Making Working in College Work
The newfound money may mean moving from microwavable meals to the stovetop, but at what cost?
By Aliyah Thomas, Mount Saint Mary College
By now, I’m sure you’ve sold a decent helping of your soul to pay for college and, despite the initial thrill shaving 16,000 fat ones off your tuition bill, you’ve found that Sallie Mae is a harsh mistress.
If your empty pockets quiver at the thought of paying for another school year, you’re not alone.
You’ve probably learned that borrowing from your parents gets to be a problem for everyone—after all, you did get free room and board for eighteen years—and the reality is that the National Bank of Mom and Dad is finite. If your pride has long been compromised from semesters of asking for help from your parents, then you’ve probably got no shame left to ask grandma, who hates to see her grandbaby unhappy, underfed or strapped for cash.
But what if you’ve got a guilty conscience? And what if rubbing pennies together isn’t doing anything but making you look like an asshat? You suck it up and get a job.
The thought of a dreaded J-O-B can’t be something you shrink from for convenience; you can make time for homework, and that party on Friday night can wait until you get out of work. What’s even more inconvenient than a couple hours sheared off your day? Eating ramen noodles three times in the same day when your meal swipes run out for the week.
Money is the most therapeutic green stuff you’ll find during college—don’t fight me on this. But as nice as having some spare cash is, a job can be a lot of work, and even part-timers will tell you that. Having a side hustle during college interims is one thing: You work a couple days out of the week, sure, but there’s free time to spend with your friends and family or, better yet, free time to spend binge-watching all of those really bad B movies on Netflix. Being employed during the school year puts you in a completely different ballpark: Sometimes you’ll hit a home run, and sometimes you take the strike-out in stride, but most times you just get balls right to the face (and lose that devil-may-care attitude real quick).
There are a lot of things you come to realize when you accept your first job offer in college.
1. Not Short on Cash, but Short on Time
How many hours do you put into a work week? If you’re full-time, like me, that’s 40 hours you don’t have to study, do homework or sleep. You know that college triangle diagram that asks you, quite ominously, to pick two points and give up the third? It’s actually got way more sides than that. While I think it’s possible to do well in school, go to work and somehow manage not to assume a passive role in your social life, I also think that it takes a lot of energy.
On the other hand, when you only have time to work, sleep and read that extra chapter before class tomorrow, you get really good at giving precedence to what’s important, especially if it’s something as time-sensitive as a research paper. I was an active accomplice in watching my social life, or lack thereof, vanish into thin air, but my GPA seemed to compensate for those times when I’d bite the bullet and bail last minute on week-old plans.
My advice, especially for when it’s early o’clock and you’re stuck deciding whether or not to skip class to finish a paper, is to micromanage your time. Internalizing any sort of schedule will keep you from falling off track and losing focus of what’s important, and that might not always be homework!
2. Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby!
As if the pressure of college wasn’t enough to drive you out of your ever-lovin’ mind (and I mean that as emphatically as possible), you’ve also got responsibilities at work. A campus tutor may not have the same responsibilities as a babysitter, but it’s all the same in retrospect. If there’s already no time to spend in the company of your friends—no, not in your weekly study group—then there’s probably no time to take a Ferris-Bueller-type day off in the middle of the semester, but God knows you wouldn’t mind a day to kick back in the sun.
It’s pretty much unheard of for anyone (with the exception of grad students and commuters) to have a full-time job during undergrad, so almost everyone you meet is probably holding down a single digit work week. I’ll argue to the death of me that full-time will wreak havoc on the most beautiful of souls—seriously, I was a better person before this—but you’d be surprised at the reality of a part-time student employee.
Most of my classmates aren’t employed full-time at their jobs and, given that we’re all always out of time and pissed off about things we’d normally just maintain a sort of nonchalance about, I’d say we’re in the same boat. Not to mention that none of us really get the right amount of sleep.
No, these bags under my eyes aren’t Gucci, my friend.
3. Do These Interpersonal Skills Make My Resume Look Fat?
It’s not all bad! Don’t run back to the Bank of Mom and Dad just yet.
Having a job in college puts you ahead of the game. While most of your classmates are probably unemployed for the time being, you’re building solid credentials for the workforce. It gives you an opportunity to prove to future employers that you had enough poise to balance college and a job at the same time. Congratulations! Come graduation, you’ll have an edge on graduates vying for the same job as you.
While your resume might look awesome, don’t just think of your job in terms of how good the ink looks on paper.
No matter how menial the task is or how much your job seems to humble you, there’s always something to be learned, and these are your skills. You may not think that cleaning up shit at a daycare does anything for your computer literacy, but every job you have in your life gives you useful experience—it’s all more than just words or a careful smile and the resume you hand to the interviewer.
Stop me at any time if this starts to sound like a motivational poster.
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to be mindful of your own time management skills. There’s no equation for graduating with a magna cum laude and maintaining a job. If working while in college makes you feel overextended, then maybe it’s not the path you want to pursue, but there are ways to cut back and still be successful. If you’re motivated enough, maybe you’ll even apply for the position that Snagajob keeps flooding your inbox about.