Postgraduate Study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary Futures Await

How to earn an online masters degree while working full-time – 10 tips for success

Find out how to balance an online degree with your work commitments. Featuring advice from our current students and graduates.

1. Learn how to manage your time effectively

Time management is key to completing an online degree.

Planning ahead and being realistic about what kind of time you have available each week for studying will really help you in the long-term. Try to anticipate when you might be busier at work so that you can get more studying done beforehand. 

Sometimes it can be helpful to work ahead of course deadlines and give yourself slightly less time to complete a project. That way, even if anything unexpected happens at work, you've already set yourself up to finish your assignments or group project on time. 

You may already have developed skills in time management, or you might find managing time more challenging. Luckily, whether you're an old pro or you need a refresher, the University has plenty of resources to help you plan time effectively.

You have to learn how to balance your time because that's where the issue comes. If you're in full-time employment, you have other engagements and the course is also demanding so you have to plan everything – how are you going to do the work over the weekend? As long as you plan it in time you'll have no challenges.

AnacretMaster of Public Health

Study Skills

Library resources

2. Figure out when and where you work best

Online student working at desk

Online learning is completely flexible and allows you to learn according to your own schedule. If you're more productive in the morning, try waking up an extra hour early to get in some study time before heading off to work. Or you might enjoy logging in to message boards during your commute. It's entirely up to you!

Just be sure to determine when and where you work best before planning a study schedule – once you've done that, the rest is easy. 

3. Discuss your challenges with fellow online learners

It's important to remember that you're not in this alone. It's likely that most of your coursemates will be working full-time alongside completing the degree. Even if they're not working, they'll probably have a range of personal commitments to deal with while they study. 

So why not talk it out with your fellow online learners? You can use the discussion boards or group email chains to discuss your challenges with people in the same boat as you. They may well have good time management advice that you haven't thought of before. At the very least, you'll feel better for sharing your concerns with like-minded peers.

And remember, if things do start to get too much for you, we have a team of dedicated support staff who can help you when you're struggling. 

Your wellbeing

Student support

4. Do a little every day rather than leaving things until the last minute

It's much better to chip away at your studies in regular bite-size chunks, rather than leaving revision for assignments until a couple of days before the assignments.

Many of our students admit that if they could do things over again, they would really try hard not to fall behind as it can become very difficult to get on top of things again. It's much harder to concentrate on your full-time job if you're also panicking that you haven't done enough studying for your latest assignment. 

If I could do it over, I would begin my assessments earlier and cultivate them as the course proceeded. I did that towards the final courses and that seemed to propel my scientific writing to a better level.  Everyone has their own individual methods for bringing out their best work, you just have to find what works for you. I also took many of the extra academic study courses to help in PowerPoint production and scientific writing. As usual, what you put into the work determines what you get out of it.

NancyMSc Equine Science

5. Talk to your employer

Have an open discussion with your employer about how much time you expect to spend on your online programme each week. 

If you're honest from the outset, your boss will be far more understanding when you're not able to work late one night because you need to focus on an essay.

Online student stressed at desk

6. Always get a good night's sleep

Make sure you look after yourself and try to get in seven to nine hours' worth of sleep each night. You won't be able to focus on work or study if you aren't getting enough sleep every night. 

The same idea goes for eating well and exercising regularly. Keeping a good routine which leaves time for rest and relaxation will reap benefits in the long-term. 

One of our graduates, Mark, explains in his blog post below that he found out the hard way how important it is to take care of yourself and leave room in your schedule for some down time.

Blog: Juggling the Act of Juggling

7. Take advantage of University resources

The University provides online learners with plenty of resources to help you develop skills and research effectively. 

Make sure you take advantage of as many of these as possible. There are short online courses and other resources which will introduce you to everything the University has to offer. These courses are designed to help you become a better learner and utilise all of the tools at your disposal more effectively.

And if you ever have a question or need advice on how something works – just ask! 

In the video below, some of our students provide an insight into how they utilised the library resources to work more efficiently. 

8. Avoid procrastination and get rid of distractions

Wherever you decide to study, try to get on with the task at hand rather than spending time procrastinating. 

This is easier if you minimise the amount of distractions around you. Don't get caught up in scrolling the news or social media – instead put your phone to one side and focus on reading or typing up your assignment. 

Keep up your focus by having short breaks every so often.

Woman looking at computer

9. Stay motivated

Sometimes after a hard day at work, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to pick up that (virtual) textbook and start studying. 

A good way to tackle this feeling is remembering your motivation for starting online study in the first place. Are you passionate about getting the next step up in the career ladder? Or do you want to improve your patient care? 

When times are tough, just keep your motivation in mind … and keep going!

10. Remember – this isn't forever!

An online degree isn't forever. Although you may find juggling full-time work and online study challenging, the experience will come to an end eventually. 

So try and accept that while things may get busier for a while, you'll walk away with a world-class qualification from a top university. Then you can enjoy graduating either with us here in Edinburgh or virtually from wherever you are in the world!

And remember, the career benefits of your degree will remain long after you've graduated. For more information on how your career will benefit from an online masters, visit the link below.

Your career development

Related Links

Online learning programmes

Common questions about postgraduate study

Postgraduate Life blog