Dear Ally,

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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Balancing Work and School, Choosing the Right Job

Dear Ally,

I’m going to start by being honest. I never worked and went to school at the same time. I made as much money as possible during summers and the 6 weeks that I had off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, so I didn’t have to work during classes. I also applied for as many scholarships as possible and received several. This was a fortuitous cycle for me. I received scholarships so I didn’t have to work during school, then I did well and received more scholarships. It also helped that I attended an affordable state school in my state and, 20 years ago, tuition was cheaper overall.

Time is money,  and the college student should be especially stingy with both. Saved money can also save time, so think about what you really need to buy because the less you spend, the less time you’ll have to spend working, but that’s a topic for another post.

Get as much out of your part-time job as possible. Do not settle for a minimum wage position and if that’s all you can obtain, keep looking for a higher paying job, especially once you get job experience and have completed some college. Do you  have special skills or interests that make you valuable (think computer/social media/ tech)? Be wary of positions where most of the earnings are commission or tip-based. A few years ago I had a very bright student who was spending much of her free time working as a waitress. She took my advice to find a better job and ended up being able to earn the same pay in 2/3rds the amount of hours.

What non-monetary benefits can a part-time job offer? Some companies offer tuition reimbursement, but you usually have to have been employed for quite a while. Other places have scholarships for which employees can apply. I received a $500 scholarship from Wendy’s after having worked there several summers in high school and my entire senior year. Wendy’s also had the benefit of free and discounted meals. Look to see if a store where you regularly buy necessities is hiring and whether it offers employee discounts (think Target, Wal-mart or grocery stores). Do not work at a store where you’ll be tempted to spend all your earnings, and stay away from high priced clothing stores that require their employees to wear the clothes while working.

Perhaps your part-time job will help you gain experience that will later benefit your career. Once you’ve aced some difficult classes, you might consider tutoring. You get paid to brush up on what you’ve learned and work when it’s convenient. If you can score a paid internship in your field, this is probably the best way you can earn money during college. I never got an internship, but I spent two of my summers getting paid to do research at other universities, the first one being the school you attend. These opportunities are competitive, but pay very well and housing is usually included. For me, it was also a way to get to know potential grad schools and I did go to grad school at the second school.

There are other things to consider when deciding if a job is right for you. Is there enough flexibility for you to work around your course schedule? What if you need to take a night off to study for an exam? I have had students miss class because they had to work and that never makes sense to me, especially if it causes them to fail and have to repeat the course. They worked a few extra hours that ends up costing them thousands. The same caution can used for students who work too many hours and don’t leave enough time to study. How many hours is too much depends on the student, but I believe anything over 20 hours/week will affect your performance in classes. Of course, if you have a job where you have down time that allows you to study on the clock, working many hours might not be a problem. Do not even think about taking a job that will interfere with your sleep schedule. I once had a student in class who worked 3rd shift and she often fell asleep in my 8:30 am class.

As my friend in my last post learned, consider the time it takes to get to and from your job. Obviously, the closer the better since it will take time and possibly gas money to get there. Don’t schedule your work hours to close to class time, leave time after class to be able to ask important questions or to go back home to change. The fewer days a week you work, the less time (and gas) you’ll spend going back and forth. Many students only work Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

I hope this is the advice you were looking for when you requested this topic!

Looking forward to seeing you over the Thanksgiving holiday,

Aunt Sarah






Do What’s Best for You

Dear Ally,

Tomorrow is my co-worker’s last day before moving on to a position elsewhere. I’m going to miss her terribly as she was the first person that I work with that I would call a real friend. Our weekly lunches with our friends were often the one bright spot in some pretty stressful weeks. I’m extremely happy for her though. Her new workplace is an hour closer to her home, gaining her 10 extra hours per week. While some people might be upset that she is leaving, I’m glad she didn’t let that keep her from making a decision that will improve her quality of life immensely.

A student of mine a few years ago had a similar dilemma. She was majoring in both nursing and biology/pre-med. She was set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor, while her parents wanted her to study nursing like her sister. She compromised for years by taking courses for both, but eventually, when clinical courses began, it became impossible to schedule courses for both programs and she was forced to make a choice. I was proud of her when she told me she’d decided to stick with her dream of going to medical school. I know that it took a tremendous amount of guts to tell her parents that she planned to go against their advice and wishes. I’m happy to report that, years later, she’s nearly finished with med school and well on her way to realizing her goal of becoming a doctor.

I encourage you to not let fear, guilt, or what others might think keep you from doing what’s best for you and your life because, in the end, it’s exactly that, your life. Who knows what tough calls you’ll have to make in college and beyond, dropping a class, breaking up with a boyfriend, moving away from family and friends, but you’ll know it’s the right thing to do.

Always wishing you the best,

Aunt Sarah

Let the World Be Your Classroom

 arenalArenal Volcano

Dear Ally,

As you probably know I took a two week hiatus from writing because your uncle, some friends, and I went to Costa Rica for about a week. It was one of the most interesting and adventurous trips we’ve ever been on.

The trip confirmed there is no substitute for experienced-based learning. I took Spanish in high school and college, but hadn’t used it since and forgot much of what I’d learned, but there are several words and phrases I’ll never forget.  The first morning, Adam and I ordered the typical Costa Rican breakfast and our friend, Tony, ordered continental breakfast, including yogurt. Two plates of food and a bowl of an off-white substance, which we assumed was Tony’s yogurt, were brought to our table. Tony remarked how it was the strangest yogurt when the waiter came back and said it wasn’t yogurt, it was natilla, trying not to laugh as Adam and I cracked up. As it turns out, it was custard to put on our fried plantains. Later in the week, our navigator, Karen, was trying to figure out why the GPS was telling us to turn. I read a sign aloud that said, “No hay paso,” just as Karen realized we’re going the wrong way down a one-way street. The sign I saw was the equivalent of a “Do not enter” sign.

Another Spanish word I’ll never forget is “mondongo.” My college roommate and I went on a mission trip to Honduras our junior year and one of the more memorable meals was a dinner buffet. The dishes were labeled in Spanish only. We sampled the mondongo and discussed how it tasted pretty good, kind of like chicken. It turned out to be tripe, which is definitely not chicken.



Besides the language and cultural experiences, we also had the opportunity to observe the flora and fauna of the rain and cloud forests of Costa Rica. I saw an agouti (picture above), an animal I didn’t know existed. A white-nosed coati sauntered through our resort. On a guided hanging bridge tour, we saw an eyelash viper, one of many native venomous snakes. In the weeks leading up to the trip, being a bird nerd, I studied the common birds that we were most likely to encounter. I ended up adding over 100 new species (birders call them “life birds” or “lifers”) to my life list. Looking at pictures or seeing them in a zoo does not compare to observing birds like the Scarlet Macaw or Roseate Spoonbill in their natural habitat.

mott mottBlue-crowned Mott Mott

While my traveling companions were all asleep by the pool, I had an interesting conversation with a young man from the area where we were staying. He asked me, where I’m from, if we had any summer at all. He is fascinated by American culture, especially television and music. He said I was like Phoebe from “Friends” and was so lucky to live in the home of Rock N Roll and, when I told him I’d seen REO Speedwagon, Journey, and Styx together in the same concert, exclaimed, “Increible!” (which he told me was their equivalent to “Awesome”). It’s a perspective I’ll have to keep in mind this winter.

My advice this week is to take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn about other cultures and places. Make friends with someone who is different from you. Participate in a conversation partner program where you can be paired with an international student. Go on a mission trip to another area of this country or another country altogether. Study abroad for a week or a semester. You will not regret it and will probably never forget it.

Hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah