Students work to pay for college, get leg up in post-college job search

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School, work, study and repeat; for many students, this is their day-to-day routine.

But does working a part-time or full-time job while trying to earn a college degree hinder the process? Most traditional students aim to graduate with their bachelor’s degrees in four years, however, life happens; and sometimes work must take priority for students to afford to stay in school.

Michael Olson, director of academic advisement, said it is important for students to incorporate good time management and be honest with themselves about what they can handle. He advises students to begin each semester with set priorities in mind. Whether work or school takes priority is up to the individual. Make note of how many credits you can handle, how long you need to study, and how many hours you’ll be putting in at work.

“One of the biggest issues that surface regarding students in employment is students tend to feel very overwhelmed by balancing a job, school and a social life,” Olson said. “At some point, one of those may have to give. And students need to view their priorities and make sure they’re not taking on too much. If it means taking a lighter academic load, that may be the answer. For some, it may mean working [fewer] hours.”

However, Jonathan Morrell, director of TRIO Student Support Services, said he feels students should absolutely work the entire time while they’re in school. He said it is in their best interest to do both because it better prepares them for the future. Work experience gives individuals the opportunity to learn time and money management, as well as gain communication and soft skills. 

“I would hire a student with work experience rather than a student with a 4.0 who has never worked,” Morrell said.

For some students, it comes down to whether they must work to pay for school or take out loans instead. Olson said it’s important to understand each option thoroughly. The financial aid office can help students understand the loan process, what qualifies them for loans, and repayment, all things Olson said they should be clear on before taking on debt.

While Olson said it is important to strike a good balance and challenge oneself, he also said that it is not worth it at the price of risking ones’ health or feeling completely overwhelmed. Sacrifice the job if that’s what it takes to keep priorities in line. On the contrary, Morrell said he feels that it is extremely crucial to do both. Being out of a job is not worth finishing school early, Morrell said.

“If you want to maximize your college credits, great, but say you graduate in three years and you’ve never worked a job,” Morrell said. “ Who’s going to hire you if you’ve never had a job? You cannot learn [the same things you can learn from a job] in a classroom.”

Students can enroll in cooperative education courses to gain credit for the hours they put in at their job.

He suggests freshmen work 12 to 15 hours a week before moving to upwards of 20 hours a week. They must learn how to balance work and classes over time, Morrell said.

Soft skills can be gained through any job, which is satisfactory for the first two years of college, Morrell said, but by their junior or senior year, students should be working in an area related to their desired career. 

Morgan Smith, a sophomore nursing major from Salt Lake City, who has worked different jobs from babysitting to captioning phone calls since she was 12 years old, said working while in school has benefitted her.

“You learn a lot of patience and how to communicate with different kinds of people,” Smith said. 

Certain times of the school year like finals week, however, do get to be overwhelming, she said. If she needs more study time, Smith said she tries to get her shifts covered or asks for time off. 

Because she works early morning shifts, her work hours don’t interfere with her classes or social life, but they do cut into her sleep. 

Should balancing work and school ever come to the point of being overwhelming, Olson said there are a variety of resources on campus to help in that area. The DSU Health and Counseling center is equipped to help students with stress management; student success mentors can offer peer support and advisement; the tutoring center can teach efficient study techniques; and academic advisors are available to help students with time management, identifying problem areas, and then possibly solving those problems by dropping classes or figuring out a better schedule.

“Our campus is built with great resources to help students who are feeling overwhelmed,” Olson said.