Want to study full-time and work full-time? Here’s how I did it.

A story about a millennial job hopper, an academic, corporate girl turned blogger and now a business woman.

I remember when I finally made the decision to go back to university after a year of taking a break from studying. There were a lot of negative thoughts that I had to fight: “That’s impossible, will you cope?” “How will you manage all of that?” “Are you smart enough for a new degree?” Then there was the fear, the anxiety and the doubt that takes over.

However, there were other voices too that said: “you can do it” or my mother who reminded me that I had no children, no household obligations because when I get home or at the university residence, I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking for anyone or preparing food for a child or a household. I just had to prioritize my work and take care of myself. I really felt a lot privileged in that sense. There were my friends who also told me that “if anyone can do this, it’s you.”

That was all the motivation I needed to tackle my Masters journey. Positive reinforcement and the the self believe that I could definitely do this.  Especially since I was breaking into a totally new faculty (law) which was different from what I had done in my undergraduate degree (occupational therapy). I also recall Googling: “How to work full-time and study full-time,” I didn’t really find examples from South Africa, but I had a friends who had and were doing this and I felt more eager and inspired to do it as it was possible. At times I wished that I had more freedom for my studies and that I didn’t have to work, but I liked how my skills were being sharpened in two different areas of life at the same time. I also loved the financial independence that I gained by working full-time.

Note: Studying any degree or diploma is not easy at all, especially one that requires you to give almost up to 80% of your time on a daily basis. What makes the journey tough is not having sufficient support. Support comes in many streams such as family, friends, a source of funding and supportive lecturers or institutions. At the end of the day, these are the places we run to when we are in need in our academic careers and identifying your support structure from the beginning is vital for your academic success. You cannot go at it alone.

Tip: Identify your support structure, speak to it about your hopes for your degree and make sure those people are giving you good advice that can enable you to run your academic journey with positive vibes.

HOW DID IT ALL START?

University of Cape Town
University of Cape Town

I graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2014 with a BSc in Occupational Therapy. After we qualify, and by we I mean the health and rehabilitation practitioners in South Africa from all the intuitions (physiotherapists, audiologists, dietitians, speech therapists, etc.).  We have to complete a year of paid community service (Comm Serve) where we work in government hospitals in order to obtain an independent practitioner accreditation from the Health Professions Council of South Africa. The lovely part about Comm Serve is that you get a fully paid job with health insurance and employee benefits right after university, so no stress. I was also a bursary holder and so the provincial health department had to prioritize a vacancy for me after Comm Serve and I got first preference of where I wanted to work, provided that was within the Free State area. I chose a hospital closer to home, so I could save on rental and be closer to my family.

Reality Check: No job  after Comm Serve

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At the end of my Comm Serve year, there were no guarantees of a permanent job at the hospital where I was working and I had to hunt for my own job by mid-year into my Comm Serve year (June 2015). After about three interviews, I got a job as an occupational therapist at a Mining company in Gauteng. This was like a dream job because I enjoyed functional assessments and work rehabilitation and plus coming from a family of mining workers, I finally had the opportunity of being in the mine myself and assisting people there (assisting people to go back to work after an injury or an illness).

In the same year, I had also applied for my postgraduate studies, to study further. I applied for a Masters in Public Health with a focus on Human Rights and a Masters in Human Rights Law. As I didn’t have a law degree in undergrad, I could still do my Masters in law, but my qualification would be an Masters of Philosophy (MPhil ) and not an LLM. The same applies to anyone with a different degree who wishes to do a Masters in another discipline either than the one you qualified in. At the end of 2015 I was accepted for both these degrees at the University of  Cape Town and I was beyond excited! I had to choose one and it was a tough decision to make. As I had always been fascinated by the law, and being born on human rights with a curiosity on what these rights were and my shocking experience of poor service delivery, or the lack thereof for public health service users during my Comm Serve, the human rights degree felt more meaningful and interesting. I wanted to get answers and I felt that it could offer me something different.

