To Work or Not to Work?


College students offer advise on whether or not to work during school.

College costs money. A job gives you money. Sounds like the perfect solution, right? Well, it gets better. Jobs provide more than just a fat paycheck. For one thing, they’ll teach you to manage your time wisely. They also teach you good marketable skills, which are an invaluable addition to an academic degree. You’ll find the post-graduation job search a lot easier with the résumé and references you put together in college. And the workplace can be a great place to make friends with other employees or wise adults. But maybe you’re still not sure a job is the best idea. After all, you’ve heard how much studying college classes require, and you want to take full advantage of the on-campus fun. Don’t worry--there are ways to find the right kind of job and still save time and energy for academics, friendships and ministries. As these three students have learned--sometimes the hard way--it is possible to balance fulfilling work with schoolwork and still have a good time.

Work pays off

For Sarah Coleson, a Bible major who graduated this year, school-year jobs paid for all four years at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. Her three on-campus jobs--teacher’s aide, resident assistant, and secretary in student development--handled most of her academic costs, covered room and board, and gave her spending money. "My jobs made it possible for me to go through all four years of school and only have one very small loan my freshman year," she says. "It’s been a great help financially."

Her college employment should also help earn her money after graduate school, when she hopes to start her career as a professor. Her jobs have added research and computer experience to her resumé, as well as earned her several glowing references from supervisors. Plus she’s learned a ton about communicating with people, which has prepared her for all the talking she’ll do when she starts teaching. "I’ve learned a lot about personal relationships and people skills in general," she says.

Sarah recommends that other students work during the school year. "It forces you to budget your time, which really makes you more efficient in getting your work done. That way, you have more time for social activities and studying," she says. Part of good time management, Sarah says, is knowing when to take it easy. "Make sure you don’t take on a job that requires more hours than you can reasonably give," she cautions. "You’re in college to study, not to work. Also, I don’t think it would be any fun if all you do in college is work and study."

Leave room for fun

For April Miller, a senior at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, having a job is necessary. Even so, sometimes she wishes she could stick to being just a carefree student. Every year, she’s waited tables at an off-campus restaurant. Choosing this paycheck provider was a no-brainer, she says: "I’ve always waited tables." Last year, she added a new job, too--a stint as student body president, with a scholarship as her paycheck. With two jobs and a full class load, budgeting her time as an elementary education major can be as demanding as balancing dinners for a table of eight.

Off-campus jobs can be especially tricky, since they often don’t revolve around a student’s schedule. April finds herself working a lot during the week and on weekends, and sometimes her studying suffers. "There were many times I wished that I didn’t have a job so that I could study more," she says. April also feels like she’s missed out on some of the social aspects of college. "Often, I couldn’t go out with friends or go away for the weekend, because I had to work," she says. "It was always lame." If she had the chance to live her college years over again, she would have liked more time to hang out with her buddies. But, she admits, "I was also glad for the extra money and that I didn’t have to take out as much in loans." When it comes to fitting job time into a busy college schedule, April advises, "Don’t overwork yourself. And be sure you take time off to have fun."

Lower pay, higher value

What kind of job you get definitely affects how much you feel like working. Jay Himes, a senior at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, tried pizza delivery to pay for college courses, but found the extra pay wasn’t worth the boredom. "I made a lot more money [delivering pizzas], but it didn’t teach me any skills. I didn’t learn anything, and I didn’t like it--it was just a job." Then Jay, a management of information systems (MIS) major, looked on-campus to find a job in his major. He ended up doing computer support work for one department and now Web development for the campus Visual Media Center. "For paying my way through college, it’s not one of the better jobs I could have chosen," he says.

But working in his field has been worth the reduced paycheck. "I’ve learned a lot more working than in college--a lot more that will be specific to my job once I graduate," Jay says. His experience should help him land the network administrative job he wants. Jay’s job also puts him into contact with other people in his line of expertise. "Most of my friends also work in one of the computing departments here on campus," he says. "It means that most of the people I hang out with are interested in the same things I am."

Getting a college job in your major can help you get a clearer idea of what you want to do after graduation. "If you like your current job, then you’ll know taking a similar job [after college] would be a good idea," Jay says. Whether you need to help pay the bills, want a little spending money or are just looking for a new experience, there’s a good chance you’ll hold at least one job during college.

Sarah, April and Jay all said most of their friends work, and that having a job or two is as much a part of college life as late-night pizzas and cramming for finals. Your work can be a fulfilling experience, if you remember to find a job you enjoy, choose one that covers a reasonable amount of expenses, and leave time for all the other great stuff college offers. After all the bills are paid, the memories of your college job might be as pleasant as the scent of that pizza after a long day of studying.

For Sarah, that’s just how it was. "Some of my best experiences have been at the workplace here at school," she says. A college job can be more fun than you ever thought work could be.

Written by Amanda L. Caldwell

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