Seven tips for balancing study with work

Advice from the University of London International Programmes
Woman studying on sofa
Some helpful tips for balancing study with work
Sometimes juggling study with work and personal commitments is easier said than done.

If you are looking to combine working with studying, you may be considering studying by distance learning. The flexibility that distance learning offers enables you to spread your study over longer periods and arrange your schedule to fit in with your lifestyle. However, sometimes juggling study with work and personal commitments is easier said than done. Here are some useful tips from University of London International Programmes students and  alumni to help manage your studies with your schedule.

1. Choose to study something that interests you

It may sound basic, but if you’re going to stay motivated over the course of a degree, it’s much easier if you’re studying something you either are very interested in and/or will be a benefit for your career. If you like what you’re learning, you’re much more likely to make time to study.

“My best advice would be to choose courses that hold a real interest for you, so that studying is enjoyable. Studying by way of distance learning can be hard to find time for, and I found it really helps if you are passionate about the subject you are studying. My courses were all very engaging and interesting to me. For me, this was very motivating. It made it a lot easier to find the time for my studies.”

Joelle Grover, Master of Laws graduate from Australia

2. Be realistic

One of the advantages of distance learning study is that you can spread your degree out over a number of years. If you’re working full-time, it’s probably better to take things slow and only take a couple courses per year, at least at first. You don’t want to try and fit a full-time study schedule in with full-time work and then find you have no time to absorb what you’re learning. If you find you’re easily coping with the workload, you can always take on more in subsequent years.

“I would advise people looking to enter this programme to really think about their schedule and their work-life balance. Setting realistic expectations, but also allowing for some flexibility is key.”

Robert Palmer, MSc Infectious Diseases graduate from USA

3. Make a study schedule

If you’re going to do well on a distance learning degree, you need to be organised. The first step is creating a study schedule. It helps to first break your study down month by month, taking into account any deadlines and making sure you have time to cover all the topics and fit in revision. Your daily and weekly schedule should detail specific study times and goals. You should make sure you factor in some recreation time, so you have time to absorb what you’re learning and don’t get burnt out. Most students recommend trying to fit in some study every day, but this is really up to you. Don’t be afraid to revise your study schedule if you get off track or realise it is not working for you.

“I would suggest that students plan out their programme at the beginning of the year very closely, that they be prepared to invest the number of hours that are required, and they think about their goals in the programme. I had a very disciplined approach to my study activities and at times work would intrude and make that difficult, but I really had a very strong discipline to completing the study workload each week. I had to put in 18-20 hours each week and I achieved that.”

Leonard Valenzuela, MSc Epidemiology graduate from USA

4. Work out how you study best

Everyone is different when it comes to studying. Some people are visual learners – who like to use highlighters and make extensive notes and diagrams – while others learn better listening to lectures or audio books. Similarly, some people work best in the morning, while others are night owls. You need to work out what works best for you, and adjust your study plan around this.

“It took a while to figure out my study routine, but eventually when I worked out a plan it became easier. I usually studied at weekends. The weekdays were just too busy (though there were lunch hours where I would be in a quiet staircase reading a part of a chapter). When Saturday or Sunday came, I would go to my local university library, take out my readings for that day and a highlighter, and immerse myself in the material. Then about two weeks before the exam, I would look at my highlighted notes and summarize information and link it with the study guides, and find relevant examples and case studies that could be applied.”

Toshio Rahman, Master of Laws graduate from Canada

5. Learn to prioritise

Sometimes it just won’t be possible to fit in everything you’d like to do, as well as study. If you’re feeling under pressure, make a list of everything you’ve got to do (e.g. study, cook dinner, finish a work project, child care) and categorise them as negotiable or non-negotiable. Make sure you finish the essentials before moving on to the less important tasks (domestic chores can wait!).

Even taking this approach, it’s inevitable that things will crop up that will put out your study schedule, or sometimes you just won’t feel up to studying. Don’t beat yourself up over it if this happens, you’re not superhuman! Some disruption to your study schedule should not be a problem as long as these ‘time outs’ are not too frequent or too prolonged.

“I ensure that I set aside at least one hour a day to study. When I feel tired from my long hours of work, which include evenings, I simply put the books aside and regroup. I do not like stress in my life and try by all means to do things in such a way that do not invite it.”

Tselane Mokuena, Postgraduate Certificate in Laws student from Canada

6. Take advantage of short pockets of time

One of the keys to balancing study with work is feeling comfortable fitting study into your normal routine. Even 20 minutes is enough to get some meaningful study done, so take advantage of downtime during your commute, lunch break, or even just waiting to pick up your kids. If you travel for work, flights present an excellent opportunity to get some extra study time in. We’ve even heard stories of some University of London International Programmes students listening to audio presentations while doing the ironing or having a bath!

“I was working as a senior photo laboratory technician while I studied for the degree. Good time management was essential to be able to study while working full time. I read and studied during tea-breaks and lunch breaks at work and also some evenings at home.”

Marcus Oliver Fitz-Gerald, BA English graduate from Ireland

7. Get your family, friends and employer on board

University of London International Programmes graduates often credit their partner, families or friends with helping them to get through the course. Whether it’s taking on some more of the family responsibilities around exam time, talking through ideas, or just being understanding of the time you need to study – it’s important that your loved ones recognise and support the commitment you’re making to your education.

It really helps to have your employer on board too. Support from employers could range from financial support, to paid time off for studying, to permission to study in the office after hours.

“I study in the office, before work - I find it too difficult to concentrate in the evenings. Plus home is mostly home for me - keeping business outside it. The proportion of study time and the intensity of studying pace depend on the proximity of the exams. I do like to read through chapters of textbooks that are particularly interesting for me in a casual manner and to have discussions around them with friends and colleagues throughout the semester. Studying without pressure is fantastic! The picture changes in May and October. I am lucky to have a job that supports my academic endeavours and offers paid study leave closer to the exams - those weeks are all about MBA.”

Olga Zhukova, current MBA student in UK

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