Yes, this is the hectic life I’ve chosen for myself by pursuing a graduate degree part-time while working full-time. Rushed to class, always on the run, this affordable way to earn an advanced degree isn’t for everyone, but it could be your best option.
Part-Time or Full-Time?
For those who are sure that they are going to pursue a degree, the decision whether to attend full or part-time can be very difficult. In some cases, you won’t have any choice. It’s pretty hard to get your PhD part-time, you’d be going to school for the next 20 years. Also, some top-ranked programs don’t offer a part-time option.
However, some degrees lend themselves well to part-time programs – especially those that relate specifically to your job. Below is a breakdown of the pros and cons of deciding to pursue a graduate degree on a part-time basis:
- Tuition reimbursement packages can make a degree affordable (so find out if your company will subsidize your education, either partially or fully)
- Maintaining an income while in school will allow you to keep up your lifestyle and continue to save money
- Upon graduating, you’ll have additional, -building work experience under your belt
- Balancing a complex schedule gives excellent experience for handling greater amounts of responsibility in the future
- Overloaded schedule with work, classes, and study
- Limited social life
- Reduced ability to make contacts and network
- Limited number of top-caliber programs
- Can take up to four years to get a two-year degree
- Tax penalties for tuition reimbursement
What It’s Really Like
As a part-time MBA student, I lead a stressful and busy life. I work about 50 hours a week at my job. I typically have six hours of class every week, and spend another six hours a week studying. Add in the commute back and forth to class, and I have little time for a social life. Before business school, I watched an average of three sporting events a week, now I’m lucky to see two a month. I’m very fortunate that I have a patient and understanding girlfriend willing to put up with my chaotic schedule. However, if you’re single and plan to work full-time and study part-time, forget about dating.
As a part-time student, I believe that the actual education I received is on par with a full-time degree, especially since I take the same courses and have the same professors as full-time students. Though full-time students have more time for social and extra-curricular activities – and a better opportunity to network, join clubs and seek out future opportunities while at school.
The Financial Perspective
My decision to pursue an MBA part-time was mostly financially motivated. Having just paid off my credit card debts for good, I didn’t relish the thought of taking on a huge amount of debt. Once you factor in books, fees, rent, and basic living expenses, taking two years off for school can cost almost $100,000 while you’re earning no income. To put that in perspective, imagine paying back a $100,000 loan at 8% interest over a 10-year period – that works out to monthly payments of $1213. And you thought your car payments were high! In addition to an aversion to high debt, I had just been promoted at work and was now earning an income high enough to begin saving and investing. The decision was sweetened by the fact that my employer was willing to reimburse my tuition.
Tuition reimbursement is a great option. However, many students are not aware of serious income tax consequences that could result. The Internal Revenue Service rules for deducting tuition are complex and can be interpreted ambiguously. For this reason, most companies take the easy route, considering tuition reimbursement as income and taking out. Over the course of a degree, these taxes could cost you as much as $25,000, depending on your tax bracket. If you decide to pursue a degree through tuition reimbursement, it is vital to get a good accountant to advise you on your rights and options. Depending on your individual situation, you may be able to deduct some or all of your tuition, and even get back some taxes taken out by your employer.
The Right Choice?
For some people with credit problems, going full-time may not be option. For others with families, part-time may not be an alternative. However, there is a right choice for you – just think carefully about your situation and watch as much baseball as possible before classes start.