1. Leaving a full-time, permanent job for my studies

Gonubie Eastern Cape
It didn’t look much like this, but it felt like stepping into the unknown. (Me in Gonubie Eastern Cape)

I was one month into my job, loving and hating it at the same time. It was in a remote area and I felt a bit stagnant at 23 years old. The environment felt like it was more for someone ready to settle down with a husband or a family and it really was not for me. Although I loved the work, my heart was more in Cape Town. I had indicated to my faculty that I would start my Masters in 2017 after a year of working. However, after a week at work, I indicated I would start in June because I really couldn’t see myself there in the long run. The other trouble was that I could not do my Masters over correspondence and I had to be physically present in lectures to be able to write exams, which meant I had to be based in Cape Town full-time. During my time at work, I would use my lunch breaks to make phone calls and also enroll for scholarships because if I was going to go full-time into studying without working, I would need funding. As I had not intended to start my studies in 2016, all applications had already closed for 2016.

Tip: Plan ahead. If you intend on studying any degree and you need funding, always apply a year in advance. The University of Cape town, for example, usually sends out all types of scholarship applications for post-graduate studies. Visit http://www.uct.ac.za www.uct.ac.za  to see more of their open scholarship opportunities. I will provide a blog post on the different scholarships you can look out for to support your post-graduate studies.

As the saying goes, even if you are late, just apply anyway, the worst thing they can say is they are closed. So I applied to one scholarship and had a lengthy call about why I needed funding and even though their deadline for applications had passed, they still considered my application and ended up making an offer to fund my studies. However I only got my fees paid by the end of the year.

2. Doing part-time work at the University

The best part about post-graduate studies is that you no longer have FULL DAY lectures on a daily basis and this frees you up to spare you time to generate an income using your skills in other areas. One of the best use of your time could be helping out at the university like tutoring. I was a Small Group facilitator at the School of Public Health at UCT and this was a really fun job because I had my own group of students that I supervised and I also got the opportunity to lecture at one point. If you are studying and don’t have any other means to generate income as a student, the university is the best place to look.

 I remember having an interview for the above position over Skype while I was still working at the mining company and ended up getting the offer. My scholarship also seemed promising and this gave me the confidence to take the leap of faith to pack and leave my steady job for Cape Town at the end of January. Luckily, I also had university accommodation, so I wouldn’t be stranded while in Cape Town. I had a roof over my head, a promise of a scholarship and a part-time job that could help me survive and I was good to go!

Thinking back at that moment, it was the most craziest thing I’ve ever done and scary too. I couldn’t believe how brave I was to do that. I still remember that on my last day at work while doing an exit health assessment (compulsory at the mines), I received a call for a job offer at one of the hospitals in the Free State and I had to turn it down because I had already made up my decision to go study. Looking back that was also very brave of me and I was sure of myself that things would work out in the end, and they did. Even though they worked out only after a few skin break outs, tears and endless job hunting – eventually things worked out.

3. Job Hunt

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As my scholarship did not pay my fees on time because the board had to decide on my application and I would call day in and day out to follow-up on it, only to find that they had not finalized my application. I was really not certain that I would be funded and I decided to look for a job to pay of my fees, in case I did not get the funding. Getting a full-time job also meant that I could  afford my lifestyle, as my part-time job was not going to afford me all of that. Although I loved working at the university, I couldn’t really find a full-time academic job (which is what I really wanted), that could help me pay off my fees, so I looked for corporate jobs that I could still do with my occupational therapy degree.

I applied and got an interview at a health risk management company  and an insurance company. The health risk management company was paying double what I got at my part-time job and I could still attend my lectures as well, but only if they were in the afternoons, after work. I then accepted the offer and stopped working at the university.

Tip: If you cannot afford to be out of work because no employer can guarantee that they will give you a few hours off during working hours for you to attend your lectures, try to choose courses that you can attend during the evenings or sometimes you might even need to do your studies part-time if that is an option.

My situation was rather different because if I took on part-time studies, I would lose my university accommodation and would have to look for a new apartment. That would mean that I would have to pay for that apartment every month until my scholarship paid. But if I stayed in Res, then my scholarship would pay all that money as long as it was on the university account. I ended up staying in res and had to choose subjects that took place in the afternoons from 15:45 on wards just so I could maintain my full-time study profile. I also learnt later on that full-time studies also guaranteed me more study leave at work, but this could differ from company-company.

