try these articles: 


7. Heed the warnings of burnout

If you’re working while in college, you deserve props—it’s not easy to balance a schedule, and the time management skills you pick up during your school years will help you in your future career. 

But it’s not uncommon for students to suffer burnout, especially when coursework ramps up toward the end of the semester, or when they’re still adjusting to life after leaving home.

It’s a good idea to be well aware of the signs of burnout because, if left untreated, this issue can be devastating for your school career, your job, or both. Some warning signs to look out for are: 

  • High stress that causes you to lose sleep or feel ill 
  • Unusual amounts of irritability 
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Feeling exhausted or fatigued 

Pay attention to these kinds of symptoms, and take action. Speak with your employer or school counselor and let them know you’re struggling—they’ll likely be able to find a way to lighten your burden.

It’s not impossible to learn how to balance school and work—but it does take organization, planning, and honesty with yourself. These tips will help you make the most of your time in school without falling behind on your courses or losing out on income.