Working in College: A Delicate Challenge

By Julia Dunn on January 19, 2017

A recent U.S. News and World Report article published earlier this month highlighted the increasing numbers of college students who are working while attending school.

According to the article, “72 percent of undergraduates work and one-fifth of those students worked full-time” as found by the U.S. Census Bureau. This suggests that a good majority of college students are familiar with balancing work and school (which as most students know is a difficult balance at times).

The reality is, the percentage is high because more and more students aren’t just choosing to work during their time in college — they’re needing to work. Many students (especially those from low-income families), must work a part-time or full-time job in college, as students are unable to rely on familial support with finances.

With housing crises all over the country, students are struggling to pay for rent, and in turn, struggling with food insecurity. It is clear that college students have incorporated a work life into their college experience, and this can present challenges with scheduling and time-management. Here are four ways to better manage school and work at the same time.

Find a job with an understanding supervisor

If you get a job in your college town, your employer will probably be familiar with students’ lives, which are often full of multiple commitments and lots of craziness around midterms and finals weeks. Although some supervisors are more flexible than others, most supervisors likely understand that sometimes you’ll need to change your hours on a given day or come into work one day to make up for missing another.

Having a job with a flexible boss can make balancing work and school easier if you maintain consistent communication with them — find out the mode of communication that works best for your boss (some only use email and others respond better to text messages). This way, you’ll feel less stressed about coordinating your work schedule and class schedule because your employer will be in the loop about your needs.

Determine the number of hours you can manage to work each week

The U.S. News report stated that ”Several studies, including one by the Department of Education, show that students who work fewer than 15 to 20 hours often report a higher GPA than those who don’t work at all,” and that students who work over 20 hours per week are more likely not to finish school (or get an impressive grade point average). Of course, some students do not fit this description and are able to work more.

Conversely, other students may find that their academics begin to suffer when they work 15 hours per week. It is important for each student to discover their limit in terms of work hours per week. Many schools that offer work-study jobs don’t even allow students to log more than 20 hours of work per week in their time sheets, and students must talk with administrators about increasing the hours they can work during a school week. These protections are there intentionally!

Keep an updated calendar

If you’re taking three to four classes and working several days a week, you’ll definitely need some way to keep track of when everything is happening. Make a habit of using your phone calendar or another online calendar that is easy to interpret and update quickly. If your workplace is off campus, make sure your calendar accounts for commute time (and if you take the bus, account for the slight unpredictability associated with buses that don’t always arrive at their stops on time).

A well-organized calendar can ease stress and keep you from feeling overwhelmed (knowing what you need to do each day is half the battle)! Plus, you’ll find that using a calendar makes you more productive because you’ll have a visual map of your time.

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Plan your homework schedule strategically

If you work all day Tuesdays, you’ll want to finish homework due Wednesday by Monday night. Work schedules can impede on time you’d otherwise spend doing homework, so plan around your work shifts. It may help to complete assignments due later in the school week on the weekend prior, which frees up weeknights. Coming up with a sensible homework schedule in light of your work commitments is key to staying on top of course requirements such as large research projects and exams.

Students who balance work and school learn incredibly useful time-management skills as well as organizational skills. If you’re a student who doesn’t absolutely need to have a job during college to be financially stable, you might consider getting one anyway.

Working during college can offer you a separate environment to develop as a professional, and you will gather experience you can use in future job interviews. What’s more, work also means money, which means more financial security for you as a college student!

By Julia Dunn

Uloop Writer
I am a graduate student in the Creative Writing MFA program at San Jose State University. I specialize in creative nonfiction writing and poetry, as well as composition studies.

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