4. Transitioning from part-time work to full time work

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The other insurance job then made an offer while I was just one month into my job at the health risk management company. The offer the insurance company made was double compared to what the health risk management company had offered and they had way more benefits and the offer was also permanent. I disclosed my study obligations with each company before starting and they were only able to accommodate me if I took up courses in the afternoons and I could then leave a bit earlier. At the end of May I decided to leave the health risk management company and started working for the insurance company in July. We had flexi-hours at the time I started my new job, so if you accumulated a certain amount of time above your required 8 hour shift, then you could leave a bit earlier on certain days. I used these hours to leave early for my classes when I needed to. I only had two classes a week and this worked out pretty well for me. I also started this job in my second semester, so by then I had already successfully completed and passed two courses and only had two more remaining, which was such a relief.

Things.Do.Work.Out.

5. Balancing full-time work, studies and a side hustle

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Note: Before you take on the challenge of balancing a full-time job with full-time/part-time studies, you really have to prepare to make some sacrifices and tiny adjustments to your lifestyle. I didn’t believe it at first, but it actually does hit you when you can’t go out on a Friday night because you have readings and an assignment to due for Monday.  Sometimes you are in exam week and you can’t really be part of a girls trip or a boys trip with your friends or even family vacations. I didn’t see my family for the whole year and I only saw them in December when they came for a vacation in Cape Town. However, if you are confident enough and disciplined to work on your readings and assignments during the week, then you will be fine and be able to manage to fit in some fun here and there.

I just had too much going on and hardly enough time to relax.  I also gave up social media at one point and that really helped me to numb all the social pressures from friends and things people were getting up to. I also saw how this energized my creative thinking. During my social media hiatus, I took up mindfulness courses to help me meditate and focus, which was so helpful to me and my mental health. I was more aware, more conscious and more focused. I also noticed that my creativity was heightened after that and when I went back to social media I made more changes to my content, started a YouTube Channel (which I need to re-visit), and also started thinking of business ideas that led me to my blog and my current business Shweshwekini.

6. Self Care

Listen to your body and pay attention when you are about to reach burn-out. Burn-out is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”

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If you intend on studying and working full-time then you need to manage your time and yourself very well. Remember you are taking on two caseloads at once: work and school. I had colleagues that would ask me how I managed because our job was already so intense and my academic obligations were also not a walk in the park. I can’t tell you how, but I think my adrenaline sustained me for sometime.

We aren’t always perfect and sometimes we reach a state of imbalance and when this happens, just listen to your body. Take time out. I wish I had taken some leave when I had the opportunity, but I was in auto-pilot mode for such a long time that I didn’t realize how deep I was invested in my work and studies.

Tip: Invest in some mindfulness course or try to meditate on a daily basis. I took a Mindfulness course with Future Learn (they have amazing free online courses). I also took up some additional free courses too, to expand my knowledge in other areas too and to take my mind off my hectic life and just do some courses that didn’t require so much brain power. That really helped a lot and also reading for leisure.

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Table Mountain

Yoga also helps, so if you already have a gym membership, do take some Yoga classes. Exercise is underrated too, I would go hiking sometimes, but I also noticed how I gave up exercising because I just felt so overwhelmed by everything. I even stopped running marathons, but kept on losing weight because I was really stressed out most of the time. I am a huge believer in listening to your body and what it needs, so exercising felt like a burden at the time, however I was managing my weight and what I ate very well. If you find relief in exercise or Yoga or just cooling off and sleeping, then do what makes sense to you. Also try to add in some social time, to see people and just speak to someone, it really helps to take you out of your  “academic/work/life” mode. Connect with nature, watch series and do something fun from time-time.

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Note: As long as you do everything in moderation and don’t procrastinate, you will be fine.

Sometimes, you just have to make sacrifices here and there to get the job done. I remember how I would neglect lunch with my colleagues to go over some readings for class that I was not able to finish the night before. My ‘normal’ sleeping patterns looked a lot like going to bed after midnight and waking up at 5am to get ready for work. In some courses like law you have to dedicate at least 10+ hours a week on your studies in order  for you to do really well and that’s just for reading.

As I mentioned above, I negotiated to leave earlier in the afternoons to make it on time for my 4pm classes and this worked out pretty well.

