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Working Part-Time During College

By: Maria Olivia Nelson
Sep 22, 2020 • 7 min read

Working part-time during college

Many students find that they want to explore the possibility of working part-time during their educational career. This desire continues after undergrad. The difficulties and benefits associated with working during college can be similar whether you are in an undergrad or graduate program. However, due to the increased course load in graduate programs, additional complications can arise when finding a job to supplement your studying. This article will help you determine things such as the benefits and difficulties associated with part-time work. It will also cover how to organize your priorities, decide what amount of time you can put into a job, and explore part-time positions that might work for you.

working part-time


What are the benefits? 

Part-time work can be a significant investment, both financially and professionally. The financial benefit is obvious: having a source of income—whether as a supplement for your personal spending or as a way to help pay for your schooling—is valuable to gain financial security and help offset the costs associated with any collegiate program. The professional benefits are more varied and perhaps less obvious, but no less useful or advisable. Working during college can help you expand your professional network, develop technical skills, and learn how to operate in the professional sphere in a way you may not have experienced previously. Those things can boost your resume and, later, be leverage when you apply to full-time positions in the ‘real world.’

What are the disadvantages?

The question of working during grad school has its own page on Grad School Hub. To summarize its contents: they do not suggest working while participating in a grad program. The work is intense, your time will be stretched, and you may need any ‘free’ time to rest and cope with being pushed continuously academically for the duration of your program. Some people are attending a grad program part-time, so they have the necessary time to work.

A full-time job

The average grad program takes a lot more work than an undergrad degree, and the time you spend studying needs to reflect that: it isn’t impossible to spend between 40 and 60 hours a week on your schoolwork. That’s the same amount of time as many full-time jobs! Working a job on top of that isn’t easy, but some people need to work to afford school. While the balancing act required to manage both isn’t easy, it is doable. There are many sources available to help students who are working to pay for school, including paid positions in the university you are attending and financial aid opportunities.

working part-time

Learn to prioritize

First things first, you need to establish what your motivation for working part-time is. Some students want to gain experience in a field of interest or develop skills in a particular industry. Other students need to work as a way to help finance their education or other expenses. Perhaps you’re one of the chosen few that can manage classes, friends, and other responsibilities so well that you want to add a job to kill time productively (if this is you, please share your skills with the rest of us, or, more likely, be honest).

Find your reason for working part-time

The reason behind your work is a huge factor in determining where a job would fit on your list of priorities. Working for financial reasons will equate a different level of importance than a job you have to kill time. Different motivations will manifest themselves as varying levels of willingness to sacrifice other activities and hobbies for your work. Each person will have to establish their list of priorities and then determine where their job fits in that list.

How much time do you have, really?

While part-time work can be beneficial to a student in many ways. There are some things to consider before committing to filling another role while in school. When added to the time spent balancing your social and academic requirements, the demands of a full class schedule can sometimes lead to problems with time management. When you add another piece on top of that—a part-time job—you run the risk of increasing your workload without actually having the time necessary for everything. There are a few steps you can take to prevent that from happening. First, you have to have a general idea of how much your current responsibilities demand in terms of time and energy.

working part-time

Allocate your time

According to this information published on the University of Michigan-Flint website, undergraduate students should assume they have two to three hours studying per credit hour. If you are a full-time student taking four courses (12 credits) a semester, this translates to roughly 24 to 36 hours of studying a week. This is in addition to the presumed 12 hours of class. They also give rough estimates of how many credits you should take a semester if your primary responsibility is a job instead of school. For example, if an individual works full-time at 40 hours a week, they recommend taking a maximum of 3 to 5 credit hours a semester (one class and maybe a seminar or lab). By working backward from their recommendations, you can also get an idea of how many hours a week, you could dedicate to a job based on how many credits you are already taking. If we reverse the above example, a student taking 3 to 5 credits a semester can work up to 40 hours a week. If you are a full-time student (12 to 18 credits), you have less than 20 hours a week for a job.

Leave room for extracurriculars

Keep in mind: the above estimations are not taking into account any extracurriculars or social commitments you may have. Things like sports teams, clubs, and even weekly lunches with friends take time. Depending on how regular your schedule is, you may be able to predict down to the minute how much time you spend on extracurriculars. For example, you might have one intramural soccer game (2 hours). Next, three jazz ensemble practices (6 hours). Then, one football game (3 hours, up to 6 when including tailgating and post-game events). Finally, three weekly lunches with friends (3 hours). Adding that all up results in a total of 17 hours a week dedicated to social or extracurricular events. That’s 17 hours you can’t (or, technically, won’t) give to a job. Frankly, those 17 hours are probably the parts of your week that you enjoy the most. So, the value gained can be worth the opportunity cost of not working during that time.

working part-time

Eyes on the prize

As mentioned previously, grad programs are in an entirely different tier when it comes to the time required for success. You have to consider when you need to do the required reading; plus, you need to consider the time you will need to digest the material and fully understand it. Group work for your classes, being the TA for an undergrad course, preparing presentations or papers, and other similar components also take up a lot of time and may require more than you expect them to.

Plan ahead

The best way to figure out what time you can eke out for a job is to keep a detailed notes calendar. Note how long it takes you every day to do your reading, what days you are working from morning till night, and generally log any time you spend on schoolwork. Once you’ve established the time you don’t have for a job, the remaining hours are yours to do with as you wish.

Is part-time for you?

The short answer is: maybe. Part-time work is excellent for students because it affords you a greater level of flexibility and decision-making power. A business that hires you as a part-timer will likely understand your need to work around classes and extracurriculars. That means if your schedule changes due to shifting practice times, group meetings, or other school-related activities, you will likely be able to request a shift change or a different type of work to meet your other commitments. Undergrad affords you enough time that a job is doable for most people in most programs. It’s an excellent way to gain experience and expand your professional network.

working part-time

Workload when working part-time

However: grad school is a lot of work. Imagine your most challenging week of classes during undergrad. It’s probably more work than that (although this depends on what you studied in undergrad and what grad program you’re in). The increased difficulty is a natural part of taking the next step in your education.

Explore your options

Do you want to work during grad school? Some jobs are more suited to the intense studying associated with grad school. Things like freelance writing, grant analysis, and night auditing can be good ways to work around a busy schedule and help financially. Some schools offer paid positions, too! Students can be tutors, teaching assistants, and research assistants. This can be done while still keeping their work within the same area as their studies. If you are interested in these types of jobs, you can check your student services office. Or any job boards associated with your school.

Are you a student who is working part-time? We are rooting for you! Let us know your tips on our social media pages.

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