Don't Quit Your Day Job -- Study Part Time

Susan Aaron, The Learning Coach

Working and going to school at night is no picnic: Getting a degree seems to take forever, and the toll on social and home life should not be dismissed either. Nonetheless, working and being a part-time student is the best option for many ambitious employees. Here are some reasons to carry your briefcase and your book bag at the same time.

Bring the Work World into the Classroom

Many graduate programs prefer that students have some work experience under their belts to provide an outside reference for what is being taught in school. Working students:

- Enjoy a dynamic work-school experience. They can translate their education into the workplace immediately, becoming better workers. - Can enhance the classroom experience by providing salient questions and real-world applications to classroom learning.

More Time for Learning

Stretching the program completion time may actually be a benefit. Working students:

- Have longer timeframes over which to network and make their presence known at school. - Have more time to absorb a school’s philosophy. Spreading courses over time means a deeper understanding with each successive course.

Get the Company Involved

Workers getting more education are usually more desirable employees. Often, companies are willing partners in an employee’s learning experience. Working students:

- Have the company’s moral support. For instance, benefit from informal arrangements, such as flexible hours during exam times. - Enjoy their colleagues’ real-world reference. It’s good to be in contact with people who put the theories you’re learning in school into practice. - May enjoy financial support. Many companies include educational support as part of their benefits packages. Employees can accept up to $5,250 tax-free annually from an employer for educational expenses.

Less Financial Strain

Paying tuition and other educational expenses is tough. Covering living expenses too is even tougher. Part-time students:

- Don’t have such hefty loans. Working students don’t have to add cost of living to their loan debt. That’s less money to pay back with interest. - Don’t have to make drastic lifestyle changes. Once you’ve allowed yourself to eat something other than peanut butter sandwiches every night, it’s hard to go back to the student lifestyle. - Have funds to cover the surprises. Need new software for a statistics class? Need a better computer? Need to attend a conference 3,000 miles away? Unplanned expenses are always a risk when figuring a semester’s finances.

Less Taxing

There are loads of tax incentives to support continued education. If you go back to school full-time, however, you won’t have as much income to tax, and therefore less ability to take advantage of tax savings, such as:

- The Hope Learning Credit can reduce the amount of taxes you pay in a year by up to $1,500 during the first two years of study in recognized programs. - The Lifetime Learning Credit allows qualified individuals to receive a tax credit for up to 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses for a potential maximum credit of $2,000. - Work-related educational expenses are not taxed so long as what you are learning supports the work you are currently doing. To earn the deduction you must be working. - A comprehensive and up-to-date list of all the tax programs, credits and deductions can be found on the IRS Web site.

There are restrictions such as earning caps, types of expense and what tax credits can be combined, so be sure to consult your accountant or the IRS Web site.

Working students have always been a part of the education market, and learning institutions now serve their needs as never before. Night and weekend programs are plentiful, and it’s often the best option — financially and educationally.

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