Students working through college go together like students and ramen noodles. The two have gone hand in hand for quite some time now. In fact, according to a report put out by Georgetown University, “For the past 25 years, more than 70% of college students have been taking time from their studies to earn a paycheck.”

With over 70% of students working part or full-time jobs, you can bet that if you weren’t missing the ultimate frisbee tournament on Friday night, you probably knew someone who was.

While working during college is nothing new, the notion of working your way through college is actually becoming extinct.

If you’re a freshman reading this while on your 15 minute break from the Arby’s kitchen and you’re thinking, “Hey, my plan was to work my way through school and now you’re telling me that’s impossible? What’s the point??”

There’s a couple, actually.

According to Anthony P. Carnevale who happens to be the director of the Center for Education at Georgetown University (read about it here), working through college builds character, time management, and will help to keep loan debt down (but not pay for college completely).

You might be thinking, “time management?” “whoopdeedoo!” Even if the grandeur of learning time management skills doesn’t make you wet your pants, we might still be able to convince you that working while in school is worth it- there’s just a better way and a worse way to do it.

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1 | Don’t overwork yourself

We get it. As a student, you have a lot of pressure riding on your shoulders, especially if the burden of sponsoring your education lands on you. You can probably see the direct correlation between hours worked and the number of books you’re able to afford next semester. Or maybe you choose to live off campus to cut out room and board expenses and you know exactly how many hours will cover this month’s rent.

That being said, you’re in college for a reason. And while it’s true that most future employers probably won’t take the time to dig up your transcript, getting the most out of your education is critical. The whole reason you’re there is to learn and develop the skills you need so that you never have to work at Arby’s again #amiright?

According to that study we mentioned, “working too much can reduce completion rates for low-income and first-generation college students.” So, by all means, work hard, just not too hard. Stay in school, kids.

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2 | Start a side hustle

There are pros and cons to starting a side hustle while in school.

Pro: You work on your own time, making your job perfectly flexible around your classes.

Con: Your income isn’t set in stone. It could vary or be unpredictable.

Pro: You can choose to work as much or as little as you like. If you want to save up for something, work more. If you have a full schedule with 18+ credits of classes, you can take it easy for a semester and your boss won’t hound you to come in more.

Con: This isn’t the type of job where you can just show up, do the same job you did yesterday, and leave. Side hustles take initiative and can often spill over into other areas of life. A client might email you with something “urgent” while you’re trying to get a project done for school. Or they might not.

Pro: A side hustle will not only give you that extra boost of job experience everyone is looking for, but it will show your future employer that you’re that type who takes initiative, is creative, and has enough drive to get something done by yourself if need be.

Also read: How to Use a Side Hustle to Get the Experience You Need for Your Dream Job

3 | Get a stepping stone job

Again, we get it. Finding a relevant job that also fits perfectly with your class schedule (forget extracurriculars) is no easy task. You might be left with no choice but to just take what you can get, which, for now, might be frying potatoes in the back of a kitchen.

Our advice to you? Try try try to get a job that has at least something to do with that major of yours. Or better yet, the job you hope to someday have. According to the same report mentioned above, “Working and learning can result in better education and stronger career prospects for students, especially when they work in jobs related to what they study.”

Even if you’re a freshman looking to earn your computer science degree, instead of finding a job at Old Navy and hoping your future employer makes the connection between your experience as “floor staff” and the “Excellent analytical skills” bullet point under the job requirements, there are way better jobs out there that are flexible, and will show a future employer that you know your stuff. Job experience anyone?? Why not try finding a part-time helpdesk job? Those positions, especially at colleges, can be split into part-time roles working all sorts of hours that could complement your class schedule. If you’re working towards your communications degree, why not start your own blog or be a part-time social media strategist for a local business.

Even if you have to work as a barista for a couple years, if you do your best to be the best darn barista there ever was, maybe you’ll get into a management role. Promotions always look great on resumes, it’ll just take a lot of initiative from you to get there.

Also read: Do finance majors get the finance jobs?

4 | Don’t feel like you have to use your school’s work-study program

Depending on your financial aid situation, you may be excited to see that you were awarded access to your school’s work-study program. Our reaction: meh.

First of all, being eligible for work-study does not guarantee you a job. You might apply to every single job on the work-study list, but so is everyone else who qualifies for work-study with just about the same amount of experience as you. This means that competition is high and chances of actually scoring a job are pretty low.

Second, a lot of work-study jobs boast the opportunity to get homework and studying done during downtime. Don’t rely on this when trying to budget time for it- the promise is iffy at best. You can be sure there’ll be no apologies if you planned on getting a project done during your downtime but, whoops, it happened to be a busy night.

Thirdly, most work-study jobs, although they may work around your class schedule, only pay minimum wage. Think about it this way, if you get a job working 15 hours a week at the federal minimum wage ($7.25), you’ll earn about $435 (before taxes) per month. If you can find a job that pays $9/hour, you’ll only have to work about 12 hours a week to make the same amount every month, making your schedule more open for classes, homework, and ultimate.

 

So what’s it gonna be, to work or not to work? Well, according to statistics, we already know the answer to that question. Our question to you is, will you make it count?

Are you one of the 70% who are working during college? In the comments, share the job you chose to work and your best tips for managing the work/school balance!

 

Working during college is worth it, but there's a right way and wrong way to do it. Make sure you're not wasting your time. Find out how your part-time job can complement your education and help you land your dream job in the future.
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