Home > Financial Aid > College Funding > Employment and College

Employment and College

While popular media and probably many of the adults around you portray college as a time of recreation and leisure, in reality most college students will not find themselves free of the burdens associated with employment. In fact, the majority of college students work at least part-time while they are enrolled in school. Whether it’s on or off campus, part-time or full-time, work is part of the college lifestyle. As with most things, though, some ways to approach college employment are better than others.

ADVERTISEMENT

The old saying "beggars can't be choosers" may very well apply to college employment. Most college students are looking for jobs on a part-time basis in a town where they have few or no connections, after having only worked a couple years at most. Given this situation, you may have to take whatever job you’re offered and do your best to earn and save money. However, there are still strategies you can employ to make the most out of your college work experience.

Set Hours and Boundaries

Attending college full-time is a full-time job, so working full-time while attending school full-time tends to be tough, if not impossible. While there’s a lot of incentive for students to be juggling a money-making job and a degree program that will ultimately result in even better pay, it’s actually very difficult to make it work. Whether you are going to school while continuing to work at a job you already have or finding new work, it’s important to set boundaries and make sure your employer knows and respects that school is your top priority.

If you don’t believe me, look at the numbers. A growing body of research suggests that students who work full-time are less likely to graduate on time and tend to earn lower grades than students who only work part-time. The good news is that part-time work seems to either help or have no effect on students’ graduation rates and grade point averages, so working during school is an option for paying your bills, even if it isn’t necessarily a viable way to pay your full tuition. The magic number seems to be about 15 to 20 hours a week; students who keep their employment commitment below that point tend to benefit from college employment, while students who exceed that range tend to have trouble balancing work and college.

Go Where the Money Is

College can be a time to try out lines of work that are fun, quirky, or just plain lucrative. Working in a café, bar, or restaurant can be great ways to earn money while in school since the tips you earn each shift make up for the limited number of hours you work. While they’re likely unrelated to your post-graduation plans, these jobs can look good on a résumé, too. This experience shows you work well under pressure and are capable of multitasking and of at least some level of polite interaction, which are all great job skills.

Less conventional lines of work can also pay off. Jokes can be made about college students serving as lab rats for medical studies or as itinerant labor for farming or construction, but I know students who have fed and clothed themselves for four years with such activities. One of my college roommates paid a sizable chunk of his tuition by driving a beet truck each fall — a family friend had a farm about an hour from campus and would call him in to help with the harvest. He had to put in 14-hour days at the start of the semester, but the money he made was more than what he would have earned in months at the traditional minimum wage mall job. If your campus isn’t located smack in the middle of a beet field (and for your sake, I hope it isn’t), you can still explore other opportunities for temporary, seasonal or contract work, ranging from manual labor to conducting field research for academic departments.

Gain Experience

Ideally, college employment plays an important role in building your résumé and making you more competitive for jobs in your intended field after graduation. Student job and internship opportunities allow you to gain valuable experience in any of a variety of fields, while simultaneously focusing on your studies. The integration of work and study can enrich your experience in both and can help you land your dream career. So start by looking for part-time jobs or internships in your field or in a position that will build useful skills for your intended career area.

Federal work-study jobs can be particularly good for this, as many place students in roles that involve far more than just running a dishwasher or emptying trash cans. Most work-study jobs are assigned to offices on campus and typically involve some administrative duties, as well as other tasks that may be more specific to the mission of your employer. Work-study occasionally can be used to fund positions at non-profit organizations off-campus as well. Working in an office or department related to your career goals can be an invaluable experience, as can working in an office related to something you’ve never even considered as a career. You can gain new knowledge and experience and even change the direction of your career plans.

Explore Other Resources

Since student employment tends to work best as a supplement to other sources of income, rather than as a primary resource for paying all your bills and your tuition and fees, you will want to look at other ways of paying for school. College financial aid, such as grants, scholarships and student loans may be necessary to keep you on track for graduation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Latest College & Financial Aid News

The AP Exams Have Significant Changes for Second Year in a Row

April 14, 2021

by Izzy Hall

Traditionally taken the first two weeks of May, the AP Exams test students’ knowledge from their Advanced Placement classes, with the possibility of being awarded college credit for a high score. Last year, the College Board made significant chances to the AP Exams in order to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on students, schools and curriculums. This year, the exams will look more like they have in the past, but with some notable changes. [...]

Scholarship Search in College? Scholarships for Undergrads

April 13, 2021

by Scholarships.com Staff

Let’s say you’ve made it. You are enrolled in college, or have been for a year or two. You’re receiving some financial aid, or even a scholarship, but something’s missing. It’s money. No matter how generous the package you’re receiving is, there’s always one more book to buy, one more activity fee, one more dining hall bill… [...]

University to Give New Students Free Laptops for Filing the FAFSA

April 6, 2021

by Izzy Hall

The coronavirus made laptops a necessity for college students. Where before students without personal computers or laptops could use on-campus computers and provided software to meet the technological needs of their courses, the shift last spring to online classes necessitated that students have a stable internet connection and a compatible device. While the majority of students were able to meet this requirement, according to a study by EDUCASE, some students found themselves without a modern laptop that could run the most up-to-date browser, use RAM-heavy software or keep up even with reliable high-speed Wi-Fi. One university has announced a unique remedy for this technical situation. [...]

Last Reviewed: April 2021