Like any graduate program, library school is a big time commitment. Whether your program is online or in person, full time or part time, there’s just no way to get the education you need to be a librarian without putting in a significant chunk of your life. But if time isn’t something you’ve got in spades, is it reasonable to think you can work full time and still do your degree?
My answer: very often yes, but it depends. Many of my classmates work, many are parents. I have to travel once or twice a month for my full time job. Everybody has a life, and most MLS programs get that. That doesn’t mean that every MLS program is going to work with every full-time job though. So how do you go about answering this question for your own life?
First, how much time do you really have? Take an inventory of all of your needs and responsibilities, and estimate how many hours you can reasonably devote to an MLS program per week without being completely overloaded. Be realistic: there are only 168 hours in a week. Assuming you sleep between 6-8 hours each night and work between 40-50 hours a week, you’re left with 62-86 hours in which to commute to work, commute to class, feed and bathe yourself, feed and bathe any children you might be responsible for, take care of pets, run some errands and perform basic housekeeping, maintain some semblance of a social life, exercise occasionally AND do all your reading and other coursework. Every student and every class is different, but I find that I need about 10 hours a week for each of my two classes per semester, less if it’s a light week and more if I have a big assignment in the works. If you don’t have the time, you‘ll have to adjust your schedule or adjust your timeline. No shame in part-time.
Next, understand that this is going to take a lot of organization and a lot of self-discipline. Any graduate program requires these skills, but eliminating weekdays from 8-5 makes them even more crucial. You’re going to need to plan your study schedule and then stick to it, no distractions. I normally take about 30 min every Saturday to figure out exactly what needs to happen that week, and then I make a multi-column list showing tasks for each class, what miscellaneous chores need doing, and any travel I have for work. This is my script for the weekend and each night after work. If I’m really busy, the list sometimes gets broken down by day and timers are involved. Do what you need to do.
You will also need to be able to defend your study time from friends and family. I’m not saying they’ll intentionally sabotage you, but it can be hard for a non-graduate student to understand that sometimes you really can’t spare two hours for brunch. I was a frequent offender here before I started my own program, as my SO will confirm. Don’t think you can divide your attention either. If you have kids that are too young to take care of themselves or a pet that needs constant attention, then you’ll need someone to keep them occupied while you get your stuff done. It’s not selfish; it’s the reality of grad school.
If after your self-assessment you think you’ve got the personal time and the willpower, take a look at your job and think about how friendly it is to employees in school. Are your hours flexible? Can you work from home one day a week to cut down on commuting time? Can you get some classwork done on your lunchbreaks? Will your boss accept it if you can’t stay late because you need to go home and write a paper? On that note, will your boss be supportive of your degree process in general? I realize that you might not have the choice to leave a job that’s not welcoming to your degree plans, but you can consider your potential trouble spots and how you’ll address them. If you get continuing education funding, it’s also worth your time to find out if you can apply it to your tuition.
Your next move is to find a program that will work with both your professional goals and your life as it exists now. Not all programs are created equally, so shop around a bit before you apply and find one that seems to fit your needs. If you need to, contact the school directly and ask them if the program is doable for a full-time worker. Things you should look for are plenty of evening classes (this is really common), an option to mix online and in-person classes, and the ability to drop to part-time or take semesters off as needed.
You might also consider a fully online program. Online programs don’t suit everyone and they sometimes get a bad rap, but most programs are taught by the same teachers as the in-person classes and carry the same workloads and expectations. If you go this route be sure to determine if the classes in your prospective program are synchronous (designated meeting times when everyone needs to be online together), or asynchronous (just get your assignments and contributions in by the deadline). One caveat: many “all-online” programs do require an internship at some point which you may or may not be able to do online. This is not a bad thing (especially if you don’t work in a library setting) but it’s not something you’ll want to be surprised by in your final semester either. Not all internships take place during standard working hours so you might be able to get your time in on evenings and weekends, but it pays to start thinking about this ahead of time.
Working while you study is certainly not the easiest way to get your degree and it’s definitely not for everyone. But if you approach it with the right preparation and mental tools, it’s definitely a possibility.