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Whether it is best for a student to focus on completing their education during their summers away from school or to focus on working and providing income?

It has been my dream to pursue a graduate education in the liberal arts for the purpose of teaching at the university level, in order to contribute in enlightening and sharpening the minds of future generations. To accomplish this goal, I am currently a graduate student seeking a doctoral degree, though without a source of income for my livelihood. I am wondering whether it is recommended that students, in such a situation, focus on completing their education quicker, i.e. taking classes in the summer over extra spring and fall semesters, or whether it is best to work in the summers? The former entails more debt, but quicker completion and entry into the workforce, the latter entails less debt but simultaneously an extended amount of time in graduate school. In my particular case, I could either take classes for three summers and avoid three extra semesters, or work in the summer to provide at least a modicum of income for the rest of the year when studying. But the latter would necessitate three or four extra semesters in graduate school. The potential job-market for summer work for myself, is likely low-level entry work.

#working #graduate-school #summer-courses


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Rachael’s Answer

It sounds as though you'd considered and weighed your options very heavily. Two factors I would consider in addition. First, if you prolong your education you may be able to gain more exposure in your field which could benefit you in the courses you will embark. The upper level courses may be more relevant to you through your experience in the field as opposed to abstract in what you will come to experience once you enter the workforce. Second, prolonging your education will also prolong when you have to start paying back your student loans. Depending on the type of loans you took, you may be accruing interest on them each day since you acquired (unsubsidized) or the interest may not begin accruing until you graduate (subsidized).

Finally, does your school offer graduate assistant positions? This way you could work for the college/university (perhaps even doing something associated to your field) while they cover the cost of tuition.

I completed my education on a fast track, similar to what you are describing. I obtained my BSBA in 3 years working at the college throughout the school year and during the summer at home. I did this by taking 2 courses at a community college prior to beginning my first year and overloading credits during the fall and spring semesters 20-25 credits per. I had unsubsidized loans each year which accrued interest I paid down each summer. I then obtained my MBA, MM, and MBA the following year working as a graduate assistant for the college. I chose to condense my education in order to obtain all of the credentials I thought would aid me in success in the same time frame as my normal college education so I wouldn't have to go back.


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Krista’s Answer

If it's possible to get relevant experience over the summer, that can be a definite asset. Even summer jobs that aren't inherently connected to the field can give us insights on the type of work we like, how different organizations function, and build professional relationships. They can also be resume builders as they can help us build transferable and soft-skills. Thus, there may be advantages beyond the financial aspect. For example, when I was in graduate school I worked part-time for a technology support company. It wasn't in my field, but the computer skills I cultivated there were really helpful later on.

Additionally, I am a fan of taking a mental break from school over the summer so long as it's manageable. Each semester can be pretty intense, and after 10 months of study, it is nice to have that mental space freed up to work on more creative professional development projects , such as writing articles. This can be done even if one is working because the nature of most day jobs are so different than that of graduate school. I teach at a university and take the summers off from teaching. I find I have more time for professional development over the summer, and the break helps me avoid the burnout that so many in academia face.

Your college's career services and financial aid offices may have more insights and leads on potential employment. If it is possible to work just a little over the course of the academic year and then work more over the summer while taking just 1-2 classes, that may be an option to consider as well.

Krista recommends the following next steps:

Contact financial aid & career services
Brainstorm possible skills developed in summer job

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Lena’s Answer

If you can get work experience in your desired field, I think that could be of greater long-term benefit. In the difficult current economic climate, it's going to be even more important to make sure you're a competitive candidate when you're looking for a full-time work. It's understandable that you're eager to finish and start your career, but your college years go by so quickly, and you'll have plenty more time to work! Good luck.

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Rebecca’s Answer

Hi Joseph!


