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Working While in College: Pros and Cons

Usmann Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 10/11/2022

Working while in college has become common for many students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 40% of full-time undergraduates — those who take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester — and 74% of part-time learners worked while in college in 2020. While a full- or part-time job comes with the obvious advantage of helping you pay for certain college expenses such as textbooks, transport, and living expenses, it can also potentially affect your ability to achieve future academic and professional goals. Given this, it helps to learn about the pros and cons of working while in college.

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Types of Student Employment

There are several types of student employment available. Jobs can vary in terms of the number of hours you work, specific responsibilities, and whether employment is part of a university aid program. This means that different kinds of student jobs come with their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Part-Time Jobs for College Students

Part-time jobs are the most common form of employment for full-time college students, with a majority working between 20 to 34 hours a week. Students can find part-time employment on campus in areas such as library services or off-campus in settings ranging from hospitality and catering to tutoring and professional services. They may also find part-time work in the form of internships which can potentially turn into a full-time job once they graduate.

The biggest advantage of a part-time job is that it allows you to focus on your academic progress while also earning an income. This is especially important for full-time students who may be aiming to complete their education within a few short years. Employment within your educational field may also allow you to develop essential skills, making it easier to find a career relevant to your degree once you graduate. On the other hand, part-time jobs are unlikely to pay very well and may therefore cover only a few college-related expenses.

Full-Time Jobs for College Students

Students typically don't find full-time employment on campus, but they may explore opportunities in local businesses or establishments. These can include administrative or clerical roles as well as various entry-level positions. Full-time jobs may be a good option for online students or those taking classes part-time as they can continue their education while working.

These jobs can also cover a larger proportion of college fees and tuition expenses — especially when combined with financial aid. However, working 40 hours or more a week can be detrimental for those planning to take nine or more credits per semester. Furthermore, full-time jobs that are well compensated may require, at the very least, an associate degree or other academic qualification that some students may not have.

Remote Jobs for College Students

With many businesses and organizations shifting to a remote working model in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, fully-distanced employment is on the rise. Students, too, can take advantage of the shift to working from home. With the exception of a few jobs, they can typically gain employment both on- and off-campus — as well as in full- and part-time settings — remotely.

Remote work may further increase flexibility to complete coursework around your schedule. This can be particularly beneficial for online and part-time students who may have personal obligations in addition to an academic goal like earning a degree. Finding the right remote job may also increase your chances of gaining employment in your desired field. On the flip-side, like other jobs, remote work can eat into your time allotted to taking classes as well as adversely impact work-life balance.

Summer Jobs for College Students

Summer jobs are an excellent option for those looking to gain work experience and earn spending money while also retaining focus on academics. Students typically find summer jobs on-campus in university offices or similar settings — though they can also explore off-campus positions. The latter may typically be in the form of a paid internship opportunity that is sometimes required to get a degree in fields such as business, nursing, or psychology.

Often, both on- and off-campus summer jobs are part of university programs, making them an attractive and less competitive option for many. They also typically permit students to work full-time, which increases their ability to pay for college expenses. However, on-campus summer jobs are usually only available to students enrolled in the institution. Additionally, some off-campus employment may not be directly related to your field of study, which can make building a strong post-graduation resume challenging.

Work-Study Jobs for College Students

Unlike other forms of employment, work-study opportunities are a kind of federal financial aid. Students receive this aid in the form of earned wages rather than a grant or scholarship. Additionally, they often apply for work-study jobs through their school's financial aid department.

This can make it difficult to find employment as it limits the number of jobs a student can apply for. Additionally, receiving a work-study award does not guarantee that you will receive employment. Instead, students must apply for jobs as they would for any other type of work opportunity.

Despite these disadvantages, work-study programs can help you develop relevant experience in your chosen field. Alongside gaining marketable skills, you can also continue focusing on schoolwork as work-study programs are typically limited to part-time roles. This makes them a suitable option for those who want to earn small amounts of aid without detracting from making progress toward their degree.

Other Considerations for Student Jobs

The type of employment you choose to pursue while in college is an important decision. In addition, however, you may also want to consider common factors associated with working while in school. For instance, while they allow you to earn money, many jobs don't equip you with direct work experience for positions once you graduate, so it's important to assess why you want a college job in the first place. If your goal is to help pay for college expenses, getting a job can be a great option. However, if you're looking to improve your earning potential through real-world experience while also earning a degree, it's best to first consider the following factors.

Academic Goals

It's important to keep your academic goals in mind while working. Whether you're enrolled part-time, full-time, in an undergraduate program, or in a master's degree, aiming to complete your education should be a high priority. Earning a degree can increase your earning potential as well as help you explore career opportunities that may not be available without a credential.

Taxes

All college students must file taxes every year, regardless of their enrollment status. If you're working part- or full-time, correctly declaring your annual earnings is even more important, as failing to file taxes can affect your future earnings and ability to secure employment.

Work-Life Balance

Working while in school can be a challenging experience, especially if you're studying full-time and hope to earn your degree in a few years. Given this, achieving the right work-life balance can be crucial for your academic success, continuing employment, and, most significantly, health. One of the best ways to make time for all your commitments is to adjust your working hours to incorporate personal and educational considerations. This may mean limiting yourself to working roughly 20 hours per week. While part-time students can work more, they should also try and create time for other activities.

The Right Job

While any job can help you pay for college expenses, the right job can subsidize the cost of a degree while also setting you up for a rewarding career in your chosen field of study. If you're primarily interested in working while in college to gain real-world experience, then securing a job that utilizes and builds on your education is an important consideration.

Questions About Working While in College

What Are Good Jobs for College Students?


What counts as a good job for college students will vary from person to person. Most part-time jobs are a suitable option for those who want to earn enough money to pay for everyday college expenses — such as textbooks, transport, and housing. On the other hand, jobs in administrative services, education, and internships in your field of study can be a great way to build out your resume. In general, however, on-campus jobs which are specifically designed to give students a sense of work-life balance can be considered good.

What Are Work-Study Programs?


Work-study programs are a form of federal financial aid. Rather than receive money through a grant or scholarship, students receive assistance in the form of wages earned while working. Like with other forms of employment, work-study earnings can be applied either to tuition and fees or to everyday living expenses.

How Many Hours Should You Work in College?


As a general rule, full-time students whose primary goal is to earn a degree should not work more than 15-20 hours per week. Working more can adversely affect your ability to complete your education and may also have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. If you're a part-time student, working up to 40 hours a week is possible, though you should still make time to relax.

Should I Work While in College?

If you have the choice, working in college can be a rewarding experience that can help you achieve several goals simultaneously. However, it may not be the best option for all students and can even have negative effects on your health and academic progress. Given this, it's essential to consider your personal and financial circumstances, as well as your professional and educational goals, before accepting or applying for employment.

A part-time job can be a great idea for students who need money to help pay for everyday college expenses while also gaining important real-world professional experience. Additionally, full-time jobs can be a good choice for those who are pursuing a part-time degree and need to continue earning money to support themselves or their family. On the other hand, college jobs are unlikely to help you pay for large costs, such as tuition and fees, and it's usually better to apply for financial aid in these circumstances.

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