Tip: Speak to your employer if you need time out for yourself to just breathe. It also helps if your job and college/university are within reaching distance to each other because you have to factor in uncontrollable things like traffic getting to varsity, particularly during peak hours. No matter what you do, practice open communications both ways, with your employer and your institution because when it comes to exams and tests you also have to be able to negotiate times that can work for you as well as for the rest of your class.

7. On Starting a side hustle

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During the early days in my Masters, I realized that not being able to socialize as often as I did in undergrad, meant that I had more time to myself in my spare time. So I started a YouTube channel where I could distress and hopefully channel my creative side there. I was very active in the early days, but exams and too much work just got in the way. Here’s the link to the channel and I hope to refine it this year and be more consistent: Mapitso YouTube Channel  By the end of 2016, I had registered my blog and started writing content and this was more easier to manage than my YouTube channel and I found writing more productive.

It became easier to be consistent with the blog because by the end of 2016, I was done with all my academic courses and only had the research study to focus on. This also freed up some time for me to also focus on launching Shweshwekini. I would go to work, finish, then get back to res and write up a blog post. At the time I was still busy applying for ethical approval for my research and that too was a bit demanding. When Shweshwekini finally came into the picture, I really didn’t feel much of pressure or any slack in my work, instead I was way more efficient with my client queries, social media and even photoshoots. I was exhausted most of the time, but I was eager to keep the business going. The only stressor for me at the time was my research, as the work pilled up and the data transcription got even more intense. It became more overwhelming and I think at some point I reached burn out.

However, even though the work got a bit intense, my creative hustles really kept me going and I didn’t give up on the blog or Shweshwekini. Although I hoped to take a break from the business in 2018, just to focus on my studies, I couldn’t because there were so many media requests. When you have a business life doesn’t stop and the business has its own life and needs that need to be taken care of. I still showed up for the business where I could, but this was not my best year. I remember the week of Shweshwekini’s 1st birthday, in the same week I was preparing for my speech and presentation on my research project, at the World Federation of Occupational Therapists and also planning our party with Amarula and organizing cake and guest lists and still being at work from 9-5. That was really a tough time, but I made it through it all. Check out the event on this link : Shweshwekini Turns 1

In the end my new normal was work, business and blog and it all became my new normal. However, at the end of my Masters I really felt like I needed something new, a new environment to start over. I made the decision to move to Johannesburg to be closer to my family. When you have been operating under so much pressure for a long time, it almost feels alien to have “free time.” I felt like a new person the day after I submitted my research. But funny enough I felt like I lost something too, a piece of me because for a long time my studies became part of my identity and story. I was not prepared for that sense of loss that I experienced.

Instagram Q&A + Tips

I ran a Q&A on my Instagram stories and I received some interesting questions on how I managed my full time studies and working full time. I also got a few tips and tricks too. I will share my responses to these questions below and also on my YouTube Channel soon:

Questions:

1. How did you not get overwhelmed?

I definitely got overwhelmed in the beginning while I was still trying to find a good balance. Particularly from the transition from part-time to full-time work.  Then once I found a job, I established a proper balance. I think I got overly overwhelmed when I started my research project, by then I had my blog and Shweshwekini. The research  was tough in that most of the things that happened, like getting the research group or getting feedback on time, was not up to you, so that was frustrating. I also really started getting overwhelmed after my data collection was complete and I had to analyse the data, that was a LOT and I started doubting myself and putting it off. That was awful.

2. “How did you manage not to slack on your studies? “

  • By understanding that yes I was doing this for myself, but also for the kids that inspired me to start my masters in the first place. Also having a scholarship means that someone has believed in you so much, that you cannot disappoint them. I was not prepared to fail or give-up on myself and that is how I kept the focus and grind on, even when I didn’t feel like it.

3. “Did you have a social life?” 

  • Yes I did, but not in abundance as most of my friends from undergrad had left UCT and so I was by myself most of the time. Some of my other friends were working too so the dynamics were a bit different. However, my blog really helped me to get out some more and attend events and meet new people and that was basically how I enjoyed my “social” life whilst studying. I also tried to make sometime for dinners and outings with friends here and there. Also being in a city like Cape Town makes you want to get out, which is awesome.