When I have students ask me this question, I find it is helpful to really understand the financial impact. Summer tuition can sometimes be less expensive than adding on a full semesters tuition. I would suggest you start with the bursar's website and calculate the total cost for both of your options. There should be a full breakdown of the cost per credit and fees in a fall/spring semester as well as cost info for summer rates. I would also suggest you connect with your academic advisor or faculty mentor- do they know of any ways that you could supplement your tuition costs? Are there any graduate assistantships available, any faculty with grant money to use on research assistants? Identify some key people at your institution who know the ins and outs of who and what is available on campus as ask them too!!


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Xavier’s Answer

I think this all depends on your specific situation. In my case, I had to work my way through college, but I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible, so I did both. I would take my tougher classes in the summer if they were available, so I would have the extra time to study.

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T’s Answer

Hello Joseph,

I found that my answer to this question was somewhere in the middle.

I can share what I did for both of my graduate degrees. While pursuing my master's degree, I worked part-time (20 to 25 hours) and studied (no more than 9 hours each semester), inclusive of during the summers (one was a graduate assistantship and the other was as a customer service rep). It was precisely that experience that helped me attain a professional position with ease at graduation and graduate in a timely fashion as well. Furthermore, if the job role is in an area related to your major it can provide practical context that catalyzes what is being taught in your classes. This means the learning might even stick better. By the time I pursued my doctorate, I was working full-time so I chose a program that allowed me to work and study full-time. If you are currently in a traditional doctoral program, my recommendation would be to work part-time (no more than 20 hours) and continue to study, but not at the tip top course load, but not at the bottom load either. I got a 4.0 GPA for both my master's and doctorate, so it is certainly doable.

Keep in mind that, "For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying. Therefore, to help determine the course load most appropriate for you, use the formula: 3 credit hours (1 course) = 3 hours in class per week = 6-9 hours study time per week" (https://www.umflint.edu/advising/surviving_college). And, use that formula as a guide to ensure you have enough study hours in congruence to work hours.

T recommends the following next steps:

Use the credit hour to study time formula to compute how much time you will need to study and to determine how many hours you can work per week while also addressing other responsibilities.

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Joseph’s Answer

This is a great question. I think it's important to remember that work is education. Working allows you to soak in the material you are intellectually processing. Also - while I do not know your situation all too well - graduating is not a race. Working during the summer might give you the perfect time to get proper rest and regeneration from intellectual pursuits. Summer gaps also give you a good time to reflect on your next step - whether it be for the coming semester, school year, or your path after graduation. You may not have the space or peace of mind to entertain this sort of reflection if you're constantly enrolled as a full-time student. And lastly, of course - save money if and while you can. I would embrace working a low entry-level job, with the hopes that upon graduation, you will have better opportunities! See it this way: this is the last time you will ever have the privilege of working an "average job". Lift your arms up high, sing praise to the Lord and be glad, for this is an incredible learning experience that you get to carry with you during your studies. Consider it part of the program.

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Andrea’s Answer

Internships are invaluable. Organizations hire based on experience and the people you meet while interning become great references, if not lifelong mentors. It’s important to remember your experience level turns into more money down the line and a higher ROI. Additionally, much of your graduate school cost can be paid for through grants, fellowships and scholarships. When choosing a graduate program, focus on those that value your brain and provide funding avenues. Also keep in mind you don’t need to stick to the traditional schedule. Consider internships in the fall/winter and classes in the summer because 1) many organizations need interns and can’t find them during those months 2) those opportunities give you more time with leadership 3) classes tend to be cheaper in the summer.

Andrea recommends the following next steps:

Find grad programs that provide funding
Search for grants and scholarships
Find organizations with fall and winter internships
Work part time

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Marjorie’s Answer

Hi,
I have been in this spot before, more than once. I found I did what helped my sanity.
I took a summer off everything once because I had 18 hours in school and was working just shy of full time. Another time I worked in the summer because I was stressed about not having money.
Either way, one thing I always did was work on campus during my degrees. I was a graduate assistant. I worked in the Writing Lab as a tutor, and I ran study tables for athletes. Just showing options.
First decide what is weighing on you most, then evaluate the cost (emotional and financial) benefit of summer work versus school. Your gut will tell you what is right. And don’t hesitate to get creative with job opportunities while in school.
Evaluate your needs and trust your gut.
Good luck!
Marjorie

