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Studying While Working – Three Singaporeans Share With Us The Challenges They Faced (And How They Succeeded)

It’s like holding down two jobs. You need to ensure that you have the support (from both sides) to make it work.


This article is written in collaboration with Kaplan. Views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg

While work commitments today can take up a good majority of our time, it is important to continue to keep ourselves relevant for the job market of tomorrow as the skills needed to succeed in the workforce continue to evolve.

There are multiple ways to gain new skills and knowledge, such as at the workplace, by doing a side hustle and pursuing higher education. Unlike the past, where you would incur heavy opportunity costs leaving the workforce to study, there are now many options for working adults to advance their careers while studying for a diploma, degree, or Masters part-time.

While that sounds good on paper, the reality of juggling both work and school commitments can be demanding. Here’s what 3 working professionals have to share about the challenges they faced when studying for their degree while working.

Read Also: We Sat Down With The CFO of Microsoft Worldwide Operations To Understand What It Takes To Succeed In The Business World Today

 

Barry Smyth

55, Programme Manager

Master of Science in Project Management

DollarsAndSense (DNS): What does a typical day, with both work and school, look like for you and how do you balance both commitments?

Barry Smyth (BS): When pursuing a degree as a working adult, it is important to remember that you have a job to do and while people may be understanding, your work performance is based on your ability to deliver results.

The onus is really on you to manage your own time effectively to give both work and study the attention they deserve. You can’t use work as an excuse for failing a module nor your studies as an excuse for failing your objectives.

My typical day is a normal working day followed by anywhere from 2 to 4 hours of study each night. Weekends are spent studying for exams or doing research for papers I have to write.

DNS: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced when juggling your work commitments with studying for your degree?

BS: The biggest challenge for me was the almost absolute loss of personal time. We tend to take our free time for granted, but while studying, there were times when I went for months without spending quality time with friends or family.

DNS: How do you think this experience of balancing both work and studies has benefitted you?

BS: The experience of studying while working has helped me in many areas. My time management has improved along with my ability to prioritise. It has also instilled in me a greater sense of discipline to finish my tasks before the deadline.

One of the more surprising benefits is an increase in self-confidence. When you are successful and have earned your degree, you know that it was due to the effort that you’ve put into achieving that goal despite the many hurdles you might have had to overcome.

DNS: Looking back, if there was one thing you would do differently, what would it be?

BS: I don’t think I would have done anything differently, but I feel it would have been good to talk to people who had gone through the process so that I knew what I was getting myself into.

DNS: What advice would you give to someone who is about to study for their degree while working?

BS: There are a few pieces of advice I would give.

#1 Be prepared to give up a lot of your personal time. Outside of classes, you will spend the majority of your time on studying and researching for articles to support the many papers you will need to write.

#2 Make sure you have the right environment to study and ensure you won’t be distracted. Being able to focus is really important and it is something that a lot of people struggle with.

#3 Make notes and create your own study guides as you progress through each module of your degree, instead of just reading. It may seem like a lot more effort but the benefits of doing so are worth it.

#4 Don’t ignore your fellow classmates. Form study groups and help each other. They are most likely facing the same pressures that you are, and a study group can also function as a support group at times. You are not going through this alone.

#5 Don’t give up. At times, you might feel like just giving up as it’s too hard, too much pressure. When you hit those walls, close your books and take a time out. Take a breath and believe in yourself.

#6 Attend the official university graduation. It might seem like trivial advice, but the closure this brings to your studies cannot be understated and you deserve to be a part of the official pomp and ceremony as much as anyone else.

DNS: What made you decide to further your education with Kaplan instead of other institutions?

BS: When I initially considered pursuing a degree, it was the first name that came to mind as I knew that Kaplan is one of the world’s largest education providers globally, especially in part-time education, which was a prerequisite for me.

Kaplan has also won many awards for its educational processes and has a proven track record of delivering results. I also have friends who have studied with Kaplan before, and they shared with me the various forms of additional support that Kaplan provides for its students.

 

Lai Shuzhen

35, Procurement Associate

Bachelor of Business Studies (Honours) in Logistics and Supply Chain Management (Top-up)

DollarsAndSense (DNS): What does a typical day, with both work and school, look like for you and how do you balance both commitments?

