If the stress of juggling school, work, and family is making life difficult, you are not alone. In 2011, 71% of the nation's 19.7 million college undergraduates also worked while getting a degree. Two in five worked at least 20 hours a week. One in five worked at for least 35 hours. A quarter have dependent children. Related: 7 Tips For Juggling Work And Grad School Not surprisingly, time-shortage is one of the biggest reasons for students dropping out before completing their degree. So how do you make sure that you stay the course? Here are top five tips for managing your time for academic – and professional – success.

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By 2018, 60% of U.S. jobs will require post-secondary education [1]. The good news is that it is easier than ever to further your education without adding unmanageable stress to you or your family. Dr. Mary Hawkins, president of Bellevue University, gives her tips on how adults can overcome the education gap to achieve their life goals. RELATED: Need some career advice? Watch these tutorials! A recent Bellevue University study revealed, nearly 40% of Americans say they are not where they want to be in life [2]. Twenty percent want to make a career change, but feel they lack the necessary education. With competition high for jobs, many feel trapped in their current roles, and the American Dream feels just out of reach for too many people. But the tough climate has also forced people to reconsider what they truly want to achieve in life. Many have taken the opportunity to return to school and pursue career paths they have only dreamed about.

Choosing A Career Path That Aligns Your Career Goals

In reality, this may be the best time to rethink your career. If you are one of the 40%, pursuing a degree or masters can open new doors and make your goals achievable. The following tips should give you some ideas about choosing a career path that aligns your life and career goals.

Career, job – or something else?

Before throwing yourself into a career change, make sure it is your career that is causing you stress. We spend so much time at work it is easy to blame our jobs for any general discontent we feel. But is your current role the problem? Is it your career as a whole? Or is lack of job satisfaction hiding something else? Undertaking a career change is exciting and empowering, but it's also hard work. So, it’s worth taking the time to make sure it is what you really want to do.

What is your dream?

This is the hardest step because it is a decision only you can make. But what do you want to do? Be realistic: it may be too late to become an astronaut or a star line-backer, for example. But some of those childhood dreams can provide clues about your future career. A physiotherapist, sports journalist, pilot, or aeronautics engineer are all still possible. It’s about knowing yourself, what you’re passionate about, what interests you and what your personal values are. Do a self-assessment to understand what drives you. It’s OK if the answer is ‘more money’ – there is no right or wrong solution, only what is right for you. But take the time to make sure you’re not moving from one unsatisfying career to another.

Reality - or romantic whim?

Look at what your dream job entails and whether it really suits your working style and preferences. Most importantly find out whether it fits in with the rest of your life. There may be low-risk ways to test-drive your new career: perhaps there are short-term or part-time internships. Ask friends and family: the power of networking could get you a conversation with someone already in your chosen field. Read trade magazines and visit industry events if you can. Check out the blogosphere: getting regular updates from the front-line could give you great insight into what it’s really like to work in your chosen field.

Where is your education gap?

What qualifications do you need? One in three adults admit they don't currently have - or don't know if they have - the level of education and skills required to achieve their goals. Don’t be one of them. You probably have at least some of the experience you need from your current role. Consider carefully what you have done to date and how that applies to your chosen field – you may be surprised about what you have to offer. Then you can work out where the gaps are and how best to fill them.

