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Want To Go Back To School While Keeping A Full-Time Job? Here Are Some Options

A student studies at a desk surrounded by books in the main library at the University College London on December 1, 2003 in London.
A student in the main library at the University College London.
(Ian Waldie
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Getty Images Europe)
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Our College Pathways team here at LAist has been asking people what they want to know when it comes to pursuing new jobs or careers, and the education they need to get there. One common question we get: how to find a program that can fit with a full-time job, or caregiving responsibilities?

Here are a few options to consider.

(Note: This is an excerpt from our guide on navigating the higher education landscape, How To Get To College In California. Check out the full guide, which includes an overview of all the types of schools in the state, where to find data about what kinds of jobs students get after graduating, how to find on-campus child care, and a lot more.)

Virtual programs: Virtual learning became much more prevalent with the pandemic, so many schools have already built up the infrastructure to offer classes completely online. Some virtual programs are asynchronous, meaning you can watch class lectures on your own time and at your own pace. Be aware that the flexibility that these classes provide also means students have to be more proactive and organized with time management to stay on top of deadlines and keep up with material. Here’s where you can search for online programs at California public colleges (note that not all these classes are asynchronous):

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  • Community colleges: Browse fully online degree programs transferable to the California State University (CSU) system.
  • CSU: Search online degree and course options via Cal State Online.
  • University of California: Many online courses are offered through UC continuing education or extension programs — more about that (plus links) below.
  • Calbright College is a public college that is exclusively online and tuition-free. It’s tailored for working adults who want the flexibility of distance learning and it’s competency-based, meaning it measures students’ skills rather than time spent in class. As such, it doesn’t award traditional degrees, only certificates of competency. Also note that the state legislature has made attempts to shut down Calbright since it opened in 2019 over low enrollment and certificate completion numbers. 

Extended education programs: Many schools, including CSUs and UCs, have a division of programs that are tailored for adults looking to advance or change their careers. They go by a few names: extended education, continuing education, or extension programs. Many classes are offered virtually, and in-person classes have robust evening and weekend options.

Some extended education divisions have degree programs, while others only offer certificates. Others have degree-completion programs, which are specifically geared toward adults who either never started an associate or bachelor’s degree program, or started one and never finished it. (Read more about those here.)

Extended education classes usually have a different price tag than what you’d find through the college’s main campus. That’s because these programs don’t receive any money from the state or federal government and are funded entirely by student fees. Here are links to extension programs for the CSU system and UC campuses:

Accelerated programs: Some schools offer degree programs designed for working adults that let students complete classes in shorter sprints throughout the year. For example, the Program for Accelerated College Education (PACE) lets students take two classes at a time in eight-week sessions and earn an associate degree in two years. Classes are offered during the evenings, weekends, and online. You can find PACE programs at schools like Pierce College and Moorpark College. The University of La Verne also has an accelerated bachelor’s degree program.

Short-term classes or programs. Many community colleges and other schools have classes that run shorter than a full semester — eight weeks, or even fewer, rather than the typical 16. These classes may begin later or end earlier in the semester. Summer sessions also run for eight or 10 weeks. These may be good options if you don’t have an entire semester’s worth of time to devote to a class.

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You can also earn certificates and other short-term credentials in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years. (Read more about short-term credentials, including ones that build up to a degree, here.) 

Search for courses that fit your schedule. Many school websites will allow you to see upcoming course schedules so you can see if they work for you. Find those schedules (here’s the link for the L.A. Community College District, for instance), then filter by campus, subject area and the days and times that fit your needs. A good academic counselor can help you look through options and create a personal schedule that works for you. Note that community colleges are more likely than the other school systems to offer evening classes. Here are some things you can think about as you’re putting your schedule together:

  • Is the class in-person or online?
  • If it’s online, is it synchronous (you have to attend the class at a specified day and time) or asynchronous (you watch lectures on your own time)? 
  • Does the class have a short term?

Read more about your options in higher education in our guide, How To Get To College In California

Have a question about getting to higher education?