4. “I just want to know your study methods because when I get home from work I sleep”

  • I know this struggle so well. I don’t really have a study method, but this is more of what I did to combat the need to sleep after work. I would drive to res after work and often didn’t really nap, unless I was really tired or had a headache. But I would always get into some comfortable clothing and make some dinner, eat and go to campus to study. Removing yourself from tempting environments, that is home, TV, etc and going to an environment that facilitates studying was helpful for me. So ditch home and go to the library or your study room or even stay late at work and do your study work after you knock-off and just before you get home. I also did that sometimes.

5. “What keeps you going?”

  • I’ve always been an overachiever and wanted to get things done and do work that I am proud of, so that really keeps me going. Also having a mom who is a hard worker is really inspiring because I get to see her definition of hard work and mirror that in what I do.

6. “Have you ever failed and how did you handle it?”

  • I’ve never really failed big time on my academic studies, if this is the question.  Maybe just not getting the result that I wanted, like getting a 2nd instead of a 1st. I think failure is relative, so my failures look a lot like not really doing my utmost best when I know what I’m capable of. Or holding back and not speaking my mind or doing what I intended on doing because I was too scared. So now I really go for the opportunities that I want and I don’t hold back because if I do, I have to deal with the regrets and there’s nothing I hate more than saying “I should have” or hosting my own pity parties. I’d rather be like: “Done that, got the T-shirt, now what’s next?” My failures are just lessons in disguise.

6. “How do you deal with stress and anxieties towards your exams?”

  • I know exams can be stressful, but I’ve always enjoyed exam periods more than actual day-day school and lectures. So I use exam time to really learn and get to know the course work way better than I did in class. I enjoy the adrenaline and pressure that comes with exams. So I normally just take it one page at a time, or one topic at a go and split my time accordingly. I make a lot of notes in class and this is often helpful when I go over the material for the exams. Instead of looking at the work as overwhelming, I normally just try to enjoy the course all over and imagine myself as a lecturer teaching someone else and that often results in me understanding the work better.

7. “How are you still alive? What has been your biggest challenge?”

  • Haha, I also ask myself this question all the time! I think just knowing your purpose can keep you alive. My biggest challenge has always been the transition, leaving one familiar area for a totally uncharted avenue, that is always challenging. I find that it gets really tough to speak up, especially for myself and I’m unlearning that slowly, but I can speak up for anyone else at any point (haha).

8. Some tips from Instagram on surviving full-time work and studies were:

  • Motivation and Time management.

Conclusion

We all want to further our education at some point in our adult life and and if you are at the stage in your life, but not sure if you can do it,  stop, think, see what is feasible and go for it! I have learnt a lot while doing this myself and these are some  important tips and tricks I’ve learnt for studying full-time while working full-time:

  • Never procrastinate (as you have to split your time between work and studies), so tackle your course assignments on time and never leave them for the last minute because you might suffer from anxiety and burnout from work and school demands
  • Make sure to be transparent to your supervisors and managers about your commitments to study, studying is actually encouraged in most work environments and some courses might even be paid by your employer if they can benefit the business in some way. So do tell your employer about your studies and it also makes things easier when you have to apply for study leave for your exams.
  • Get your HR handbook on study leave and study bursaries. Sometimes your managers might not be fully aware about the benefits due to you as a studying employee, so it’s best to check with HR and then use this information to apply for your study leave (which is separate from your annual leave) and to further apply for a work scholarship/bursary/funding.
  • If your studies require you to be in class in the late afternoons from 4pm or 5pm, make sure that you work closer to the institution, this makes it less stressful if you have to commute from work to school.
  • understand why you are doing this, is it to get another qualification? Get a raise or maybe just learning something interesting? Whatever the motivation is make sure you keep that as a reminder and manage your time.
  • Enjoy it, it really was fund studying and working at the same time, you get to be a rich student and I wish I had squeezed in some travel too, but hopefully next time.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please follow the blog to get updates on new blog posts and also comment with your questions if they were not covered. I’d also love to hear from you if you have been in a similar situation before and I’d love to hear how you managed, so please also leave your comments below.

Until next time, follow your passion and do it anyway!

Xoxo

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