Work It: Finding and Holding Down a Job in College without Losing Your Cool
Kyiara shares her advice on balancing college and work.
By Kyiara Griffin
November 08, 2011
Although my work experience is limited, the experiences have stretched from assisting in the instruction of little ballerinas to setting up house showings for real estate agents. There is one thing I have learned: all jobs are going to provide some work-related stress, but some jobs are more manageable than others.
As a college student, that knowledge works to my advantage: I job hunt with a constantly growing awareness of what sort of work suits me. In turn, my stress level is reduced (or, at the very least, not raised) because I can focus my attention on school. Whether job-hunting or taking notes for future job hunts, you can have the same freedom in college with a few tips.
In the article about getting involved on campus, we looked at the importance of trying new things in college. The same rules apply to a job: if the opportunity does not conflict significantly with any personal beliefs, then the job should, at the very least, be worth researching.
Also, develop an awareness of the job market. Part-time and temporary job openings increase before major holidays, when school starts (as some student workers go away for college or are unable to work during high school hours), and before individual business busy seasons (e.g., take-out restaurants see sales increases during cold months), so ask about employment opportunities during those times. Companies that offer permanent full-time positions usually have hiring seasons and display a greater willingness to take on less-experienced college students in internships or temporary positions, so apply when your application will be viewed.
Be Honest with Yourself
While it is good to have a job in college, it is far better to have a job that suits you. As I learned during a very brief stint at a pizza place, it would be wise to consider how familiar you are with the area before accepting a job that requires delivering pizzas. Likewise, if you do not keep up with social media websites, then taking on a job as an event promoter would require a steep learning curve.
This does not mean that new jobs should not be attempted. Rather, be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. As a potential employee, it is advantageous to work towards your strengths over your weaknesses. Choose a job that reduces unnecessary stress.
You are a college student, not a magician. Not every student has their entire college tuition in savings, and not every student’s parents can afford to help with tuition and other expenses. If the need for a job is more critical than the need for the college courses, then allow yourself to take on a more rigid job schedule over a full-time course load. The ability to pay for college is an important detail to consider before starting school.
Instead of the typical 12 to 18 hour course load in the morning and afternoon, consider flexible courses. To assist working students, many colleges offer online courses and, in special circumstances, distance learning courses. If being in a classroom is important, then consider taking evening classes: evening courses typically meet a little longer than the daytime and afternoon courses, but later in the day and less often.
On each of the campuses that I have attended, evening classes have been available to upperclassmen and full-time workers. I currently attend a class that meets late in the evening once a week, because the class time opens up my availability to a consistent job schedule. Likewise, if your work schedule fills up your weekday mornings and afternoons, then a night class may be a viable option.
On the other hand, if the top priority is finishing the chosen degree plan, then choose a job with more flexible hours. Be firm, but respectful. Be honest with your employer about unavailable days and times, and, when your classes have sudden changes, ask for any necessary schedule adjustments as soon as possible.
Be (A Little) Selfish
Working while going to school is not uncommon, but neither is it easy. Between performance reviews and exams, the stress can easily pile up. When you have a day off, use some of that time on yourself. Catch up on sleep, go window-shopping, eat at an establishment that does the dishes for you, or take a walk. Do something that takes your mind off work and school. When the next workday or school day comes, you will be able to focus on what is important.
In life, work is rarely as fun as college, but work does not have to be overly stressful, either. By setting boundaries between school, work, and downtime for others and yourself, you show respect to those you work with and yourself by planning for what can be accomplished and what cannot in a given time. Planning your job is not only responsible, but smart, and it is a skill that can transfer anywhere.