I worked throughout college, and firmly believe it’s important to hold down a job while in school. But over the years, I’ve met people who never worked a day in college, and I clearly recall one person telling me he didn’t plan to get his first job until after graduation. While this isn’t a strategy I recommend, it’s definitely a popular one.
Working while completing a degree isn’t easy. It’s a juggling act, and if you have student loans or scholarships that cover the cost of tuition – plus your parents footing the bill for your living expenses – you may reason that you don’t need a job. But aside from monetary need, there are lots of reasons to maintain employment while in school.
Benefits of Working While in College
1. Reduces College Debt
For some coeds, student loans are the only way to afford the cost of tuition. But, like any other type of financing, student loans – whether federal or private – must be repaid. With the annual cost of tuition, room, and board at public colleges averaging $13,600 according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s no surprise that many students look for ways to save money.
In many cases, a job won’t replace the need for student loans, but it can offset the amount you have to borrow by covering the cost of room, board, books, or other supplies. And while student loan repayment isn’t required until after graduation, a job could allow you to make regular interest payments while in school, significantly reducing how much you owe post-graduation.
2. Increases Cash Flow
If your parents give you money for living expenses, it’s probably just enough to get by. If you need extra cash for clothes, trips, or other entertainment, you may find yourself begging or borrowing to fund your fun.
Extra expenses are going to pop up, and your parents may not be able to dip into their wallets at every request. A part-time job can supplement the cash you receive – plus, earning your own money gives you a measure of independence.
Too often, college students apply for student credit cards, then use these cards to bridge financial gaps. However, with extra money in your pocket from a part-time job, you don’t have to rely on plastic. You can avoid high-interest debt while still enjoying your college experience.
3. Provides Money Management Skills
Nobody learns how to manage money overnight. Postponing your first job until after graduation may give you extra study (or party) time, but delaying entry into the workforce may not contribute to a strong familiarity with personal finance. If you never earn a paycheck or pay a bill during college, do you really think you’ll be a natural when you’re on your own?
No one is asking you to fully support yourself while in school, but if you take responsibility for personal expenses, such as cell phone, transportation, and entertainment costs, you’ll learn how to manage your money. Once you move on to the “real” world, these money management skills compound so that the transition to life as a self-supporting adult comes more easily.
Having a job while in school also encourages simple budgeting. Budgeting is the practice of creating a spending plan for your earnings – tracking how much you bring in versus how much you pay out, striving to keep your expenses less than your income. When you budget, you’re deciding how to spend each dollar to avoid overspending, grow your savings, and keep your personal finances in check.
4. Develops Time Management Skills
After graduation you may find yourself in a fast-paced, demanding position. When deadlines pile up, it may seem impossible to do everything on your to-do list in a single, eight-hour workday. Surviving in the workplace requires good scheduling and time management skills – skills you can develop while working in college.
Holding down a job while in college puts a lot on your plate – you can’t just go with the flow and hope for the best. Every hour of every day must be scheduled, and if you don’t organize, prioritize, and take control of your time, you may end up dropping the ball. It’s better to make these adjustments while in college, rather than struggling with life’s realities after you graduate.
5. Puts You Ahead of the Competition
Gaining work experience while in college puts you ahead of the competition. Even a simple internship, whether paid or unpaid, shows potential employers that you know your way around an office. This helps to set you apart from other new graduates who are also seeking jobs.
Of course, employers need to know you did well in school, too – particularly if you’re seeking a job related to your degree. If you manage to graduate at the top of your class while holding down a job (or at the very least, graduate with good grades), potential employers are bound to be impressed.
Good Jobs for College Students
There are many great jobs out there for college students, many of which offer skills that transfer easily to the professional workplace:
- Peer Tutor. If you excel in a particular subject, visit your school’s learning center and inquire about part-time tutoring work. If none is available, try placing flyers around campus. Average pay: $15 – $25 per hour
- Babysitter. If you love working with kids, try offering babysitting services on nights and weekends. When you charge per hour, per child, the extra cash can really add up. Average pay: $8 – $12 per hour
- On-Campus Jobs. Periodically check the campus bulletin board for information on job openings. There may be openings in academic departments, the bookstore, library, student union, recreation center, or various campus offices. Average pay: $8 – $15 per hour
- Barista. If you already spend most of your time in the coffeehouse, why not ask for an application? Your friends and roommates are bound to appreciate your new-found coffee-making skills. Average pay: $8 – $9 per hour, plus tips
- Retail Sales. This is a popular choice for college students, as most stores are willing to work around your class schedule. Average pay: $8 per hour, plus commission
- Restaurant Positions. Whether you’re interested in a position waiting, cooking, or bartending, restaurant jobs are good for those who have good customer service skills and who enjoy working in a fast-paced environment. Average pay: $3 per hour, plus tips
- Internships. Keep an eye open for possible internships in your area of concentration. This is an excellent way to gain valuable experience in your major before graduation. Many internships are unpaid; however, you may stumble upon a few paying opportunities. Average pay: Depends on the position
Balancing a job and college coursework is certainly challenging, but it offers many benefits. At the end of the day, the experience is what you make of it. You don’t have to work 20 or more hours a week – just do what you can, whether it’s 10 hours, 15 hours, or less. The important thing is that you’re gaining skills you can apply to your future career.
That said, working while in college shouldn’t be detrimental to your grades. If you’re unable to balance your job and coursework without your grades slipping, perhaps you can cut back on work hours, or save the job for your summer vacation.
Do you think it’s too much for students to work while completing a degree?