On being in school and working

What are some ways to balance work and school? Cus I’m working 25 to 30 hours a week and taking only three classes and I’m still behind. I don’t know how some people work fulltime AND go to school fulltime while paying rent and having kids.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know how people balance that kind of schedule with school/kids/work. I think that it’s nearly impossible and that most people couldn’t do it.

Here are a couple of things I do know about passing classes under time pressure:

Choose your classes carefully:

  • Not all classes are equally time-consuming.
  • If you’re working a lot of hours, it’s probably better not to take all the really time-consuming classes in the same semester
  • (Eg: if you’re taking a class that has five papers, or lots of complicated programming assignments, it might be better not to take others than are like that at the same time).
  • It can also go a lot better to select classes based on who is teaching them rather than based on which description theoretically looks best
  • Classes go much more smoothly with teachers you’re readily compatible with
  • (particularly if you tend to need a lot of help)

Consider taking classes that are relevant to your work:

  • If some of what you’re working on at work can inform your class assignments, that makes life a lot easier
  • For instance, it’s much easier to write a paper on something you’ve researched for work than it is to research something else *and* what you have to work on at work
  • And more generally: if the concepts you’re learning in school are related to and overlapping with what you think about at work, it will be much less time consuming than if you have to do both separately
  • This can be true even if your work isn’t particularly intellectual on the face of it. No matter what your job is, it involves knowing things, and classes are easier if you can make knowing those things relevant.

It is possible to pass classes without doing all of the reading:

  • Most people don’t do all of the reading (except in seminar classes in which most of class consists of an in-depth group discussion of the reading).
  • If you are struggling to keep up, you may well be doing more of the reading than you should be.
  • It’s worth learning how to skim text in order to get the basic ideas
  • When a teacher cites something a lot in class, it’s generally worth reading it again after more closely

Having a study group or partner helps in several ways:

  • Perspective from other people can make it easier to tell whether you’re understanding what you need to understand
  • It can also make it easier to tell whether you’re doing *more* work than you need to in order to keep up and pass.
  • You can also pool knowledge. There will always be things that some people get and some people miss, and some people talk about it.
  • Meeting with others at a set time to do the work for a class can stop it from expanding to fill all available space
  • Even if you don’t have a regular study group, sometimes you can organize review sessions before tests. Those can also be helpful in similar ways.

Collaborative note-taking

Sometimes, collaborative note-taking can make classes or meetings better.

This how it works:

  • Make a google doc
  • Share it with a friend in the class/meeting
  • Take notes together in the same document
  • And comment on what the other is writing
  • (This only works if you both have laptops and internet access in class)

Here’s some examples of how this can be helpful:

It can make it easier to pay attention:

  • For many people, conversations are much easier to pay attention to than lectures
  • One reason is that if you’re interacting, it’s easier to *notice* whether you’re paying attention
  • Doing collaborative note-taking adds an interactive layer to the lecture, which can make it easier to pay attention

When you miss things, you can catch each other up, eg:

  • “I didn’t catch that. Is he talking about cats or dogs?”
  • “I think dogs, but it’s hard to tell. It’s tangential to the main point about lions.”

It can also be easier to write down complicated statements if you have two versions to compare in the moment.

When you don’t understand, you can ask each other for help without having to interrupt and get the teacher’s attention, eg:

  • “Is he really saying that hamsters can fly?”
  • “No, he’s saying that he once edited wikipedia to make it claim that, and it took a week for anyone to notice.”


  • “What page are we on?”
  • “Page 56 near the bottom.”

Sometimes it can also make it easier to ask the teacher questions.

  • “I’d like to ask him whether rainbows can happen at night”
  • “So, ask him!”
  • *verbally* “Can rainbows happen at night?”
  • (I’m not sure why this works for me, but it does. It’s far easier for me to ask questions verbally when I’ve run them by another student/coworker in text.)

It can also make terrible meetings or classes more bearable, for instance:

  • “Is he really suggesting that we buy 500 pounds of ham?”
  • “It seems like he is. Oh dear. Should we say something?”
  • *more notes about what’s going on, not just conversation

You can fluidly move between taking notes directly, and talking to one another about what’s going on.

Some of this is possible to do by taking notes in separate files and using a chat program to talk to each other, but it doesn’t work as well because:

  • It’s more distracting since you have to switch between windows and modes to talk in different ways. So there’s a switching barrier to paying attention to your notes file.
  • When your conversation is *in* the notes, it’s easier to pay attention to the notes
  • If someone is watching you, it looks just like taking notes usually looks. If you use a chat program, it looks like you’re goofing off and not paying attention.

This is not a good strategy for everyone or every situation, but when it works, it works *really* well.