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Balancing Online Education with Work and Family

Choosing to pursue a Bachelor's Degree, Associate Degree, or Continuing Education credits online is an excellent option for those who need to minimize education expenses and also have responsibilities to children, elderly parents or other family members, and possibly also need to maintain a part-time or even-full time job while going to school. Online education gives students juggling multiple responsibilities the flexibility to attend classes and work on school assignments on their own time and their own schedule. The option to work around other lifestyle demands draws many to online education, but once enrolled, finding that balance between school, work, and family can be easier said than done. But with careful planning and realistic goals, students can be successful. Let's take a closer look at some steps you can take to work successfully toward an online degree while managing the demands of your family and work.

Assess Your Responsibilities

Before you enroll in an online degree program, it's important to take an honest look at all of your work, family, and other life responsibilities. It's important to have a realistic view of how much time your current life demands before you can begin to put together accessible goals for your online education. Keep in mind obligations beyond your work and family as well. These may include current volunteer activities, church involvement, sports clubs, fitness classes, or other social time that contributes to your quality of life. Consider:

  • The number of hours you work per week, including your commute time and any work you typically bring home
  • The number of hours per week that your children or family need your dedicated attention (i.e., when your kids are not in childcare, school, or otherwise occupied)
  • The number of hours per week you dedicate to volunteer, church, or civic groups
  • The number of hours per week you often use for social time with friends or family
  • The number of hours per week you often spend on household tasks such as bills, laundry, meals, repairs, errands, etc.
  • The number of hours per week you need for personal care, such as fitness classes, meditation, relaxation time, reading, etc.


When you first put together the list above, it may seem that there simply isn't enough time left in the day. Consider your priorities and where you may be able to cut back or ask for help. For example, if your dedicated time with your children, spouse or partner, and other family members is already tight, this is an area you probably don't want to skimp on. You might consider postponing your involvement in the PTA or leading a committee at your church until after your degree is complete. And if you've taken an honest look at how you spend your time and realize that you simply need help to make things work, reach out to family, friends, and community. Can your spouse or partner pick up some household responsibilities for awhile? Do you have any friends who might be able to babysit once a week while you work on your school assignments? Keep in mind that your own self care activities, such as taking fitness classes or walks, time to relax, and other down time should only be cut back if you have more than enough time for them now. As you begin an online education, taking care of yourself is vital to staying on top of your assignments while juggling other responsibilities with as little stress as possible.

Create a Realistic Course Load

Once you understand how you are spending your current time, you can begin to get a realistic look at how much time you might reasonably dedicate to online education while maintaining a balanced life. It's important to set an accessible and approachable course load, especially for your first term of online education. This may mean starting with only a few courses and taking things slow. Taking smaller steps toward your degree is far preferable in terms of your overall performance and life balance than trying to cram in more classes than you realistically have time for. Students who take on too much too soon while trying to balance work and family may see their grades suffer and their stress levels rise. So, be honest with yourself. Remember, you can always take on a heavier course load in the future if you realize that you can handle more.

Schedule School Time and Family Time

Once you decide on the number of online courses to enroll in, get as much information as you can from your online college or university about how much time each course will require, on average, per week. Next, it's time to set a schedule. Making and keeping regular appointments is one of the most helpful ways you can stay on track with your online education. First, create a weekly calendar that includes all responsibilities in your life that are inflexible and non-negotiable. These may include your current work schedule and some family obligations. Since you will be able to set your own schedule for classes and school assignments (in most cases), you can then set regular appointments for all school work. Be sure to let your family know when you will be dedicating time to your school work, so that you can minimize interruptions and stay focused. It's also very helpful to set up a work area in your home that is dedicated to your school work and provides a quiet and private environment where you will not be disturbed.

Keep Appointments

Once you've set your appointments, keep them. Set reminders on your calendar and don't allow yourself to postpone appointments unless it is truly necessary. Think of your school appointments as being as important as a meeting with a potential employer. And also be sure to keep your appointments and obligations with your family. If you let these things slide, they are very likely to slide right into the time you have planned to work on school assignments.

Check-In and Adjust

Once you've been running with your online education plan for a few months, take an afternoon to check in with yourself and your family to assess how things are going:

  • Are you keeping your appointments you've set for online class time and school assignments?
  • If you are breaking appointments for online class time, can you pinpoint the reason(s) why?
  • Are you spending enough time with your family?
  • Are you meeting your work obligations?


Once you get an honest look at how things are going, adjust your schedule if needed. Balancing online education, work, and family can be a process of constant negotiation, but as long as you stay on top of necessary adjustments, you have a much higher likelihood for success.


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