Should You Get a Part-time Job in College?

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Matthew Veldman
Matthew Veldman

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For parents, the notion probably conjures thoughts of instilling values like time management and work ethic, and maybe keeping their kid out of trouble when they’re not in class. For students, thoughts often turn to extra cash to spend on the weekends. The truth is that whatever the motivation for doing it, picking up a part-time job during college can satisfy the wants of parents and be a great experience for university students. Keeping a few things in mind as you think through the decision will help you through the process and help you decide whether a part-time job in college is right for you.

What the literature says…

The statistics vary pretty widely depending on who and where you find your research around this subject. However, one reputable study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that among traditional full-time university students (16-24), about 40% of students had a job while enrolled in classes full-time, with most of those students working part-time an average between 15-20 hours per week. That may seem like a lot on the surface, but as most college freshmen are quick to discover, your college class schedule is hardly comparable to what it was in high school. Plus, you’ll have a lot more flexibility with your time and a lot less total hours in class.

1. Your schedule is your own

Many students will be able to juggle their part-time job with their class schedule and find that there can be many rewards of working part-time. Aside from the extra cash in your pocket, some jobs, whether working for a private company or doing research in a lab on campus, offer valuable work experience that you can add to your resume to stand out when you apply for summer internships. Others, especially on campus jobs, can quickly turn coworkers into new friends and are a great way to meet people outside of your classes and your dorm. And let’s not forget that whatever job you choose, they can all provide a much appreciated break from the constant stream and stress of academics.

2. Your classes (still) come first

And speaking of academics, other studies have shown that working a small amount per week can actually improve your performance in school. Studies have shown higher retention rates among university students who work a reasonable amount, about 10-15 hours per week, than those who either work more or don’t work at all. Other research shows better academic performance for students working on rather than off campus.

How can I apply this to my life?

Both of these statistics highlight a key point about getting a part-time job in college, and that’s to not do more than what feels right for you. It may feel great to earn what seems like a lot of money and have more disposable income than your friends, but don’t let that make you lose track of why you’re going to a university in the first place. If working 30+ hours a week is making you miss important study groups and review sessions or commuting to your off-campus job requires you to leave class early or miss lectures, and these are having an impact on your grades, you should probably rethink your priorities. The main purpose of college is the academic part and the investment in your future, so don’t lose sight of that just because you’re making more money than you can spend in the present.

My Story

I went through this experience personally when I was in college. Since I had been a varsity athlete in high school and in college, I thought I had time management pretty much figured out. I wasn’t a guy who stressed out easily, so I kept trying to see how much more I could do. College had so many opportunities and it felt hard to just pick a few.

So on top of taking the maximum number of classes and dedicating 25 hours a week to my sport, I took on a part-time job on campus for 10 hours a week.

Then, when that seemed to be going smoothly enough, a research position I wanted opened up so I took that on as well, adding another 10 hours a week. I was able to juggle all of these commitments for about… four weeks before it all came crashing down on me.

I wasn’t sleeping enough or eating right, my coach started to notice, and my grades started to suffer.

The decision I needed

It hurt to do, because I knew it would’ve helped my resume had I stayed on, but just a month after I started the research position I had to admit that it was just too much and that I needed to quit. Unfortunately too, the damage to my grades was already done, and I ended up having one of my worst quarters academically. It was a tough lesson learned, but I learned even in a school and culture of high achievers always trying to do more, I had to step back and give myself a break.

So the important thing to remember with a part-time job or with any extracurricular activity is to keep a sense of moderation. It’s better to get involved with a handful of things and do them well than try to do everything and struggle to stay afloat. The extra money from a job can be great, but don’t let it negatively affect the rest of your college experience and jeopardize the future that you came to college to work toward.

Conclusion: Part-time job in college?

With that cautionary tale behind us, I can say that for me, working a part-time on campus job, aside from those stressful four weeks, was one of the great decisions I made while in college. It was all about finding a moderation that worked for me. I made great friends that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and my shifts turned into helpful, stress-relieving study breaks where I didn’t have to think about the academic world for a few hours. Often I would leave shifts feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into my studies. To find out what works for you, you’ll have to try it and see. If you think you might want to get involved in a part-time job on campus at your school, check out your school’s jobs website. Many schools have a page dedicated specifically to on campus opportunities for students.

Questions? Let us know!