5 Things to Consider When Choosing to Work During College

By Katie Wornek, UHEAA

If you’re thinking about working while attending college, you’re definitely not alone. A 2015 Georgetown University study found that 70% of college students work during college. Beyond providing money to help you pay for school, working at a job will help you gain valuable real-world skills and feel invested in your own success. Whether you’re looking for employment opportunities independently or participating in the Federal Work-Study program, you’d be wise to keep these five things in mind…


1. Consider working part-time.

If you want to finish your certificate or degree program in a timely manner, perform well in school, and work all at the same time, your education needs to be at the top of your priority list. Taking a full course load (which, for an undergraduate, is usually 12 credit hours*) is essentially like having a full-time job. Between classes and homework, you should expect at least a 40 hour per week commitment. In order to balance your physical, mental, financial, and academic well-being, consider working only part-time (20 hours per week or less). Take it from me – I admittedly worked too much during college. Tirelessly trying to fully commit to my job, keep my grades up, and still somehow find time for myself led to many frantic calls home to Mom. I’m sure she got sick of trying to interpret what I was saying through all the sobbing, and I definitely got sick of carrying around all that stress. From that bit of experience, I’d suggest that you start small – if you feel like you can manage a heavier workload, revisit the idea of picking up more hours later.

*while 12 credits is typically considered full-time, you’ll likely need to take 15 credits per semester to finish a Bachelor’s degree in 4 years (not including summers).


2. How much is your time worth? Put thought into your expenses and income.

The first step to understanding how much you’ll need to earn is figuring out how much you’ll need to spend. Create a budget to get a better idea of your monthly expenses. Start by budgeting your basic needs such as food, housing, and transportation. Then factor in your educational expenses (such as tuition, fees, and books) and any aid you are already receiving to cover those costs (like scholarships, grants, or student loans). Finally, consider how much you can afford to set aside for your “discretionary budget” (the non-essential things you enjoy, like taking vacations, attending concerts, going out to eat at your favorite restaurant on occasion, etc.).


After you’ve created a budget, you can estimate how much you’ll need to earn each month to cover your expenses. Don’t forget – federal (and some state) laws require you to pay income tax, so your actual take-home pay will be less than the listed hourly wage or salary. Search online to see if your state collects income tax, then use that information to estimate how much of your paycheck would be withheld to pay taxes. You may also encounter other expenses that automatically come out of your paycheck before you actually receive it (such as health insurance), which brings us to our third point:


3. Research benefits.

Many employers offer benefits, which are services or perks provided in addition to your wages. When comparing potential employers, people generally research common benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, but there are several lesser-known “fringe” benefits you should investigate. Consider asking your current or future employer about:

  • Educational assistance: Employers benefit from having a well-educated workforce. As a result, some employers offer tuition discounts, stipends, and/or reimbursements to help their employees with their higher education expenses.
  • Employee Stock Purchase Plans: Companies want employees to feel a sense of loyalty and personal investment in their organization’s success. In order to foster that sense of commitment, some public companies (companies traded on the stock market) offer Employee Stock Purchase Plans. These plans give employees the option to buy shares of company stock, often at a discounted rate or with tax breaks attached.
  • Fitness incentives: Employers understand the importance of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Staying healthy makes it easier for employees to stay productive, and it also decreases the likelihood that they will call out sick from work or need expensive medical treatment. Some employers offer on-site fitness centers, while others might help cover the cost of a gym membership.
  • Public transit assistance: More and more, employers are beginning to recognize their social and environmental responsibilities. As a result, some companies encourage their employees to utilize public transportation systems by offering to pay for some or all of their fare.


4. Don’t forget about your commute.

College keeps you busy and limits your free time. If you’re working in addition to attending school, that free time becomes even rarer. Try to find a job close to home and/or campus. Shortening your commute will free up crucial time during your day.

You can also make the most of your commute time. If you carpool or take public transportation, consider doing assignments on the way. Some public transit systems offer Wi-Fi on-board, or you may be able to use your cell phone as a mobile hotspot for your computer. No Internet connection? No problem! Take time to catch up on your assigned reading or review your notes for an upcoming test.


5. Build your resume.

When you’re done with your degree and applying for jobs in your field, will your college work experience help secure your dream job? Working for the sake of earning money is an essential part of any job, but try to find work that will help you prepare for your career or that will put you in a position to meet and become colleagues with the people who can help foster your ongoing success. Remember to update your resume frequently so you don’t accidentally leave out any important details, accomplishments, or milestones.