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Work it Out: Students Who Work

A big issue that often arises when advisors have conversations with students about first semester freshman year is that of “having a job.” Parents and students both seem to have a lot of misconceptions about this that it might be beneficial for us to make more clear, so here goes.

First, it’s good for your student to work. Research has shown that students who work reasonable amounts during the academic year (about 15 hours per week) are more likely to manage their time well.

Ok, now that we’ve established that, let me say that generally, more than 20 hours tends to make things very difficult for students. Gone are the days when students could work 20-30 hours per week and still perform well in classes and make the most of their college experience.  Working this much almost always ensures that students will be at these jobs for the rest of their lives.

Also, odd hours (like third shift) often result in one of two things: the student either quits the job, or quits school altogether (in fact, I have known exactly one person in the last ten years to successfully manage this, and her college life was miserable). If you can possibly avoid it, don’t put your students in a position where they feel like they have to do this to themselves.

In 1972, my Dad made enough money from his part time gig at the grocery store to buy an old car and help pay his tuition. Over the last 20-30 (or 40, in Dad’s case–sorry, Dad) the minimum wage has not exactly risen in proportion with tuition costs. It’s impossible for students to have jobs during college that might do anything besides pay gas money, car insurance, and the phone bill. If your family’s mindset is “s/he has to work to pay off that $5,000 in tution this semester,” you may need to re-think how realistic that is, and scale back the demands you’re putting on your student, especially if you’re also hoping that student will get a decent GPA.

Sometimes, students want to try and schedule classes around their jobs, which is always difficult and gets increasingly so as they near graduation and their course needs become more specific. A good question for these students is, “What’s more important, school or your job?” If the answer isn’t immediately and resoundingly, “school,” you may have a problem. If the answer is “school,” but you and your student know s/he needs to work, you might want to re-think some things and talk about other options: a new job, an on-campus job, cutting back on some bills, taking out more/different loans, etc.

If your student is in a job that doesn’t offer at least some flexibility and understanding about school scheduling, it’s probably not the kind of place where you want your student working anyway. Odds are, the employer isn’t going to be supportive, empathetic, or setting a good example for your student.

Does all this mean that your wonderful, hardworking son or daughter can’t work and make it through school? Of course not. But some strategies are in order. 1) Students should work like crazy over summers and on breaks so they have the money they need 2) Students should schedule as many hours as possible on the weekends, so they can focus on schoolwork during the week 3) Students should get jobs where it’s probably OK for them to break out a book and study once in a while (e.g. odds are the ice cream shop won’t be busting at the seams in December, so your student can sneak a peak at that World History text or those  Anatomy flashcards while waiting for the next customer 4) Students should TAKE THE WEEK OFF DURING FINALS ( just trust me on this–the end result is the world’s most tragic crash-and-burn).

School hard. Work hard. Play hard (in that order).

Jessica Hume
BU Class of 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications

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About Cassie

I'm the Director of the Writing Center and Director of Parent Communications at Bellarmine University.

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