As most of you might know, last autumn I started my Master’s Degree while still working a full-time job. The way I decided to do it was by enrolling into an online programme and so, in today’s post I want to share all about why I chose to study an online masters degree while working full-time and how has that turned out so far.
I like learning, I am one of those people who remember their university days as one of the best experiences. To be honest, I love the actual studying process, the days spent at the library and even taking exams – I was generally never too stressed about exams. Before I even finished my Bachelor I knew that I wanted to also do a Master’s Degree or even more than one and so it was only a matter of time. Initially, I got into a two-year Master’s Programme in Economics & Public Policy right after finishing my Bachelor degree but since I started working full-time short before graduating I decided to keep my job and not start the Master’s. To be honest, it wasn’t that the job was that great what kept me but it was the fact that I was earning money and I needed a way to sustain myself; simple math.
Ever since, I have been trying to find a good timing to retake studying but soon realized there would be no right opportunity for me to take a break from work and dedicate myself to full-time studying. Being out of the workforce for one or two years did not sound to me as the right way to go for several reasons:
- First, practical experience is really key in my opinion and learning on the job cannot be replaced and so I felt like the more I got the better.
- Second, I had one clear idea in my head, I did not want to quit my full-time job. I’ve worked hard to get here and to be honest I wasn’t in the mood for a “setback” – especially given that I had already changed industries once and therefore experienced a pay cut once already.
- In addition to all of this, and probably a key driver for going for a part-time or online programme was the fact that I would still need to sustain myself through one or two years of studying, so not working was never really an option.
On the motivational level, what drove me were two factors. First, I wanted to have a Master’s Degree on my CV and second, I needed more fulfilment – something that I knew my day job could not fully provide (which is also a reason why I started this blog). And there is even a third reason, I sort of realized I need to be more active in order to be more active – if that makes sense. The first two years of working I did just that, work and for me the less things I do the less energy I have.
I also think that at this point for me it’s not really worth it to invest two years full-time in studying as the value that I would be getting from just doing that versus working & studying remotely is not as high. I also talked to people who did their Master’s degrees and generally people agreed with my thinking, unless you are doing a $40,000 MBA Degree that you can acually afford, it’s not really worth it.
Initially I wanted to find a part-time programme with classes on the weekend or in the evenings but unfortunately I could not find anything that would fit my profile in Berlin or nearby and so I went for a purely online methodology at a very decent price.
How does it work and how is the quality of the courses?
The basic idea is that there is an online portal (most likely very similar to whatever you had at the university when studying full-time) where professors upload the materials and assignments and where you also get to interact with other students.
The way my programme works is that there are different modules, each taking place for four weeks at a time with some overlapping here and there. During this time you have reading material and a debate or case study per week, two webinars per module and generally a final paper or a final exam. There are also some workshops in addition to the modules which are designed generally as optional and to provide additional knowledge.
Interactions with other students
This was a huge concern for me as a big part of the value you are getting from a Master’s Programme is the connections piece. You get to meet people from different parts of the world and with different backgrounds and it’s something you can then leverage later on.
Luckily, I cannot say I am disappointed with this. The online portal allows everyone to connect and talk to each other. Many assignments consist of online debates where you get to see other people’s point of views and learn from their experiences and its’ pretty cool. Moreover, we also have professors who get that connecting with people is a key piece and so they encourage connecting and leveraging networks such as LinkedIn for example. At the end of the day we are not as close as we would be in a full-time programme but we still have a WhatsApp group where we can chat about course and non-course related things and we even plan travelling together and meeting each other.
Interactions with professors
To be honest, this is something that is clearly not as “high quality” as in a full-time course. You don’t get to interact with professors as much as I would want but there is still a solid amount of interactions. As everywhere else, some of the professors are more involved and comment on all of the debates and share their assessments and so on, while others are much more passive. We have almost weekly webinars for each course and we get the chance to directly ask questions and so on, so that is always good. We can also reach out separately to professors if we have questions or doubts so that is just the usual spiel.
What about working full-time and studying, how do I manage it?
It’s all about making it a priority in the days I and weeks prior to which I have an important deliverable.
If I have an assignment – which is the case every single week – I just need to stay disciplined and dedicate time to studying, reading and writing papers once I get home after work pretty much every single day. Even though at 7-8 pm when I get home all I want to do is relax, I have to stay strong and open my studying portal and get things done. As of January, I have also been good at waking up earlier in the mornings and dedicating some time to studying or blogging before work.
The drawback now is that if I have a busy week at work it’s very easy to fall behind with work for school. I am having a particularly full year at work due to being at the forefront of a new big project and so this is something I have to be very careful about. Many times I need to get serious over the weekend and do nothing but catch up with writing papers.
Another thing is that now I also tend to drag my laptop with me when going on holidays and find a cafe or a library where I spend a few hours here and there doing some work. I love working out of libraries and cafes so I don’t really complain about this part, I really enjoy it.
Do I have any special tricks to balance it all? Not really. I have currently paused my gym subscription due to the work and study load for February and March for example (and I am not saying I am necessarily happy about it) as I knew beforehand I would simply not have enough time to make it there. Instead I do yoga at home and this way it takes less time.
I am also working from home almost every Friday and try to use the time I save up on the commute and getting ready to study. However, I must admit I haven’t mastered this yet as generally on the home office days I tend to work even longer hours because there is literally no distraction.
The one huge thing helping me and that I can afford to do every now and then is taking some Fridays off to catch up with studying. I am lucky to have carried over quite a few holiday days from last year and so far I took at least one Friday a month off which is amazing to finish assignments or papers. So if you can do this, is the one thing I highly recommend to do and it also helps to stay sane.
Bottom line – What’s the balance after four months?
At the moment I am honestly loving it. I was positively surprised about the quality of the programme as, to be honest, my expectations weren’t too high at the start. I sort of assumed that an online programme would not have the same quality as a full-time one.
Also, to be very fair, I am studying a subject that I am familiar with. I studied Business and Economics and so a Master’s Degree in International Management while also working with huge, international companies at my day job makes for a good combination. I can think that going for a Degree in a very different or intense field might be much harder to handle at the same time with a day job and require even more discipline.
Overall, I would recommend this to everyone that wants to continue the education without having the possibility or the mood for quitting their day job and going back into education full-time. In my opinion, at least for my case, it would not really be worth it to invest two years full-time in studying as the value that I would be getting from just doing that versus working & studying remotely is not as high.
As usual, I’ve went overboard with details but if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and let me know if you have any other questions that I might not have covered!