Choose your college with care

There has been a seismic shift in American higher education during the past twenty years. Three-quarters of students are deemed to be non-traditional: they are working, they have families, they have deferred application. Forget campus-set movies. The demographic has changed – and colleges are responding. It is easier than ever to choose an establishment that can provide the education you want at a pace and cost that suit you. There are colleges that will transfer your existing college credits, for example. Look for a college that takes work experience into account, offers online as well as face-to-face tuition, allows you to take one course at a time, and enables you to plan your assignments to fit the rest of your commitments. Accelerated programs are available if four-year study doesn’t suit you or your life. The key to success is flexibility and thinking long-term. Regardless of the path you choose, you will rarely hear anyone say, “I regret taking the time to finish my degree.” The hardest part is getting started – but now you can choose the experience that best fits your needs and your lifestyle, and greatly increases your chances of success. [1]Education Dynamics, March 2011 Presentation titled: The Demographics and Demands of Adults With Some Credit But No Degree. [2] Closing the Nation's Skills Gap: Making Higher Education Achievable, Bellevue University, 2013 Take our Career Decoder quiz!This is a sponsored post. This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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This is a sponsored post. When the pressure is on to get to work as soon as you have your degree, it can be difficult to stay focused on long-term goals. With today’s bills to pay, tomorrow’s plans can take a back-seat. The tough job market doesn’t help – even though having a degree improves your chances of entering your chosen field. Related: Your 5-Step Method For Defining Job Satisfaction The same is true for non-traditional students who go back to education after years in the workplace. If you went to college to change career paths or find greater professional satisfaction, don’t throw away the opportunities you’ve earned for yourself. With a degree under your belt, you’ve acquired the necessary qualifications. Now it’s time to take the next step in achieving your goals by finding a home for your talent. The following tips should give you a start.

1. Understand talent

When we think of talent, we often think of famous actors or sports stars. But for most of us, talent is less obvious. In addition to the knowledge and qualifications gained at college, we also have skills, interests and values. So when it comes to achieving your goals, it’s worth remembering that talent isn’t about being the best in the world at something. Instead, it is that personal combination of strengths, weaknesses, and potential. People with successful and happy careers usually work in organizations that accommodate, nurture, and value those talents.

2. Recognize yourself

Talent is not just what you are good at, it's also where you will likely thrive. For some people it is clear-cut. For others, it takes a little more work. Self-assessment and honesty are essential. No two people are the same and what suits someone else isn’t necessarily right for you. For example, are you energized by others, or do you need quiet space to do your best work? Do you prefer the fluid exchange of creative ideas, or a more structured work environment? Or maybe actually find it stimulating to work with creative types, but need more a more process-driven role in which to do your best work? The more you understand, the greater your chances of finding a role where you can develop.

3. Hunt for clues

There are no real short-cuts to finding out what your talents are, but there is plenty of evidence. What motivated and stimulated you most during your study program? If you preferred exams to project work, what does that tell you? Look to your personal life. Do you prefer team sports or solo endeavors? Do you want to win, or is taking part more important? Ask honest friends, relatives, or colleagues. They may point out characteristics you take for granted. Your college may also have career-testing programs available that assess your natural talents. All of these clues tell you something about who you are, what you need from work, and what you can offer.

4. Match your values

When you have an idea of what motivates you, find out what motivates a potential employer. Do your values really match up? Look beyond the company Web site and corporate Twitter account. If you can, talk to people who work there. Use your existing professional networks – you may be surprised about the extent of your connections. Do your professors have industry connections or alumni you could talk to? If you can, go the extra mile and speak with customers and partners to get a more accurate picture of the company ethos. If you can find an organization that offers a work environment and corporate culture you personally find productive, you are more likely to succeed.

5. Observe and question

Remember, an interview should be a two-way process you can use to get more information about an organization. Are people welcoming and considerate to you? Are they professional with colleagues? What do the dress code, office layout or even noise levels tell you? In the interview itself, find out how you would contribute to the mission and vision of the organization. What exactly would you be expected to do every day? Does it match the job description, and is it what you want to do? Ask for examples of how values are put into daily practice. If possible, ask to meet the last hire before you. This kind of information will help you position yourself for success and start progressing towards you goals from your first day on the job.

6. Be realistic

No job is perfect, and no job will give you everything you want. Education opens doors and gives you more choices than before. But there will be compromises, too. If your dream is to be a TV anchor, you should still be prepared to do your time as a studio runner, for example. Accept that there will be sacrifices to be made, but keep your personal big picture in mind so those sacrifices don’t ultimately destroy your sense of satisfaction. Above all, remember that achieving your goals is a journey and that education is just the start. Going back to college was the first step to greater career satisfaction. Finding a home for your talent is the next. Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. It was submitted and approved by our editorial staff to ensure it meets CAREEREALISM Media's editorial standards. You can learn more about our writing requirements here and view our full disclosure policy here.

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