Shuzhen (SZ): My job requires me to travel to different sites and as far as Jurong Island. On school days, I need to make arrangements to ensure that I can leave work on time.

I’m immensely grateful to have supportive superiors and colleagues who’ve even covered for me so I could leave earlier if necessary. Thanks to their support, I have never been late for any of my classes.

DNS: How do you think this experience of balancing both work and studies has benefitted you?

SZ: From my experience studying part-time, I learned about the importance of time management and prioritisation. Work and study are both important, so I have to constantly prioritise either one at different stages. For instance, during recess week, I would work longer hours. When it is near the exam period, I would give emphasis to my studies.

DNS: Looking back at your experience, if there was one thing you would do differently, what would it be?

SZ: I would have pursued my tertiary studies even earlier. Having graduated from polytechnic many years ago, I feared going back to school again. Those fears were unfounded, and after doing well in Term 1, I was motivated to do better for subsequent terms.

DNS: What advice would you give to someone that is about to study for their degree while working?

SZ: Be courageous to make the decision to study and have the perseverance to overcome any challenges along the way!

Read Also: Taking a Business Degree? Here Are the Different Types of Specialisations You Can Consider To Prepare Yourself for the Business World

 

Sunil Kumar Sukula

34, Risk & Training Specialist, Certis CISCO Aviation

Bachelor of Business Studies (Honours) in Management (Top-up)

DollarsAndSense (DNS): What are some of the biggest challenges you faced when juggling your work commitments with studying for your degree?

Sunil Kumar Sukula (SKS):  The long days were definitely challenging, but the toughest aspect would probably be doing the assignments, followed by studying for the exams, especially if you want to achieve exceptionally good results.

During my studies, I was also given some important projects at work which resulted in me having a huge workload together with school commitments. To excel at both, I significantly reduced my family time and social life with friends. I remember going to the office on weekends just so I could do my assignments without distractions.

DNS: How do you think this experience of balancing both work and studies has benefitted you?

SKS: The exact dates of my classes are known in advance, so this helps me plan ahead.  Assignment submission helps students sharpen our discipline and punctuality, and this makes time and workload management critical. These are all important traits for success in the working world.

DNS: Looking back at your experience, if there was one thing you would do differently, what would it be?

SKS: Taking a degree was a new experience for me and I had a rough start. I didn’t even know how to write academic assignments effectively at first, and my grades were lowest in my first 2 terms. Fortunately, in my 3rd term, I had a good lecturer who helped me develop the skills I needed to excel in writing academic papers and exams. From there my results shot up and I never looked back. I’d love to have picked up those skills earlier!

DNS: What advice would you give to someone that is about to study for their degree while working? 

SKS: For some courses, you have to be prepared for a “crash course” as there might not be any term break between academic terms. While you’re able to complete your programme much faster, the main drawback would be the rush to complete your assignments, especially during the exam period.

DNS: What made you decide to further your education with Kaplan instead of other institutions?

SKS: I wanted to pursue a degree to aid my progression at work as well have the opportunity to network with more people from different walks of life.

Rather than explore a completely new field, I wanted to build on my Diploma in Management from Nanyang Polytechnic, and the management Degree by University College Dublin (UCD) is one of the most established programmes offered at Kaplan. Even government agencies were sponsoring their staff to attend it.

Furthermore, UCD is a University based in Ireland with a similar education system to Singapore. From my research, learning that it is ranked in the Top 1% of universities worldwide gave me the confidence to take up their programme.

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A Journey Both Challenging And Fulfilling

From the experiences of Barry, Shuzhen and Sunil, we learn that the process of studying for a degree while working is a challenging yet fulfilling one.

Through this journey of higher education, they picked up valuable skills, quality education and strong academic support.

For those looking to do the same, part-time studies would allow you to enjoy greater flexibility in balancing your full-time job and studies. Towards this end, Kaplan has partnered with University College Dublin (UCD) for the past 25 years to offer Degree programmes to both full-time and part-time students.

UCD is ranked among the Top 1% of institutions worldwide by the Times Higher Education, and students enjoy the same quality of guidance as students on their main campus in Ireland as the lecturers are flown in from there.

You can find out more about the programmes offered by Kaplan here.