It’s not really an option for some. Working while going to college is something that’s absolutely necessary for some to survive while trying to obtain an education, but what are the statistics behind it? Does working hurt or help grades? Are there any benefits of working while in college? If you don’t have to necessarily work, is it a good idea to get a job anyway? At what point do jobs become detrimental to one’s education? Considering that up to 80% of students are in the labor force, these are some good questions to ask. Let’s talk about what’s going to help you or hurt you when it comes to working in college.

Statistics of Working While in College

Let’s just look at some really basic numbers before we delve into pros and cons.

We’re looking at approximately 80% of students holding some form of employment. A majority of those students are working 20 hours or less. 20% of those students are working 20 to 30 hours in a week, and 10% of those students are working full time.

When we look at percentages from the perspective of enrollment, we find that 81% of part time students have a job while only 43% of full time students hold employment.

19% of working students also have children.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics researched how employment affects grade point averages and found some interesting results. Students who worked 20 hours or less have an average GPA of 3.13. Students who did not work had an average GPA of 3.04. Unfortunately, those students who worked more than 20 hours had an average GPA of 2.95.

working while in college

A couple of other studies showed some interesting conclusions regarding working while going to college. Retention rates were better for those who were only working modest hours (10-15 hours a week). Students who worked on campus had better grades than those who worked off campus. The most common jobs taken up by college students were either in retail or food services. The answer given for this choice of job was its tendency for flexibility. Another important conclusion to be considered was that students who come from low-income households felt more pressure to work which often led to full-time jobs and higher dropout rates.

Pros of Working While in College

After looking at some of the statistics, it’s easy to find some pros that come with working while in college. 

Learn to Manage Time

Many students are able to better develop time management when they are having to organize work and studies. Students have to learn to prioritize and how to say no to situations that are going to affect their grades. Students, like the rest of humanity, simply seems to do better in life when they’re busy. This is made manifest in the higher average GPA’s of working students in comparison to non-working students.

Develop Soft Skills

Beyond just time mastery, getting a job helps students develop other “soft skills” that will contribute to landing a good job upon graduation. We’ve discussed soft skills in previous articles, but we’ll do a quick recap. “Soft skills” are any kind of skills that are essentially difficult to measure. This could look like different leadership qualities, ability to organize, working effectively with a team, or taking initiative. Besides the obvious merit that comes from being able to develop these skills, it also looks good on a resume to be able to list skills and give examples about where they come from.

Accumulate Work Experience

Speaking of resumes, many employers look for “holes” in employment. While this idea of having gaps in your employment history may not be as much of a red flag in our day than it was in the not-too-distant past, you can still find a lot of benefit in having a job consistently over a long period of years. If any employer is looking at two impressive candidates for a position, it is highly likely that they’re going to follow the person with more work experience.

Earn an Income

One incredibly obvious pro of having a job in college is earning an income. It’s really never going to be a bad thing to be bringing in some extra cash unless it’s severely hindering your studies. However, one thing that many students don’t consider is that they will end up with more money than what’s coming up in their paychecks. If you’re constantly bringing in money and using portions of it to pay off student debt, you’re going to potentially be saving yourself thousands of dollars in interest. The faster you pay off a student loan, the less interest you’re going to be paying. Having a job allows for you to pay off those student loans faster (or to avoid some or all of them). You’ll have the money that you see coming directly into your bank account, but there will be potentially so much more money to be saved, and therefore “made,” when you’re paying off those darn student debts.

Here’s a specific example. 

Let’s say you wanted to take out a $15,000 student loan with 5% interest. 5% interest is the federal student loan average for an undergraduate degree (these interest rates rise with further education). Most federal loan repay plans expect students to pay them off within ten years. If you were to take ten years to pay off your student loan, you would find yourself paying $4,080 in interest. 

A study in Wisconsin actually showed that it’s taking some students just under 20 years to pay off their student loans. If you happen to find yourself in that worst-case scenario, you would be paying $8,760 in interest. We won’t even discuss the fact that the average amount of student debt accrued by the end of a four-year education is a staggering $28,650. This does not even include education beyond a bachelor’s degree. So in conclusion, there is a lot of money to be made beyond the listed hourly rate in a part-time gig during college.

Creating Connections

working while in college

Working in college is also going to give you great connections that you wouldn’t otherwise build. This could come in the form of future employers after college or even a potentially awesome reference. One connection that’s particularly solid to make is with professors on campus. Many professors hire teaching assistants (oftentimes, they hire many teaching assistants), and professors can get you a long way as personal references for jobs or further education beyond a bachelor’s degree. 

Going beyond being a simple reference, having personal relationships with staff in college can get you really far. Professors have a lot of say in their individual classes but also in their programs in general. This would be especially true for students with learning disabilities or ADHD. Professors also tend to know plenty of people in their field regardless of the fact that they work on campus. Take advantage of these potential connections and consider taking a job. Even if it’s not with a professor, knowing more people will always get you farther.

There are obviously plenty of pros when it comes to getting a part time job while going to college. Consider them. Take advantage of the benefits that come with a job even if you don’t necessarily need the income. Income is not the only reason to go to work.

Cons of Working While in College

Despite the multiple benefits of obtaining a job while attending school, there are still some cons to consider. 

Stretching Yourself Too Thin

When working in school, you always run the risk of stretching yourself too thin. Studies show that on average, university students are only obtaining six hours of sleep a night. Considering the fact that the recommended amount of sleep is eight hours, students are falling very behind in a healthy habit that could make or break a lot of things for them. Healthy amounts of sleep contribute to grades, positive and personal relationships, and mental health. Mental health on American college campuses are struggling. Many students are finding themselves with heightened amounts of detrimental stress. Working a part-time job on top of balancing other priorities could potentially cause a student to run on empty. Be aware of your situation and limits. Take them seriously.

Forgo Other Opportunities

When choosing to engage in a job while studying in school, a student has to get rid of other beneficial options. This could come in the form of volunteer opportunities, traveling educational experiences, student government positions, or student life activities. Gaps in a work history on a resume can easily be remedied by volunteer work. If you don’t need the income, there are plenty of benefits to consider by engaging in volunteering as opposed to paid labor. Many universities offer semesters abroad where students can take classes and gain valuable experiences that will help them develop character, independence, and admirable qualities as an employee. Student government positions and student life activities are only offered during the brief time as a college student. Some of these student life activities may not look impressive on a resume, but they still have merit. There’s no need to discount them completely.

In conclusion, there are fewer cons than pros listed. I often find that to be the case when I research this particular topic (as long as we’re talking about part time work and not full time work). We’ve discussed both sides, and both sides have valid reasons. Don’t discredit the cons just because there are fewer of them. Know your capabilities and priorities. Understand what having a job can mean fiscally. Look ahead and not just at the fun student activities in front of you. Not everyone should get a job while attempting to go to school, but as a whole, it’s a pretty safe and beneficial bet.


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