Part-Time vs. Full-Time Master Program: Whether paying for less sleep is a good idea.

One time during the years we, Dennis and Till, spent studying part-time, meaning next to the job, at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, we had a call at 3am — during the week, knowing that we’ll need to get up the next morning and go to the office. Why for heaven’s sake should anyone pay to experience something like this? Well, looking back now, there are multiple answers to this question, which we want to outline with this article.

Considering to conduct your master studies part-time is an endeavour that should be planned wisely before starting it. We aim to offer some guidance in proposing three questions you should ask yourself in choosing your path. The very first question aims to discover your why — in other words the purpose you see as the basis for this decision. The second question tackles time-management as one of the main obstacles that might be there to overcome. Finally, the third question aims to discover the relationship you might aim to implement between your part-time studies and your job.

We’re focusing on part-time master programs because that’s where we think our experiences are most helpful. Second, we assume that if you spend a significant share of your spare time studying, you aim to learn as much as you can, which sometimes translates into an above-average GPA.

1) What drives your decision to prefer a part-time program?

The first thing you should discover is the purpose of the master-studies you want to establish as the basis for your endeavour. Depending on your personal why [ For more on “the why” refer to Simon Sinek and his “Golden Circle” https://simonsinek.com/commit/the-golden-circle] with regard to your master, you might want to consider programs that differ significantly. To determine your why, discovering three sub-topics can be helpful: Door-opening power of the degree you’re aiming at, Financial conditions, and Your willingness to challenge yourself.

Door-opening power

You should consider what reputation the institution and the master’s degree you’re aiming at should incorporate. Are you searching for a respectable institution in academia or is it just the idea of having some kind of master degree you’re searching for. Aiming at the first, you might take a look at the accreditation, recent publications or even the professors at your desired institution.

Another fact to consider with regards to the door-opening power is the network of alumni the institution can provide you with. Especially studying at a business school, the alumni network can be counted in as a valuable asset when looking at career opportunities.

Financials

Conducting your master’s part-time is an endeavour that demands a certain financial basis. Costs for the mere study program range from a few hundred to easily more than a thousand euros per month [ Besides scanning the program brochures of different institutions your could also stick to pages like https://www.studieren-berufsbegleitend.de/kosten-finanzierung/ueberblick-kosten/#kosten-ueberblick (GER) or https://www.squeaker.net/de/Studium/Hochschule (GER) for rough overviews.]. Even though — at least in Germany — a reasonable share of these costs are tax deductible, it’s still an investment you need to consider in advance. Consequently, aiming to do your master’s at a certain institution, the only way to finance it might be working in parallel.

Another reason might just lie in the factor that you’ve already worked for several years and reached a certain living standard in consequence — a quite human factor if you’d ask us. Studying full-time means to step back from your career path working part-time at most. This consequently means — well at least if you’re not a successful part-time crypto-trader or else — waiving the opportunity of earning a significant amount of money you might have gotten used to during the last years. As the living standard you earned, the kind of living situation you build up or other earned amenities might be (at least to some extent) some backbone to refer to, you might want to consider how strong you’re willing and/or able to relinquish these.

If you ask us, we did see working full-time besides our studies as an opportunity to pursue a master’s that did fit our demands. We were able to conduct this master in financing it with the remuneration we earned — hence, we did consider this as investment in our future.

Willingness to challenge yourself

Having decided to pursue your masters` in parallel to your job you might want to consider how much you’re willing to challenge yourself. Considering the institution the need to do so might differ significantly.

To find out your own willingness to challenge yourself, you could stick to comparable situations. Being a sports person you could for example easily relate to preparation programs for competitions. Challenging yourself might not only get you a certain title but might also let you discover your own borders and grow beyond them. In contrast just training regularly might keep you in shape and increase your health conditions without the need to challenge yourself in more extreme ways.

Growing beyond your own borders might include getting out of your comfort zone — not only with regards to effort put in a certain topic but also with regards to learning something new.

Okay, nice you might think — now I read a lot of stuff, but why the heck do I need my own why [ For a concept of “your personal why” refer to John Strelecky and his “Zweck der Existenz (ZDE) [purpose]” e.g. presented in Kaffee am Rande der Welt.]. Well, simply put: It might help you to survive sometimes. It might not be surprising that there might come times you might only see a lot of work. In these times you might even wonder why you’re doing all this. Exactly for these situations you should always remember your own personal why.

A good practice to find out exemplarily the “willingness to challenge/institution-match” could be to build a graph scaling from zero to ten, with zero coding for “not so challenging studies” and ten coding for “hard study program”. In the next step you think about your own goals with the study you’re aiming at and arrange yourself on the scale. You might then want to search for possible institutions/programs and arrange them on the same scale. For information on the institutions you can easily use forums. In following this approach you quite easily find which institutions/programs match your willingness to challenge yourself.

[Brief note: You can apply a certain visualization/coding of factors for several decisions. For some people, it works as a helpful tool to kind of rationalize not fully rational arguments. That might lie a valuable basis for the decisions that might need to be taken]

2) Do you feel okay to spend a significant share of your spare time studying?

One of the obvious aspects of studying besides the job (note: not “challenge” or “disadvantage”, but “aspect”): You’ll probably spend most of the time you’re awake working or studying. Does this sound terrible and conflicting with your current goals for your private life (e.g. team sports, travelling etc.)? Even if your first shot is “Yes!!!”, we’d like to encourage you to dive a bit deeper into this before putting this article away and throwing your part-time brochure into the bin. Here are three actionable steps you could take to get closer to a decision.

