How to Balance School and a Job
When I first started college, I remember being blown away by how much my algebra textbook cost. Over a grand on books alone? How did anyone afford college, much less a bunch of broke young people? Aside from piling on student loans and hoping for the best, there were the few people I knew who took on part-time jobs to help pay their way through school. I saved my working hours for summer, when I wasn’t immersed in classes. But looking back on it, I did spend an awful lot of time doing nothing those first few years that I could have spent making extra cash.
Still, I worried that taking on a job would ultimately interfere with my schoolwork. I was already slacking off in the classes I struggled in—math and science weren’t treating my GPA very well—and I imagined that taking on even a part-time position might make studying even harder.
In recent years, the number of college students working their way through school has increased dramatically. It might be that desire to keep down student loan debt, or simply to have some extra cash for rent or travel. No matter the reason, there are plenty of advantages to having a little bit of income flow while making your way through college. Figuring out the careful balance between those work responsibilities and your schoolwork, though, might be a little tricky to negotiate at first. With a little planning and effort, you can make that part-time gig work for you—and maybe start adding a few bucks to the travel/new car/student-loan-payoff jar.
Resist the urge to skip class for work.
I have this impossible problem with saying “no.” I can’t ever seem to say it, especially if someone from work calls and asks me if I can pick up a shift last minute, or come in earlier than I’d planned for. Even if it messes up my schedule or ends up interfering with things, I tend to say yes just to avoid feeling guilty—despite knowing I shouldn’t feel that way. When it comes to work and school, though, try to put school first. Even if your manager calls and asks you to pick up an extra shift right during your anatomy class, let them know you’ve got other obligations. Once you skip class for work once, it might become a habit, which can obviously have detrimental effects on your coursework and academic success.
Talk to your manager or supervisor about your school schedule.
Right when you take a job, you need to be upfront about the fact that you’re a student, and that school needs to come first. If you get this across right away, you might be able to avoid having to turn down those extra, unplanned shifts. Let your manager or supervisor know what you class schedule is. Make sure you factor in travel time to and from work and campus, and any extracurriculars you’ll be participating in. It’s important you don’t over-schedule yourself, so if you need to reserve Sundays for yourself, don’t be afraid to say you can’t work on those days.
Consider taking some courses online.
If you’re really hell-bent on picking up as many work hours as you can while in school, consider taking a few classes online to lessen the time you’ll have to spend on campus during set hours. Try going half and half with on-campus classes and online courses if you can. Then, you can still have a campus presence and not feel disconnected from school, but also have a little more wiggle room in how you schedule your time. If you do this, though, you’ll have to be extra adamant about scheduling time to sit down and work on your online courses. Still, it might be less challenging than working around scheduled class meetings on campus.
Choose a job that will work with you.
Federal work study is a financial aid option that works really well for full-time students. You get set up with a job on campus that works entirely around your school schedule. Campus jobs are some of the best to acquire if you can get them, since they will be more likely to insist you put your schoolwork first. Plus, you’ll have the advantage of being right near your classes, which will save you some travel time between responsibilities. If there aren’t any campus jobs readily available, consider choosing a job close by, or just off campus. Look into places like textbook stores and coffee shops—places with flexible hours and that won’t drain you physically or mentally.
Ask for time off well in advance.
When it comes to asking for time off, it’s always best to ask way before you’ll need it. But, when it comes to important things like finals week or midterms, make sure you put those on your work calendar right at the start of the semester. Factor in days you’ll need for studying, or for attending tutoring sessions if you think you might need it. If you have any trips or vacations you’ve already planned or will want to take, ask off for those times, too. Weeks like spring break and Thanksgiving holiday are popular times to skip out on work, so try to be the first to ask off if you plan to leave town then. Not only will you be able to better plan for your whole semester, you’ll probably also get on your boss’s good side for being proactive.
Don’t forget about your own needs.
Self care is so, so important, especially as a student balancing coursework and a job. With all those obligations and commitments, it’ll be easy to forget about taking care of yourself. Work in time for things like exercise, spending time with friends, or simply vegging out on the couch for an afternoon catching up on that new series on Netflix. Whatever you usually do to wind down and re-center, make sure you make time for that in your schedule. It will help you keep your head on straight, and stay on the road to success.