You’re off to college, prepared for however many years of education, enlightenment and parties as advertised by Hollywood. However, you quickly realize you need money. You can’t buy ramen noodles and store brand Mountain Dew in bulk without at least some cash on hand, so you need to get a job.
But where? A local business? A fast food chain? A pyramid scheme? (Don’t join a pyramid scheme.) Perhaps working within your university is a viable option. You might want to try your hand at an on-campus job. So, first things first, let’s consider some factors about the life of a student worker.
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) lists eight main jobs in on-campus employment: “student life/student affairs (general); recreational services/fitness center; residential life; academic schools/departments; athletics department; dining halls/food services; academic support services; libraries.”
Most jobs on the list are going to be on the active side: moving around, talking to people and generally highly-involved. Jobs of this kind are good because they push the student worker to truly prioritize time management, as well as build connections and learn new things. Residential life especially allows you to connect with the life of the dorm, and jobs within your department like a TA can provide experience. These types of jobs can be rewarding.
However, some students aren’t as keen. If you lead an active life of scholastics and extracurriculars, the blip of your part-time job during college is not as high of a goal. You’re already exhausted and overinvolved, so adding a dynamic job will hurt in the long run. You want the coveted “sit at a desk” job — the jobs where your basic tasks are to sit at a desk and do homework.
They do exist, but they typically require a bit of hunting and they can go quick. I personally held one such job for a short time. Sadly, the Michigan winter ended the career of the bicycle attendant, but the ability to be paid while keeping a hold on my schoolwork was nice. They aren’t as rewarding or as structure-building as the more intensive jobs, but a “sit at a desk” job can allow you to get some money while doing homework.
The hours of the day are finite, so consider the time commitment of a job. You’ll be taking classes, you’ll be involved in extracurriculars and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a social life. Employment might be difficult for the highly-committed student and almost impossible for the overcommitted student.
The benefit of on-campus employment is the college connection. Since you’re hired through the university rather than an outside company, the job can better manage with your needs as a student.
According to NASPA, work begins to undermine studies somewhere between 16 and 25 hours, but the average student worker is on the job 15 hours or fewer a week, with only a small fraction of students working over 20 hours. On-campus jobs won’t typically wear one out. They’ll also typically take exams, breaks and other school events into account.
However, working a limited number of hours affects pay. Fifteen hours per week may not suffice if you’re paying your own way through college. In such cases, working multiple on-campus jobs is a viable option. You’ll need to be careful but juggling multiple college jobs might still be more manageable than working 25 hours at a fast food restaurant.
In addition, check with your financial aid office to see if they have more scholarship opportunities. They won’t bring any more income, but they can lighten the load of tuition costs, which can help overall. Most, if not all, on-campus employment pays comparably to a retail job, so they will barely stave off the costs of living; combining a lot of job hours with studies can be next to impossible for full-time students.
Remember the statistic about a 16 to 25-hour exhaustion threshold? Sometimes, you must lower the figure. Everyone’s going to have a different capacity, so you need to be careful not to overburden yourself. Sure, the job may only take 10 hours a week, but if you have multiple commitments requiring a lot of time, everything can spiral out of control quickly. Some people can manage a hi-octane college workload, but they are rare and to be respectfully feared.
I, for one, am no such person. During my sophomore year, I worked at one of the more labor-intensive jobs on campus. The time commitment generally stayed below 15 hours, some weeks far less, but I was always on my feet. I also began working at my college radio station, played in the college pep band, ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign one semester, played in three the next and took five classes both semesters.
I made a mistake. The experience left me exhausted and cranky until the second half of the second semester, and then only because pep band wound down and I dropped the two more time-intensive campaigns. You sometimes have to make hard choices in order to survive.
Many jobs on campus don’t require any particular talent. Some “sit at a desk” jobs just require your presence, and a good percentage will be simple to learn with good guidance. Even in the more intensive on-campus jobs, the student worker typically receives lighter tasks since they’re part-time and inexperienced.
However, don’t let the lesser load become an excuse for laziness. Your job might not be the single highest priority in your life at college, but you’re still employed and should take your work as seriously as it needs to be taken.
A few jobs will still require capabilities beyond the basic skills acquired in life. Being an RA takes empathy, a willingness to invest in people, an outgoing nature and responsibility. Being a TA requires knowledge in your field and the ability to teach.
The beautiful thing about on-campus employment is you can build the skills as you progress. Don’t let the sometimes daunting tasks of a RA intimidate you; the experience allows you to learn the ropes as you go. You don’t have to be the complete and perfect TA on day one, but if you want to be it, signing on is a start.
Remember, everybody: Know what you need if or when you’re applying for on-campus employment. If you want to build certain skills in an environment with a typically stronger safety net, look for the job. If you just need to find some extra money, look for the job. Hopefully the tips above can point you in the right direction.