Working while in grad school: Is it possible?

Grad School Admissions

For many students, the ability (or at least, the possibility) to work while in grad school is a big determinant as to whether school is even feasible for them (after all, there is only so much that is covered by institutional aid). However, while many students would like to work while they are in school, many programs prohibit it--or, at least, discourage it. What's the deal with working while in grad school, and will you be able to do it?

Can full-time graduate students work?

For the most part, whether you can or can't work while attending a graduate program will be determined by the graduate program itself. As mentioned above, some graduate programs (particularly full-time doctoral programs) expressly prohibit working; these programs require that students consider their Ph.D. studies their full-time occupation. Other programs, while they don't forbid working, strongly discourage or frown upon it; in that case, keeping a low profile about your employment is a good idea (and, certainly, never use it as an excuse for why your work is not done or submitted on time). 

What about part-time graduate students?

Students in part-time graduate programs (both masters and doctoral), of course, are not only expected, but often encouraged to work. Although part-time students will find that they devote much more time to their studies than they originally anticipated, many still continue to work either full- or part-time--in fact, for many, that's the original impetus for attending a part-time academic program in the first place. However, be prepared: Part-time grad school is still grad school and, if you work as well as go to school, you will likely find that those are the only two things you have time for in the day. You may find that, as time goes on and your work load gets heavier and more complex, you may not have time to work at all.

Do evening program graduate students get to work?

When it comes to evening programs, many of the same stipulations applied to part-time programs apply (particularly because evening programs are, at their core, akin to part-time programs). Again, though, be prepared--many students go into these programs expecting to have a more spread out workload, and are surprised when the hours of homework, reading, and research start piling up. Students in evening programs will likely have a slightly more flexible schedule and more time between classes than students in part-time programs, but they should still be ready for a heavy flow of coursework to come their way. 

What happens if you've been awarded scholarships/grants/assistantships?

Be sure to read the terms of your financial aid carefully. Many students who are given institutional aid in the form of scholarships and grants may also have no-working-allowed strings attached to their aid. For other students, they are given aid in the form of assistantships (where they work for a professor or professors as a teaching assistant, or "T.A.")--this is a form of graduate work-study, and the students in these assistantships are either given a stipend or a reduction in tuition. Although these graduate students are, in effect, working during grad school, they also need to read the fine print carefully--some assistantships specifically state that students cannot hold any other employment outside of their T.A. work.

So, can you work?

It depends. Some programs will let you, others won't, and others will look the other way. Yet others will expect you to (such as part-time or evening programs), although you're not required to. Start by figuring out if working during grad school is something that is important to you--if it is, make sure to include that as part of what you require in a graduate program, and make sure to ask those questions when you contact the school and while doing your school-selection research. 


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