Dear Ally,

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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







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