Should I get a part-time job in college?

Short answer? Yes.

But that wasn't very interesting, now was it? So let's weigh the options for working while in school to get a better understanding of why you should consider it.

Working as a Way to Pay for School

There are lots of stories about people working their way through school. Unfortunately, it is becoming less common in some quarters, but perhaps the biggest reason to work your way through school is that tuition has been rising faster than inflation for decades and every dollar that you earn saves you from student loan debt — some of it, anyway.

One thing to be careful of, however, is balancing the number of hours you work against your academic obligations. Some people may be able to work lots of hours and maintain a 4.0 grade point average (GPA). Maybe they thrive on being busy, have a less challenging major (or a major that comes easily to them), or they simply lucked out and found an easy job. Others may find that working too many hours causes their grades to plummet. The balance will be different for everyone.

Grade point average is an imperfect measure of ability, to be sure. However, every merit scholarship or grant that you qualify for also reduces the student loans you may need. And GPA can have long-term impacts for people who end up wanting to pursue additional education to reinvent their careers. How? Most universities won't admit individuals into graduate programs unless they have at least a 3.0 GPA. In other words, being a C-student undergrad can significantly limit your options later on.

Fortunately, there's a lot of different types of jobs available to you as a college student that you can pursue without sacrificing your academics. Indeed, as you'll see below, the right part-time job can help you get the most out of your college experience!

Federal Work-Study: Financial Aid and Employment All in One

If you have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may recall a question asking you to indicate whether or not you are interested in federal work-study. I never checked that box, and it's something I'll always regret! Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students may be eligible for this program. The benefits of work-study are numerous:

  • Your employer is required to accommodate your class schedule

  • Since you will likely be working on campus, you'll probably get holidays and school breaks off automatically

  • The program encourages students to work in positions related to their course of study

It is important to note that this is financial aid, typically awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So if you are eligible, then it is important to fill out the FAFSA as soon as you are able. I have known several individuals who were student workers for academic departments as undergrads who were hired for full-time employment by those departments after they graduated.

Paid Internships: Another Great Option

I recently attended an appreciation luncheon hosted by the career services office at the university where I work. I learned that many companies not only offer paid internships, they offer those internships as part of transition programs for students approaching graduation. In other words, they only offer as many internships per year as they anticipate being able to convert into full-time jobs. While obviously not every intern ends up with a full-time job at the company, many of them do.

And why not? The companies presenting at the lunch said that the time they invested into training interns was recouped many times over because they ended up hiring employees who were already at least partially trained, familiar with the corporate culture, and dedicated to the company's mission. Many such programs run full time during the summer months rather than part time during the academic year, though both kinds of opportunities exist.

The summer after my freshman year, I scored a 12-week, full-time, paid internship at my hometown's daily newspaper. It was a great experience! Like many interns, I was rotated through the different divisions and given a variety of responsibilities so that I ended up with a better understanding of the opportunities available. That gave me a sense of the organization's structure and clarified my strengths and weaknesses. I left with a solid network of colleagues at the newspaper as well.

Other Campus Jobs Related to Your Major

There may be additional opportunities related to your major besides work-study and internships. As an English major, I was a natural fit for the job at the writing center where I began to work during my junior year; but there are loads of other opportunities to work for university entities on a non-work-study basis, such as:

  • Content-area tutoring

  • Fitness centers (say, as a personal trainer or group-exercise instructor)

  • Teaching or research assistantships (These are primarily for graduate students, though sometimes opportunities exist at the undergraduate level too.)

If there is an office or resource on campus that you have found to be valuable, it doesn't hurt to investigate whether there are employment opportunities for students there or not.

Traditional Part-Time Jobs

Of course, when most of us think of part-time jobs, we are thinking of the more obvious retail or food service jobs, or maybe something like lifeguarding during the summer. There are pros and cons to these types of positions. For example, it might be easier to pick up extra shifts because businesses are not bound by federal work-study budgets or the FAFSA. Businesses also hire all year long instead of just by the academic calendar, meaning you can look for a new job any time as your situation changes. Depending on factors like commission or tips, you may also be able to earn more money in these types of positions.

However, there are some downsides to consider as well. It can be challenging to schedule work around your classes, especially since your school schedule probably changes every semester. Holiday breaks tend to be the busiest times of year for retailers and restaurants, and it may be hard to get time off if you want to go home to visit family during those times. These environments may encourage spending too. My food spending was out of control when I was a server; and if you work in retail at a store you love, that employee discount may be too tempting to resist. I know plenty of people who got into trouble that way!

