Skip to main content
MenuSearch & Directory

Firsthand Advice on How to Balance School and Work

If you’re an adult learner who’s considering going back to college, it’s normal to wonder how to balance school and work on top of the rest of your family and personal commitments. The School for Professional Studies at Saint Louis University (SLU) caters to working adult students who are used to juggling several priorities.

We enlisted some of them to share how they found success so you can learn from their experience. Implementing some of the helpful habits outlined below can help establish a healthy balance as you begin your educational endeavors.

A woman in a pink shirt looking at the camera with a desk in the background

Six Tips for Adult Students Balancing Work and School

With the right strategies in place, it is possible to fit school into even the busiest schedules. Below you’ll find six tried-and-true tips on how to balance work and school that can help you meet your educational goals.

1. Commit to a Time Management System That Works for You

Having a lot of competing responsibilities is guaranteed to be overwhelming if you don’t have a solid time management system in place. Keeping a master schedule or list of all your various time-sensitive tasks, meetings, and other commitments and due dates is crucial to your success.

No two calendars or systems are the same, but consistency is key. Try out different strategies and combinations of color coding, time blocking (see #3), alarms, apps, etc. Once you find something that’s working for you, stick to it!

Some free productivity apps that are handy for college students include:

By managing your time intentionally, you can make the most of each day, hit your deadlines, reduce stress, and put yourself in the best position to be successful.

2. Get Clarity on Your Goals and Commitments

Take time to reflect on your goals and ambitions in both your academic and professional life. Understand what you want to achieve and why it is important to you. Having this clarity will enable you to prioritize effectively, make good decisions, and stay motivated when times get tough.

Try the following exercise to help you get started:

According to Troy Hargrove, SLU alumnus and associate dean for the School for Professional Studies at SLU, his best advice for adults considering going back to school is to first ask themselves things like: Is now the right time to do this? Why am I doing this? What am I hoping to accomplish here?

“Whatever your reason is, you have to know that it’s the right time to do that. And you have to know that you have the support system to do that,” Hargrove says.

3. Get a Handle on Your Procrastination Habits

Most people procrastinate at least sometimes, and to a certain degree it’s normal to put off tasks that seem boring, confusing, difficult, or complicated. This can become a serious problem, however, when the inability to start or complete important tasks keeps you from meeting your goals and fulfilling your dreams.

One myth about people who struggle with chronic procrastination is that they are lazy and unmotivated. In reality, their habits often stem from caring too much, not too little. They may struggle with perfectionism or anxiety, and the fear of creating something that doesn’t live up to high (or impossible) standards makes the task too intimidating to even start.

In order to help combat procrastination habits, give the following methods a try:

With some proactive planning and a positive attitude, you can work on reversing your procrastination tendencies and begin reaching your full potential at work, school and life in general.

4. Strive for Progress, Not Perfection

Going back to school as an adult learner is a big commitment that requires lots of hard work and, naturally, you want to do your best. You should always strive to be great, but don’t let perfectionism become a roadblock.

You won’t always be able to spend as much time as you’d like on every task, so focus on doing things to the best of your ability and learn from any mistakes you encounter along the way. Steady, consistent progress is the goal – nobody is perfect.

5. Take Advantage of Your School’s Services and Resources

As a working student, it’s important to choose a school that provides ample student support services. This is an area that SLU’s School for Professional Studies takes seriously. Our instructors are always the first and best source of information related to courses, but we also provide additional specialized academic support and resources to help adult learners.

Some examples include:

SLU graduate Helena earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Security and Strategic Intelligence in 2017. She recalls her academic coach as an incredible motivator as she figured out how to balance school and work with the rest of her life. “He shared some of his personal stories about being an adult learner and having kids and family. And that really helped set the tone,” Helena says.

6. Practice Self-Care and Ask for Help When You Need It

Eating a satisfying and nourishing diet, moving your body, spending time with loved ones and devoting time to hobbies are all essential activities for good mental, physical and emotional health. Getting enough sleep is also crucial, as your body heals and recharges through rest. While it may be tempting to stay up all night scrolling on your phone, try to limit these kinds of binges and instead invest your time in reading before bed or simply going to sleep earlier.  

Prioritizing self-care will help enhance your overall well-being and enable you to perform at your best in all areas of your life. But it’s also important to know your limits and ask for help when necessary.

“You don't earn a degree by yourself,” explains Ericca Willis, wife of SLU graduate Keith Willis. “It takes a village; family members kicked in. I have to say the school offered a lot of support as well. Truly we were not alone on our journey to get him across that stage.”

Choose an Online Degree That’s Designed for You

By implementing these six tips, you can strike a healthy balance between your educational pursuits and everything else going on in your life. Are you still on the hunt for flexible degree options that work with your schedule?

Explore SLU’s online programs today to find undergraduate, certificate, graduate and post-baccalaureate certificate programs designed for busy learners like you.

Request Information

Choose the program you're interested in.


Take Your Next Step

Apply Now