Nearly 14 million U.S. college students are working at least part time while pursuing a degree. Unsurprisingly, most are choosing to work for financial benefits, some even out of financial necessity. But these part time jobs in college have more to offer than just a paycheck.
We sat down with two working college students who shared their experiences and tips for other working college students.
University of Texas, 2015
Harvard University, 2018
Tell us about your experience as being a working college student.
I worked for over two years during college (my Junior/Senior years) at a resume editing company that served clients in the U.S. and abroad. Depending on my semester schedule and Summer availability, I worked between 10 and 20 hours per week. Thankfully, I was able to successfully maintain high grades across the four semesters that I worked.
I was lucky to have a job that allowed me to telecommute, meaning that I could work from my dorm room, at home, or on campus. My boss also gave me significant flexibility to determine when and how I worked, which was especially helpful during finals periods.
A tip I can offer: if at all possible, leave days open in your schedule to dedicate specifically to work. It is extremely challenging to go from a long day of classes to work (or vice-versa). My school operated generally on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday/Tuesday-Thursday class schedule—as such, I packed all of my classes on Tuesday and Thursday, then split my 15-hour work week between Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (leaving room for the occasional discussion section, often on Wednesday). This allowed me to functionally split my week, where one day I would wear my “work” hat, then switch to my “school” hat the next.
Why did you choose to work during college?
There were several reasons: financial, career-oriented, and professional. I think that the first rationale initially was primarily financial. I had just started my college career, and my family was experiencing some financially shaky times. I had applied and received scholarships but I wanted to find another way to reduce the financial burden on my mother.
There was also a part of me that wanted a sense of financial independence. I wanted to be able to hang out with friends, go to fancy dinners, buy clothes, all without having to ask my family for money.
Then, I found that I also wanted to have something that I could put on my resume that would be substantial and that was a little different than just an internship. I figured working two years in the same job was worthwhile on a resume.
Why did you choose that specific job?
I chose to edit resumes because I wanted to do something where I would be helping other people. I also felt that it would help me to become more comfortable writing my resume.
What’s the hardest part about being a working student?
One of the major difficulties was keeping the work-school balance in place. I was working this job all year round, while school happened in set semesters. Work was one constant while school was ever-changing, especially when it came to my school schedule. So it was difficult to keep them separate while also finding a way to integrate them.
What skills did you pick up as a working student?
First off, I picked up resume editing skills because that was the actual job. I learned how to write a resume as well as what kinds of things each different industry requires. I also gained skills in phone consultations and being able to communicate customer answers. I even had the opportunity to try out different roles and more robust positions like quality control and senior writing. I was even the interim operations manager while my boss was gone over the summer. I had to learn how to handle budgets and all aspects of the operations timeline. Lastly, I learned skills in training, recruiting, and onboarding.
What tips would you offer working students?
Try your best to create a work-life balance. I found it helpful to have a specific set of days for school and another specific set of days for work. It’s helps to get your head into that specific space and focus on just that one thing.
Also, when looking for a job, focus on what types of skills you want to improve on. Then think about the opportunities out there that can help you get those skills. It has to be about more than just the paycheck.