Working While in School: is it Worth the Effort?


There are dozens of ways to pay for a college education—scholarships, student loans, federal grants, and working. Definitely the best way to pay for your schooling is through scholarships you earned before you stepped foot on campus, but not all of us are that lucky. But even if you are that lucky… you may want to consider getting a job anyhow, but more about that later.
University Scholarships

One of the greatest surprises I found while working on my undergraduate degree was that through good grades I could be awarded a scholarship from the University. This is common at Universities around the country but rarely publicized. Contact your financial aid office to see what is available at your school. Once I learned about the scholarships (I didn’t get any in high school, going into college) I worked hard to get good marks. After good grades my freshman year I was given a full tuition scholarship for my second year. My grades dipped but I was still awarded at least half-tuition for my next three years of school.
Part-time Work

With staggering tuition prices it is expected that most students will work at least a few hours each week so they won’t have to rely solely on student loans or mum and dad’s bank account. Part-time work allows you to: Perfect time-management skills necessary for academic success, reduce your need for student loans and the resulting indebtedness, and gain career-related experience as you clarify goals, acquire skills and self-confidence, and build a network of contacts. There has been some debate about how much students should work but there seems to be a general consensus that on-campus jobs at 20 hours a week or less seems to be a good idea. Studies show that students who work up to 30 hours a week do just as well or even better academically than those who don’t. Working only 12-15 hours a week (as most students do) shouldn’t affect your grades.
U.S. News wrote an interesting article showing the other benefits of working while in school. Chief among the benefits listed is the career experience you might get.
Working on-campus

One of the best ways of paying for school is by working for the school. Studies show that students who work on campus are more likely to persist in their studies. Through your job, you’ll become better acquainted with faculty, staff, and other students. There are hundreds of jobs available to students at most Universities and many of these jobs will open doors for you and your future career. Look for jobs in labs or other areas that will give you experience in your chosen career path. You should also try to find a job that gives you time with a potential mentor, preferably a professor in your area of study. The more time you are able to spent with those who are working in your field the better—they will be able to help and guide you in making important decisions about your schooling and career. If you can’t get the “dream job” right away don’t be discouraged. Get another job and start making contacts… things always seem to open up if you look long enough.
Summer jobs

I don’t understand why so many students go home for the summer, but they do. You might want to consider staying… the impossible to get on-campus jobs open up and you can be there to snatch them up. Summer school is also a great way to get ahead and scholarships and other financial aid is usually easier to procure for summer term. Use the summer months to work hard and opportunities to climb important ladders will likely appear. Take advantage of all the resources that are available to you: faculty and other mentors, labs, clubs, etc. During the summer it is much easier to take advantage of people and places as the traffic and demand for these things is significantly lower.
Internships

Another really smart thing to do over the summer is to take advantage of an internship. These will take you out into the community and give you invaluable job experience. Start early looking for these opportunities—talk to faculty advisors, counselors, and check out the web for potential opportunities.

Whatever you decide to do, try to pay for as much schooling as possible now. Students loans seem to suck the life blood out of many and extreme debt is an easy trap to fall into. With all the benefits of working, even if it’s only a few hours a week, it makes much more sense to get a job and work your way through.

About the Author: Tyler Christensen is currently a PhD student in Learning Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is a Professional Development researcher for the Quest Atlantis project and his personal research interests include: online learning, personal finance, professional development, teaching with technology and web design. He maintains the website RichOnAnyIncome.com, a personal finance resource site for students. He resides in Bloomington with his wife and two children.

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