The transition from high school to college can be one of the most challenging times in life! You used to not even know there were bills to pay. Your food was often prepared for you, many of the household tasks taken care of. Sure, you had homework and some chores, but you had so much free time.
Now, it feels like you’re juggling 20 different things, and you’d like to know which things you can drop. For example, do you have to work while going to school? Here are a few factors to consider.
ONE – What does your financial situation look like?
In an ideal world, you’d get to be a full-time student your first year or two of college. After all, it’s an adjustment period – you’re getting used to a totally new way of living. But of course, finances have to be considered as well.
So, one important factor is how much your parents are paying for your college education. Are they covering the whole bill, part of it, or none of it at all?
And what about scholarships and financial aid – is some or all of your college getting paid for? If you have scholarships and grants paying for all of your college costs and you don’t need to work, it might be worth just taking awhile to adjust to life as a student. Treat your classes as you would a full-time job. Take 12 or more credits, and dedicate at least 40 hours a week to your studies. This will help you to get the most out of your education.
(But consider summer work, at least. A study from US News found that students who work during their college years have higher earnings in the future – potentially because they are developing job skills early on. Full-time schooling, and then working over the summer could be the best of both worlds.)
On the other hand, if you have to take out lots of loans in order to be a full-time student, you might be better off working at least part-time while taking classes. Be especially wary of taking out any unsubsidized federal loans or private loans unless you absolutely have to. Those two types of loans have higher interest rates and will take a much longer time to pay off. If you have to work part-time to avoid taking out either of those two types of loans, it’s probably worth it.
Another factor to consider…
TWO – What do you want to get out of the college experience?
We assume that you’re going to college to get a job in the future that pays well, but this might not be the full picture for everyone.
How important is it for you to have a solid social life while in college? A romantic relationship? Or to pursue a hobby, like writing a novel? Maybe you want to spend a lot of time exploring life’s deeper questions (e.g. faith, philosophy, and your identity). Or maybe you’re really interested in taking it slow and soaking up as much information about your major as you can?
If you have your financial situation under control and you want to make sure you have lots of time to live life and pursue other goals, it might be good to spend a year or two without part-time work. (Or, maybe find a job that’s only 5-10 hours per week.)
But make sure to be realistic. Can you really afford to support yourself without part-time work, or will you be drowning in debt five years down the road? And wouldn't it be nice to start saving some money early on? Again, you might at least consider working during the summer when you’re not taking classes.
Another thing to keep in mind…
THREE – What other life responsibilities do you have?
There are a few situations where it can be quite difficult to work while in college. Are you a single parent? Are you (or someone you’re close to) battling a chronic illness? Is there a significant life difficulty, or ongoing responsibility being placed upon you that you’re unable to get out of?
In many of these situations, you might not see a way to work part-time while also taking classes. This might be a situation where you have to consider taking out private loans or unsubsidized federal loans if other options won't cover you. But, make sure to seek expert financial advice before making these kinds of decisions!
Once the school year starts, try and take it one term at a time, and reevaluate. If circumstances change and you can take on any paid work (during the school year or summer) it might be worth it, but don’t push yourself beyond your limits. It’s better to play the long game and work towards a better future, even if you have to take out some loans now. (After all, your education is an investment!)
FOUR: How much do you plan to be involved in extra-curricular activities?
True, working while in school can help build your job skills. But so can extracurricular activities!
Are you planning to get involved with a club or service organization? Depending on the group and your commitment level, these can be serious time commitments. For example, if you get involved with a club's leadership team, you could easily spend 10+ hours a week with that group. So, this might make it difficult to work part-time if you also are spending 30+ hours a week on classes. The upside is, extracurricular activities often look great on a resume! Especially if you were involved on a more serious level. (Just make sure that the club activities align with your career goals in some way. For example, if you're an engineering major and you join a sewing club, that group might provide only limited experience on your resume later.)
One final note: Whether or not you work part-time while in college, it's highly recommended that you do some internships during your last year or two! If you're majoring in Psychology, for example, it's a great idea to do some kind of internship involving social work. Or if you're a marketing major, make sure to do a business internship. (While many degrees require this, some don't. However, you don't want to graduate college without any work experience! So even if your program doesn't require you to do an internship, talk to an academic advisor or coach anyway, and see where you can best get connected.)
So, there isn't one right answer to the question, "Should I work part-time while going to college?" Evaluate these factors thoughtfully, make the best decision you can, and roll with it!
If you need a coach to guide you through the college process, get in touch!