There is no fun way to talk about student loans. I know because I’ve tried. Let me know if you find a fun way to talk about the estimated 5.2 million federal student loan borrowers in default, 3.4 million in deferment, and 2.7 million in forbearance.

The average fees at a private university for 2019-20 were $36,880 -- and that's before you factor in the accommodation, textbooks and other living expenses. Which is why so many students have to take student loans to pay for their education. And why today, more than ever, it makes sense to work while in college.

college student passed out with head on textbook -- stress burnout exams

Image source: Getty Images

It is not easy to hold down a full-time job and keep up with your classes. But it does offer a number of benefits, including the chance to put what you are learning into practice. And perhaps the greatest benefit is that you will graduate with less student loan debt, either through tuition assistance, paying for classes as you go, or a combination of both. 

My husband and I were married young (as in, crazy young). We both knew we wanted a college education so we didn’t let little things like a mortgage, an unexpected baby, or jobs prevent us from earning degrees. The truth is, we wanted it so much that nothing was going to get in our way. And maybe that’s key.

1. Make sure you want it

If you're going to work through college without burning out, you have to want it, more than you want anything else. It's that passion that will help you find satisfaction in studying when you're exhausted. That passion will give you hope when your schedule overwhelms you. 

My husband and I were fueled by a fire in our bellies. My husband wanted to live a dream he'd never shared with anyone, a dream that began with education. I wanted to live up to family expectations, and to have the option of becoming a writer at a time when I needed a degree to make it happen. 

2. Find out what your employer will do for you

A 2017 WorldatWork survey showed that 85% of employers offer some form of tuition reimbursement. Before enrolling in school, contact your company's human resource department to learn what your company offers. If you work for a company that does not offer tuition reimbursement, you may want to look for a job with a company that does. Yes, it is a hassle, and yes, you'll need to adapt to a new work situation, but tuition assistance is essentially an added salary that will lighten your financial load. 

My husband's employer was also good about letting him change shifts in order to attend the classes he needed. Find out how flexible your employer will be, it might even allow time off to study for big events like midterms. 

3. Make sleep part of the game plan

You know all those movies and television programs that show carefree college students drifting from one raging party to another? That is not going to be your experience. 

If you hold down a full-time job while you're in college, you're going to need to get up in the morning and either study or get to work. You're also going to need to schedule time for sleep, because frankly, it's darn near impossible to work, go to class, and attend to your other responsibilities without it.

The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. While there is a rare gene that enables 3% of the population to function well on six hours of sleep a night, the rest of us need more shut eye. 

Regular sleep is vital because while you sleep, your brain oversees biological maintenance and keeps you healthy. Sleep also helps maintain emotional balance, which is particularly important if you want to avoid burning out.

4. Underdo it

Start out by taking less classes than you think you can handle. Remember Aesop's Fable The Tortoise and the Hare? You're the tortoise here. Slow and steady wins the race. Why push yourself to the point of burnout? If, after your first semester, you find that you aced the whole work/school thing, add more to your schedule the next semester.

Winston Churchill once said, "Perfection is the enemy of progress." You're not looking to be perfect as you work your way through school; you're looking to learn as much as possible while maintaining your job.

I cannot remember cleaning my house once during my final couple years of college. I'm sure I did, but it was at the bottom of my list of priorities as needed to focus on studying. I let myself off the hook, and you should too. I promise you this: There will be more time to dust and vacuum following graduation. 

5. Scheduling is your friend

You cannot predict all the minor issues that will arise in a week, which makes scheduling vital so that you don't let the important things slide. Your schedule should include:

  • Work hours
  • Class hours
  • Study time
  • Sleep 
  • Fun time and exercise -- it may not feel as spontaneous, but you have to build in time to do the things you enjoy
  • Meal prep time -- the healthier you eat, the better you will feel

Whether you prefer an old-school paper planner or have an app on your phone, your schedule should be your roadmap. Build in flexibility (for example, planning to turn a paper in a few days early) so you'll still be on track even if life gets in the way. 

There's nothing easy about working your way through college, but there's also nothing like it. If you ever begin to feel burned out, know this: One day, you will look back and be incredibly proud of your achievement -- and you will deserve to be.