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Helen’s Answer

First and foremost: the amount of time it takes you to graduate is no reflection of your level of knowledge. There is no time table to when you are to complete milestones in your life. My first two years of school I took summer classes because I felt that it was of the utmost importance that I finish by a certain time. It was not until I was losing hair from stress that I realized I needed to take a step back. In my opinion a seasonal job may be what you need. Somethin that allows you to pick up hours during busy season, which are usually the times that school is out, and that way not overwhelmed at any time. Working over the summer will give you a mental break and could prevent burnout.

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Jeff’s Answer

Hi Joseph,

Going through my graduate program, I was able to obtain teaching assistantships to help fund my education and get a tuition waiver. These are not always simply offered to graduate students--sometimes you, and your advisor, need to advocate to receive one. Some summers I had required classes. Other semesters I took independent studies which helped me research for my dissertation. Summers are a perfect time for independent studies/directed studies since most professors are still around campus and have fewer demands on their time and more time to spend with you.

The real key is to find some on-campus employment that will allow you to take courses and earn income.

Jeff recommends the following next steps:

Talk to your advisor about how to advocate for a teaching assistantship or research fellowship
Check other campus offices. Sometimes admissions offices will hire extra help to help with advising or orientation
Plan out the next two or three years. If you are in a doctoral program, you need to plan for your dissertation research

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LYDIA’s Answer

Take full load of electives during the summer months. If opportunity arises, work part-time in the library.


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Kanika’s Answer

As a recent graduate looking into a Master’s myself, I understand the desire to quickly finish your degree so you can enter the workforce. However, if you are struggling with your income currently and supporting yourself, I would suggest attending school during the regular semesters and working during the summer. Even better if you are able to find work that is within your field such as becoming a Teaching Assistant, Tutor, Substitute Teacher (if possible). There is also nothing wrong with doing some entry-level work while trying to support yourself through higher education. It would also be a great break to work during the summer instead of attending school.

On the other hand, if you are able to continue without an income, then finishing your graduate degree quickly would be optimal. I am not sure where you are located, but you could also earn money by working for companies like Uber, DoorDash, or Instacart where you can set up on your own schedule and earn an extra income while finishing school. Since you are a student, you could look into aid through the government such as scholarships, grants, or even just financial aid while you are unemployed and finishing school. This depends on your location and personal choice.

I hope this helps and you are able to find the best option for yourself!

Kanika recommends the following next steps:

Find work in a related field.
Work for Uber, DoorDash, or Instacart to simultaneously earn an income and finish your degree.
Look for government assistance to support yourself through school.

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Anupama’s Answer

I would advice you to work part time during the summer and see if you can take evening classes to take few credits for the Graduate school . This will help you to have some work experience and also some credits during the summer.

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Kanika’s Answer

As a recent graduate looking into a Master’s myself, I understand the desire to quickly finish your degree so you can enter the workforce. However, if you are struggling with your income currently and supporting yourself, I would suggest attending school during the regular semesters and working during the summer. Even better if you are able to find work that is within your field such as becoming a Teaching Assistant, Tutor, Substitute Teacher (if possible). There is also nothing wrong with doing some entry-level work while trying to support yourself through higher education. It would also be a great break to work during the summer instead of attending school.

On the other hand, if you are able to continue without an income, then finishing your graduate degree quickly would be optimal. I am not sure where you are located, but you could also earn money by working for companies like Uber, DoorDash, or Instacart where you can set up on your own schedule and earn an extra income while finishing school. Since you are a student, you could look into aid through the government such as scholarships, grants, or even just financial aid while you are unemployed and finishing school. This depends on your location and personal choice.

I hope this helps and you are able to find the best option for yourself!

Kanika recommends the following next steps:

Find work in a related field.
Work for Uber, DoorDash, or Instacart to simultaneously earn an income and finish your degree.
Look for government assistance to support yourself through school.

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