A Plethora of Options

Whatever route ends up working best for you, one thing is clear: Numerous options exist when it comes to working part-time jobs in college. As with so many things, the key is to be deliberate as you evaluate the alternatives. Choosing a job because that's where your friend works, because it's closest to your house, or because it's the same job you've had since high school may be easier. However, with a little thought and effort, your college job could pay off for years to come.

Did you work part time in college? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

One other option is to hold off on school unless you have a clear trajectory of what you want to do, and have had work experience in the field, or know what the work entails. Working before attending school has many benefits. Most people continue to grow and change after 18 years old and spending some time working in different industries (or in the field you plan to go to school for), gives you a glimpse into the job opportunities. In addition to earning money which you can save and apply towards school (reducing need for student loans), you are… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

When I was teaching, I was always frustrated by the number of parents who wanted their kids to go right into post-secondary education out of high school. It’s an expensive way to find yourself! In Europe and other parts of the world, a “gap year” is more popular and therefore more socially acceptable. Some students are so academically-minded they don’t know what to do except keep studying. (I’ve seen it in grad school too.) I know a few people who worked before entering school or going into grad school (myself included) and that experience and sense of focus makes the… Read more »

Christy
Christy
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

How are gap years generally considered in America? I assumed there was the same attitude as there is in the UK. Gap years aren’t a big deal, and sometimes it’s beneficial when applying to uni. Obviously, parents’ opinions of their child taking a gap year varies, but it generally is ok

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Christy

Nope, many in the USA treat you as a slacker if you didn’t go to college right away after high school. More reasonable parents understand the value of a “gap year” but most who want their kids to go to college act as if they’ll forget how to learn if they take any breaks.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I’d love to learn more about how this works. I’m curious how easy it would be to get a job that provided you with meaningful insight into an industry if you a) only had a high school diploma (and weren’t qualified for the type of roles you can get with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree) and b) didn’t intend to stay at the company long-term. I also wonder how many parents would be willing to let an adult child who wasn’t in school live at home (and what if there aren’t any jobs in the person’s chosen industry in their… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

FULL DISCLOSURE: I started college 2 wks after highschool graduation. I have yet to hold a position that required a bachelor’s degree. It’s hard to say if I would have been offered the jobs I have without it, but I do know that many of my coworkers did not have 4 year degrees, and some only had highschool and just worked their way up in the company. Insight into a company/ industry is only as meaningful as you make it. If you show an inquisitive spirit and do on the job research, there are plenty of opportunities to get an… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

*clarification: Biologists require a 4 year degree…I meant that the Biologists and keepers I spoke to indicated that a 4 year degree for what “I” want to do is overkill.

**why don’t we have edit no mo? 🙁

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

My “gap years” was more like gap decades but was fortunate to exit high school during the last economic boom in an area were good paying jobs were plentiful and I had skills not many people had at the time.

At that time I made a decent salary with great benefits, matching 401k, etc. Though I was very young I carried myself so that most people aside from HR knew my true age. I wonder what options are available for most 18-year-olds now.

Matt
Matt
5 years ago

If you’re a science or engineering major, you should be working in a research lab for a professor. Ask your guidance counselor for a list of professors known for working with undergrads. After you’ve taken the relevant lab courses (Organic chemistry opens up pretty much any chemistry lab, etc.), contact the professors and ask for opportunities. It’s common to get a decent part-time wage ($10-15/hour) with excellent flexibility. And you build skills and connections that will be excellent resume builders. As an added bonus, you can apply for your own funding through programs at many universities.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
5 years ago
Reply to  Matt

I would love to know where you went to school that you got $10-15 per hour! In the biological sciences federal work study students at my state university were lucky to get 8-12 hours per week at $7.60 (in 2008 dollars). I would have liked to work more but having to reserve long blocks of time for lab courses prevented it. I think I got $8 per hour one year but I was working in the theater costume shop and it had nothing to do with my degree. Definitely try to find work within your degree program, it will make… Read more »

Matt
Matt
5 years ago

The key point is to contact the professors directly after getting a list from your department’s counselor. Most professors actually like having undergrad technicians around but aren’t going to go looking for them.

