Working while in college: Weighing the pros & cons
From B2B to a backpack full of homework or from waiting tables to writing papers — this is the new college experience for students who work their way through school. More and more, both traditional and adult learners are balancing their studies with full- or part-time work. In fact, it’s been reported that about 70 to 80 percent of college students are active in the labor market while enrolled in college.
While some students work part-time jobs during college, many take on a larger workload. In fact, about 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week. Unsurprisingly, that number is even higher for adult learners, many of whom balance full-time work, families and their studies.
Working while in college is no easy feat, but it boasts some undeniable rewards at the same time. If you’re on the fence about whether you’ll be able to handle working while in college, do note that it comes with its shares of pros and cons to consider.
To help enlighten you, we spoke with The College of St. Scholastica’s (CSS) Virtual Campus Director, Craig Bridges, as well as a handful of professionals who got their start while working in college. Read on to learn from their expansive cumulative experiences.
As you’ll learn, the benefits of working while you earn your degree are numerous. From the obvious pros like earning money to some of the less obvious ones like mastering important soft skills that you’ll need in your future career, it’s worth considering the following positive takeaways.
Pro: Earning an income
Whether a student works full-time or just a few hours each week, there’s no denying the perk of bringing in a steady income, which can be used to stow away in savings, pay rent or purchase any necessary school supplies.
“I’ve always had an independent spirit, and working in college allowed me to pay for my own rent, textbooks, clothing, food and whatever else I needed,” offers financial coach, Megan Robinson. “This was a huge weight lifted from my parents, and it made the transition from college to full-time work much easier.”
For nontraditional students, working may be more of a necessity. Leaving work to go back to school can be a tremendous hurdle for adults returning to their studies a bit later in life, which is why many opt to continue working while earning a degree.
“Non-traditional students are often already employed when starting college or are returning back to school after stopping for a number of years. They still need to work to support their families and pay for living expenses,” Bridges explains.
No matter the industry you hope to work in after college, working while in college can strengthen one important soft skill that will help you as you progress through your career: time management. Working college students have no choice but to master this skill as they balance their studies with work.
“Working while in college teaches you how to prioritize your time,” iterates content associate, Andrew Rombach. “If you have to work part-time on top of managing a semester’s course load, it’s an absolute necessity to manage your time effectively. If you can pull this off, you’re not only working harder, but smarter, too. This is invaluable experience for the future.”
“Students need to plan ahead,” Bridges agrees. “At the beginning of each course, use the syllabus and deadlines in the course to plot out when you are going to work on the readings and assignments. This should be planned out for each day so you don’t get behind.”
Another perk of working while in college is the ability to chip away at tuition bills and student loans as you go. Working students can put small amounts of money toward their schooling to help ease the burden of student loan debt and accumulated interest later on.
“One of my big regrets was not working while in college,” laments James Finn, who spent the past few years paying off his debts before becoming a travel vlogger. “I graduated with $34,000 in student loans, and $8,000 of that was interest accumulated during those four years.” He wishes he had worked while in college in order to reduce the amount he owed. Had he even worked part-time, he estimates he could have cut his debt down significantly.
Students working while in college gain the benefit of expanding their professional experience. This is especially true for traditional students who may have limited work experience otherwise.
“Working while in school gave me the hands-on experience I used to get my first real job, far ahead of other college graduates with only classroom learning. There’s no substitute for experience,” says CMO of Community Health Charities, Amanda J. Ponzar.
Whether or not the job is directly related to their major or desired career path, just about any job can provide students with transferable skills. These skills and experiences can be highlighted on resumes and in interviews to demonstrate to future employers the breadth of your experience.
“Working while in college really put my education and my career into perspective,” offers Meghan Brumbley, who worked as a full time wedding coordinator while going to school. “I found the skills and knowledge that I was drawing from work to be more important than a perfect GPA. Those skills are what propel me forward today.” Since graduating, she launched her own wedding planning business.
Another undeniable benefit of working while in college is the opportunity to expand your circle, both professionally and socially. In addition to offering professional networking opportunities, traditional students may find that on-campus or other part-time jobs can be a great way to meet friends and other classmates.
“You get to meet some really amazing people, including coworkers and guests. Some of my best friends today were my coworkers in college,” Robinson says.
And when it comes to the professional networking aspects, you never know how the connections you make can help you down the line or throughout your career. “Working while in college is great for networking. You never know what kind of people you’ll meet, or what opportunities you may find,” she adds.
According to our experienced professionals, there are fewer cons than pros when it comes to working in college. But they’re certainly worth considering if you’re wondering if you’ll truly be able to balance a job alongside your studies.
A potential downfall of working while in college is stretching yourself too thin — in some cases at the cost of your grades. “One con of working while in college is that your grades may take a hit, depending on your major and level of self-discipline,” Robinson admits, though she maintains that this isn’t always the case. “A lot of people work in college, so this one really depends on your ability to manage your time.”
Students need to prioritize and efficiently manage their time so that their grades aren’t negatively affected by work. The key is to find the right balance and develop good habits to ensure your studies get the attention they need.
College is a busy time in anyone’s life, but adding work into the mix can fill up your schedule even faster. And when you’re prioritizing what’s important to you — school and work — your once prized free time will begin to dwindle.
“You may find that your social life suffers. Your work life and school life take up a lot of time. If you’re prioritizing work and school, then you’re most likely going to miss out on the social,” Rombach says.
It’s not all bad, though. Being devoted to your studies and work help to keep you free from other distractions. It’s all about keeping your eye on the prize — completing your education — and it can be helpful to remember that this is simply one short phase of your life that will pave the way for future success.
As more and more students work while in college, it’s becoming a necessity for institutions to find ways to support them. “Higher education will adapt to the needs of working students, recognizing that working students still have a need for resources,” Bridges maintains.
Students who work while in college may need more resources along their educational journey, such as IT support for technical issues while learning remotely. They may also need advisement support to ensure they’re scheduling themselves efficiently and academic support if they’ve been out of school for a while, he adds. “Colleges need to meet them where they are.”
As our professionals have revealed, working while in college has its perks and its drawbacks. But with the right amount of support, access to resources and level of commitment, working students can find success in the classroom.
One way institutions are already supporting working students is through online education. Take for instance CSS’ flexible learning options. Students can learn online and in virtual classrooms, fitting their studies in around work, family and other obligations. These learning formats can reduce the barriers that keep potential students out of the classroom and thriving in a number of online programs.
If you’ve toyed with the idea of learning in an online classroom, be sure to check out our article, “How do online classes work? 6 things to expect from the virtual classroom.”
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