Sketch a broad time schedule

Write down the five most important activities and allocate a weekly budget in hours. Then, plan a typical week and try to figure out how you could fit studying in next to these activities and your job. A rule of thumb: Plan to spend on average three hours a day studying (meaning that it can be more on the weekends and less during the week). Our program did not include many semester breaks, so you’ll most likely also devote a significant share of your days off to studying. Do a broad sketch for the duration of the study program, including your days off.

This exercise has three key benefits (besides that you might be wondering right now how the heck you currently spend all these hours). First, if you cannot block enough time to cover around 21 hours in a typical week by cutting off other activities or a share of your working hours, you should consider to switch to a full-time program — or change your job, as will be explained later in this article. Second, you experienced that succeeding and feeling well during a part-time program mostly depends on time management and how fast you’re able to switch between activities and reduce idle time. Third, if you decide for the part-time program, you’ll be able to live by your plan. In this case, we recommend monthly updates, but we’ll write more about this in a future article (in other words: FOLLOW OUR PROFILE!).

Consult your personal environment

Did you write down your significant other, your family, your friends, or your sports team when you thought about your most important activities? Well, then you should involve them in the decision making progress. In practice, this means explaining the timewise requirements to these individuals and discussing whether they would feel okay with that. Next to getting closer to a decision, this also helps to prepare for the actual study program.

Talk to alumni of the study program

Most universities will gladly connect you to current students or alumni of the program. Students who participate in such initiatives are most likely not struggling too hard to fulfil the requirements. Nevertheless, talking to them about their satisfaction with the study program, their daily schedules, and their tools for managing their time should provide you with an idea of the “real” student life.

Hands down: When you study part-time, you’ll have short nights and you’ll probably also need to temporarily give up some of your habits or activities. Nevertheless, you should ask yourself whether this really hinders you from doing the things that really matter to you, considering that a part-time study program might be a very important step for your career.

3) How can your job contribute to your development during your part-time program?

In our experience, many part-time students first decide about their job and then, sometimes a few years later, select a part-time program. Especially during the challenging year we all just went through, it might be inevitable to separate these decisions from each other to ensure that you can finance the study program and your private life. But if you’ve the opportunity to think about both your next career step and your study program at the same time, you might want to combine both decisions to find a good career-study balance.

If we were you, we’d look into the following three criteria: Time expenditure & flexibility, Learning leverage potential, and Future job requirements.

Time Expenditure & Flexibility

As outlined above, a part-time study program requires around 21 hours a week in our experience. Obviously, if you’re already working 70 hours per week this might get a little too challenging. In our experience, working up to 50 hours on average per week is feasible, but will require you to become an expert in time management.

But there is another dimension: Setting priorities in scheduling your day. In times of complex subjects at the university, you might want to work for a company that allows you to begin your day with studying so you can leverage your focused time. This, in turn, might allow for longer work hours, as you’ll most likely learn more efficiently. It might be a good idea to ask your (future) boss for her thoughts on this.

A last thing to consider might be the region and job constellation you’re aiming for with regards to your studies. The question you need to answer for yourself is, if you’ll be able to travel for your courses (even if that might considerably change to more online mode accelerated by the corona-crisis).

Learning leverage potential

Your takeaway from the previous section might be to select a job that is not really challenging for you. This is certainly an option: If you want to really focus on the study program and take the time to dive deep into the university topics, it might be wise to delay the next career step. Nevertheless, we both benefited very much from jobs that regularly challenged us to test our limits. We not only felt fulfilled by what we did but also were able to become better at our jobs by transferring learning content from our lectures. Hence, you should aim to maximise your learning leverage potential: Your job and the study program should be mutually enriching and/or allow for enough time to really dive into the stuff that excites you at the university.

Future job requirements

While a Master’s degree is certainly improving your CV, which is all we business school students think about, you should try to understand the key requirements you’ll have to meet for getting your dream job (or getting to the next step of your career after graduating). If you figure out that your achievements at work are of most importance for your next employer (or the next step in your current company), you should look for a study program that leaves you enough time to excel at your job. If, however, it’s more about your grades, your extracurricular activities and the time you spend studying abroad, you might want to strive for a less challenging job so you can focus on the key drivers of accelerating your career.

We have compiled the various aspects raised here in a chart. If you want, you can use it in the style of the Business Model Canvas to make the right decision for you.

Source: Author’s own representation

So all in all, was paying for less sleep a good idea? Well, if you ask us absolutely yes! We did learn a lot — not only with regards to business knowledge but also about ourselves. Besides the interesting but also frightening experience of how much coffee you’re able to fit in mid 20 business students, we really learned to know what matters to us and how to get the best out of challenging situations. We experienced how to meaningfully prioritize and solve problems in an effective and efficient way. For both of us the combination of learning something new, challenging ourselves and using newly gained knowledge in practice has been the perfect blend.

One last thing: If you read this sentence, are not part of our network and simply read the article to make us feel good (Hi Johnny) or scrolled down to see whether we have added a referral code to our alma mater, you have what it takes to at least perform the steps we mentioned above. It’s worth it, if you ask us.

We hope that the proposed thoughts might be helpful to one or another prospective student facing the same decision we had to face. Being interested in the learning we gained during our studies more deeply you might want to monitor us here on medium — some further insights might drop soon. If you want to get in touch with us, feel free to reach out to us via LinkedIn.

Two Former Part-time Students at a German Business School Sharing their Experiences: Time-Management, Focus, Study Setting Decision, etc.

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