Glorified Plumber
Glorified Plumber
5 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Careful with some of those, “jobs” at the university labs can be finicky. Most will pay minimum wage, or ever so slightly above. Very few if any undergraduate lab students are going to get $15/hr. Secondly, there are often a lot of “unpaid” as in for credit research positions out there that students use to augment their credit load in the sciences and engineering studies. These students handle a lot of the quote unquote research. My undergraduate jobs while doing biochemistry were “lab upkeep” related. Making more agar/antibiotic plates, making media/solutions, cleaning glassware, autoclaving things, stocking, identifying things needing to… Read more »

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
5 years ago

I worked part-time in college in our cafeteria. Mostly worked in the dish pit cleaning up people’s scraps. Yuck! But it was only about 10-15 hrs. per week and helped with all the incidental money I needed for college. Better than always calling home and asking mom and dad for more cash.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

All good options, but you forgot one: co-op! I don’t know if the co-op model is catching on in the U.S., but it involves alternating academic terms with paid work terms in your area of study. Some degrees have as many as 4-6 work terms, so a student could graduate with two years experience in their field and get to try out different jobs and industries. (I know a lot of people who did co-op degrees) I think people have to balance their financial needs now with their future career prospects. Sometimes volunteering in your field of study makes more… Read more »

Glorified Plumber
Glorified Plumber
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Co-Ops very common amongst engineering disciplines. I would not say most students use one unless there is a coordinated department push to do so (such as OSU’s MECOP program, https://www.mecopinc.org/). Whether or not a student is put at an advantage by one is not always a slam dunk, but, certainly many are. Out of the 60 chemical engineers in my class, I’d say 6 or so did Co-Ops, MANY did internships. I did not do a co-op, and if I was doing school again, I would probably not do one either assuming I know what I know now. However, I… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
5 years ago

Yes, definitely get a job in college! I worked full-time and often took 24 credits a semester, all while getting good grades. It is possible, the key is good time management skills. Working in college looks great on a resume, it can give you valuable experience, and it can also help you determine what field to go into.

Brooke
Brooke
5 years ago

Jobs are good, esp if they are related to your field of study. However, I would say the singlereason i

Mrs. PoP
Mrs. PoP
5 years ago

I had paid internships and work-study within my department, but I really think the best job for college students not living at home (with the highest hourly wages) is being an RA in the dorm. I did this every semester I was on campus after my freshman year (since freshman couldn’t be RAs) and the average hourly wage for the work I put in was huge!
http://www.plantingourpennies.com/the-best-job-for-college-students/

Jan
Jan
5 years ago

My daughter recently graduated from college. She also continued to work her part-time job throughout and had seven years of part-time employment with the same employer upon graduation. While there were blocks of time where she did not work such as during the semester and the job was not in her chosen profession, she quickly was hired into her chosen profession on step seven of the company’s pay scale because of her solid work history. A huge bump from the starting pay. She paid off her largest student loan in December and bought a house last week. Two years after… Read more »

JoeM
JoeM
5 years ago

Federal Work Study is the best. Some on/off-campus (through the school) positions are FWS only or FWS priority, so if you can get it, get it! Not only that, but you can apply for more FWS funds and at least in my case, I always got them. I was working a good 20 hours a week at $10/hour on campus. Made it so much easier to work during the semester by not having to commute anywhere. However, I advise against just sitting at the student union desk or checking out books in the library if you can. I had admin… Read more »

Don
Don
5 years ago

I started out with a work study job in college. But with minimum wage at the time of $5.15 and only being allowed to work 10 hours a week, the money wasn’t much help.

I ended up getting a part time job washing cars. The place was great – they were flexible with my changing schedule and allowed me time off to go home over the holidays. I did work Saturday mornings, but it was a benefit because it forced me to stay in/not spend money on Friday night at the bar!

Wiggles @FirstYouGetTheMoney
Wiggles @FirstYouGetTheMoney
5 years ago

I worked part-time all throughout college. Did this cut down on my free time to take naps and hang with friends? Yes. But I also had my student loans paid off within one year of graduating and have plenty of time to hang with friends now debt free.

Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
5 years ago

I have to say that I TOTALLY lucked out with the job I had in college. It wasn’t high-paying by any standards (but it was above minimum wage, with a $0.25 raise each semester), nor was it related to my major, but I essentially got paid to sit at a desk and do homework and/or work on things for the student organization I was involved in. I clocked in 22 hours per week with four 5.5 hour shifts as a ‘Night Star’ – someone that sits at the front desk of a dorm from 10:30 pm to 4:00 am. Within… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
5 years ago

I worked as a waitress most of my time during college (then a golf course during summers). It was great because I could earn extra money during weekends and it didn’t interfere with my studies. I don’t think a “gap year” would have helped me find myself or figure out what to study. I changed majors 2 times and didn’t really go into my field anyway. I was a journalism major, but became a golf professional and then later a banker. And honestly the only class that I used in every job on a daily basis was my copy editing… Read more »

S
S
5 years ago

Short answer: No. Its a terrible idea if you are a good student. I made $9000, $5000, $4500, $5000, $5000, $5500, $5000 and $5000 in scholarships. Thats $44000 without holding a job. I had merit scholarships that required a 3.5 gpa and leadership in extra curricular clubs kept adding small scholarships each semester as others ended. And I was hired instantly to two jobs with my 3.89 gpa.

Grace @ Total Investment
Grace @ Total Investment
5 years ago

Make sure you get a job that doesn’t affect your study. Choose a job that is easy, no stress and near in your home or school. So that, you can still focus yourself in your study while working.

Another thing, don’t look for a job. Try to experiment entrepreneurship, think any product, sell it after class and make money. You can do the entrepreneurial thing offline and online.

JDS
JDS
5 years ago

Both of my kids worked all through college, even with pre-paid tuition and a scholarship — they still needed living expenses, and wanted experience. The skills and work experience are such a help when getting a first job. However, if the grades start to slide, it’s time to re-figure things.
I worked while in college, because I had no choice; my parents could not pay all my expenses, and our state’s scholarship programs were underfunded meaning I had to wait before my 100% scholarship finally became available. I’d already graduated by then, of course.

freebird
freebird
5 years ago

Yes I served as teaching assistant and research assistant when I attended grad school decades ago. The combination of free tuition and a living stipend was pretty good, and it was a quick way to find out I had no future in teaching. Nowadays in that same situation I’d probably aim for a silicon valley internship at the glamour names. Not only is the pay pretty good but it also gets an inside track into becoming a new hire when you graduate. And not only at that company– my own employer targeted a former intern from one of the big… Read more »

Ben Luthi
Ben Luthi
5 years ago

I worked FT while doing a finance degree FT because I didn’t want student loans. I really see no reason why students can’t have at least a PT job while going to school.

Debt Hater
Debt Hater
5 years ago

Federal work study is an amazing program, and usually the jobs aren’t too crazy. That’s important when you are trying to balance work and class like you said.

I absolutely recommend everyone that can work during college to do so. If you can build up an emergency fund, or even just have spending money so you don’t deplete your savings you will have a nice little head start when you do graduate.

Sophie
Sophie
5 years ago

Another great option, if you have played a musical instrument for long enough, is to teach music or music theory. I taught 25 hours per week throughout my degree with no impact on my courseload and paid for the whole degree. Most music teachers clear about $18-20/hour once you’ve paid studio fees (the easiest way to teach is to be affiliated with a local studio), up to double that if you can teach from home or if you teach theory instead of practical. University students can also get involved tutoring local high school students – again the going rate is… Read more »

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
5 years ago

Federal work study is fine – so long as there are campus jobs to support it. My daughter is “eligible” every year – but goes to a small college where there are not enough jobs to go around. Fortunately, after volunteering during her first year, her new found skills with power tools got her work study hours in the theater tech department. But she still cannot get as many hours as she is eligible for. So she supplements with babysitting – which in NYC can pay up to $20 an hour. My point is that you cannot always count on… Read more »

Jim
Jim
5 years ago

I worked in food service a few hours a week when I was in college way back when. It was a good way to pick up some extra cash and ultimately reduced the amount I had to borrow.

My advice would be to get a job on campus vs. in the community. Campus employers are much more forgiving and understanding about a student’s schedule. The night manager at the local Pizza Hut probably doesn’t care that you have a calculus final in the morning.

Becky
Becky
5 years ago

I have mixed feelings about this. I think working some hours can be very valuable, as there is nothing like spending your own hard earned money on tuition to make you want to do well in classes! However, I was in a situation where I had no financial support from family, but was still claimed on my parents taxes as a dependent (wrong, but I didn’t know any better). I was lucky to have earned a good scholarship, but was too scared to take out any loans to cover my remaining school and living expenses, so I worked A LOT… Read more »

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