Posted December 05, 2014 by

5 Tips for Finishing a Degree While You Work or Travel

College student reading outdoors lying in the grass

College student reading outdoors lying in the grass. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Not every high school student or young adult is set on acquiring a college diploma through the traditional four-year college experience, or right away. And with so many options to obtain and finish degrees at your disposal, you simply don’t have to. Whether it’s because you’re already working hard at your own start-up or you’ve just secured the internship of your dreams, you may find that an undergraduate or graduate degree is something you are only interested in pursuing on the side.

If you know a college degree is important, but you don’t want to take a break from the life you’re living to get it, here are five tips to finishing your college degree while you travel the world, intern for public radio, or slave away at your very own tech start-up.

1. Think Through the Finances

It costs money to get a degree, and sometimes, that price tag can get pretty steep. With student debt in America affecting 40 million students to the tune of $29,000 per person or $1.2 trillion across the nation, be sure you’ve thought through the costs of classes, fees, loan interest, eventual payments, and more before you choose where and how you pursue your degree. Whether you decide to attend a traditional four-year college or you chip away at it over the course of seven years with a combination of intensive summer classes and online courses designed to help you graduate, remember that you’re spending real money, and make decisions with that in mind.

2. Think Practically

A college or graduate degree is first and foremost an opportunity to expand your knowledge and your experience of the world, but diving for the pearls of education should still be practical. Make sure the courses you choose to take will work together to earn you a degree. When you apply to a new school or online institution — especially if it’s one from which you plan to get your diploma — make sure they’ll accept the credits you’ve already earned, so you don’t have to repeat work. And while most people change careers multiple times over the course of their lives, aim for a degree that will help you get a job within your desired field or industry.

3. Find a School That’s Accredited

Accreditation does a lot more than just increase the cost of credit hours. Taking courses from an accredited institution will protect your investment of time and money, because accredited schools are recognized by other accredited schools, financial institutions, and employers as providing a valid and valuable education. It’s also essential to earn a degree from an accredited school if you ever want to attend graduate school.

4. Develop a Timeline and Stick to It

When you’re going to school on the side, time can get away from you. Months can stretch into years, and years can stretch into decades. If it’s important to you to complete your degree, define the amount of time you’re allotting yourself to complete it, and then, stick to it. Whether you want to be done by the time you’re 25 or you just want to apply to graduate school before you’re 30 is immaterial. Just define your goal, and take the necessary steps to ensure you meet it, or you may realize you’re stuck in a career you might not like as much anymore without a degree.

5. Manage Your Time Well

Students, workers, artists, and travelers of all stripes can be ruined by a lack of organization or a tendency to procrastinate. Because you’re busy with other activities and demands on your time, setting aside time to study while you’re surfing in Maui can seem unimportant. However, if you don’t honor course demands, you’re just wasting time and money. If you really want to finish your degree without letting it take center stage in your life, do yourself a favor and start managing your time well by doing the following:

  • Always do any reading before the class starts.
  • Keep a calendar with reminders about upcoming assignments.
  • Don’t let yourself make excuses.
  • Ask for help as soon as you need it.
  • Spend time every day on schoolwork — even if you don’t have a huge, looming deadline.

It isn’t easy to finish a college degree when you do so in an a la carte fashion, but it is possible. So, follow your heart and pursue your dreams. Just keep an eye on your degree and work toward it at the same time with these five tips.

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