Balancing a Job and School: Pitfalls and Payoffs

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balance part-time job and school

Staying on top of tough college courses is a challenge for any student, but balancing it with working in a restaurant, being a nanny, or any job for that matter, makes it even harder to keep up. With the rising costs of college tuition and living expenses, it’s no surprise that a 2013 study from Citigroup and Seventeen magazine found nearly 80% of college students work at least part-time during the school year. Here are some of our best tips for successfully juggling a part-time job with your academics.

Put school first.

​​“Students need to remind themselves school is their most important job,” says Erin Wirth, an accredited financial counselor working in marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She’s also involved with financial literacy campaign Nebraska Money Smart Week. “If you are working so much you are neglecting your academics, you could be jeopardizing your future and your future earning potential,” she warns.

Phil Schuman, director of financial literacy at Indiana University, reminds students that putting school on the backburner may delay graduation, causing them to spend more money. If your job becomes too demanding, Schuman suggests scaling back your hours or finding a different one so you can make academics a priority and complete school as soon as possible.

Schuman says research has found that academics generally aren’t affected if students work no more than 15 to 20 hours per week during the school year. “Once you get above that 20 hours a week, you get into situations where students prioritize work more than school, so academics are negatively affected,” he says.

Cut your expenses.

Don’t think you can afford to cut back on work hours? Wirth says the math is simple: If you have good financial habits and trim your expenses, you can reduce the number of hours you need to work. There are many simple fixes to save students hundreds of dollars a month.

Wirth suggests making a list of your expenses and getting serious about what you can cut. It’s time to cut back on “wants,” like eating out. She’s seen students save over $250 a month by cooking instead of eating fast food. Dropping cable TV for a streaming service is another easy way to save. Wirth also recommends taking advantage of free offerings from your school, such as free bus passes and on-campus events like concerts.

Rent is the biggest expense for most students, so Wirth recommends shopping around to find more affordable accommodations, or consider getting another roommate.

Wirth adds that if you can get in the habit of budgeting, saving and not abusing credit cards, you’ll make major progress. She says if students who work during the summer and even winter or spring breaks can save most of that money, it can reduce the number of hours they need to work during the school year.

Consider a different job.

If you just can’t balance school with your current job, consider finding a new job that pays more, has a more flexible schedule or can help reduce your expenses, Wirth advises. She points out that getting a job that pays just 75 more cents an hour can add up to an extra $75 per month. 

Try finding an on-campus job, if possible. “If you can find an on-campus job, go for it, because they’ll be more flexible making sure you prioritize academics,” Schuman recommends. You’ll also spend less money on transportation.

Seek help if you need it.

Schuman urges students who are struggling to take advantage of on-campus resources. Student career centers can help you learn how to better prioritize school and work. Your financial aid office or major department can also help you explore other options for financing school, such as scholarships.

“It’s important students understand there are ways you can finance school besides just having a job,” Schuman says. “Anything you can do where you don’t have to repay the money is great.”

Remember the big picture.

When you’re feeling frustrated, remember that having a job has far more benefits than just earning money. Schuman points out that having a job during school helps you build skills that look great on a resume once you start searching for post-college positions. It can also help prepare you for the real world.

“College is the stepping stone into the adult world, and part of that world is having a job,” Schuman says. “So if you can start getting into that routine, I think you’ll be all the better for it once you graduate.”


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