Woman in red headscarf, holding notebook, reaching for book on shelf in library

How to Succeed as a Part-Time Grad Student

Graduate studies are challenging for everyone. But for part-timers, it's a juggling act that often requires special planning and skills. Here's how to succeed.

Graduate studies are challenging for everyone. But for part-timers, it's a juggling act that often requires special planning and skills. Almost by definition, part-time graduate students have other responsibilities. For any number of reasons, the hours available to put in academic work may be limited. The same goes for networking and out-of-class learning opportunities. Working at a full- or part-time job? Busy with childcare or other family duties? If so, these roles must be balanced with your classes and all the reading, writing, and other work that goes with them. To keep things under control while maintaining the progress needed to complete a degree, follow these steps:

Take advantage of “stolen time”

If you have a one-hour lunch break at work, consider devoting half of it each day to reading class material. At home, listen to podcasts while doing the dishes or folding laundry. Keep textbooks or a portable device at hand for perusal while in a parked car, on the subway, or in a waiting room. In these and other ways, take advantage of any extra time that becomes available.

Set target dates

For part-timers, academic terms and even years can slide by almost before you know it. Keep in mind that if you take too long, you could exceed the time limit sometimes placed on program completion. Even if not, you could end up taking an excessive amount of time to add that degree to your résumé. To avoid such problems, set target dates for important milestones such as earning half the credit hours needed for a degree or finishing the preliminary research for a dissertation. Don’t let a term go by without taking at least one course. Take vacation time or make other adjustments in your personal life allowing you to increase your course load for at least some terms. When you set specific goals with a timetable to meet them, you’re more likely to stay on track.

Related: Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for Your Goals

Network with professors

While your time may be limited, it’s still important to connect with faculty on an individual basis. Stephanie P. Kennedy, founder of the educational consulting firm My College Planning Team, says that while making connections can be a challenge for part-timers, it’s something every grad student should strive for. “Your professors are your mentors, and that transcends the classroom,” she says. “You need to spend time with them and allow them to get to know you.” She acknowledges that this can be difficult for part-time students who tend to have many distractions. At the same time, taking the time to make positive connections with faculty can pay off when you need advice, job recommendations, or other help in the future.

At a minimum, schedule occasional appointments with professors before or after class to discuss course requirements or a class topic you’ve found interesting. Attend lectures or cultural events hosted or attended by professors. If you’re an online student, be active in discussion boards and get in touch with your prof when you have questions or pertinent comments. Don’t overdo it, but make sure your professors know who you and that they see you as a serious student.

Stay up-to-date

You don’t need to be a math whiz to know that it takes longer to complete a degree as a part-time student than as a full-timer. Among other considerations, this means you can be vulnerable to changes that occur over time. Program requirements are adjusted. Faculty and administrative staff take different internal positions or leave the university. New courses or program tracks are offered. To avoid surprises, keep up with announcements from your department or the university as a whole. Watch for emails, “snail mail,” or online notices about new developments. And be sure to stay in regular touch with an advisor or other contact person. Take advantage of the information and resources made available, and you’ll have a successful venture as a part-time grad student.

Related: The Importance of Finding Balance as a Graduate Student

Attending college part-time during undergrad may have been uncommon, but in grad school, many students choose the path of attending part-time. You may have to approach your schedule and daily life a bit differently, but you certainly can pull it off with a little attention to detail and finding the right people to support you along the way.

For more great grad school advice like this, check out the blogs and articles in our Graduate School section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Priscilla Yeboah

Priscilla Yeboah

High School Student

I was afraid and timid throughout my search for colleges, but I finally found the college that was fit for me and luckily I got accepted. One of the most influential things that helped me was the articles and advice on CollegeXpress. They've helped me a lot and benefited me as a senior to make the right choices in life. Thank you!

Rose Kearsley

Rose Kearsley

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has seriously helped me out a lot, especially when it comes to scholarships and studying for tests like the ACT. I also really love the financial help. It’s a little harder to pay because I live with a family of eight, so any help is appreciated. Thanks for this opportunity!

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.



High School Class of 2019

My favorite feature of CollegeXpress is the scholarship search. As someone going out of state for college, I needed all the financial help I could get, and CollegeXpress helped me easily find scholarships I could apply for to help fund my education.

Nazira Abdelkhalek

Nazira Abdelkhalek

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2014

I am very honored to be this year’s recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship! This scholarship is vital to helping me achieve and fulfill my dreams, and gives me confidence and motivation as I begin my college career. The CollegeXpress website has been invaluable over the past year as I planned my educational and professional goals. I highly recommend it to all students as they begin to focus on their college and career interests. The website is a wonderful guide to schools and scholarships.

College Matches