- Understand the value of different kinds of jobs while you’re in college.
- List questions to consider when considering a particular job possibility.
- Be able to perform an effective job search.
Most college students work while in school. Whether you work summers only or part time or full time all year, work can have both benefits and drawbacks. The difference may result as much from the type of job you work as from the number of hours you work.
A Job Can Help or Hurt
In addition to helping pay the bills, a job or internship while in school has other benefits:
- Experience for your résumé
- Contacts for your later job search network
- Employment references for your résumé
Work or internship experience related to your future career has significant value. Not all students can find such opportunities in their community, however. But even a job or volunteering outside your field can have value and say something about you to future employers. Your job may demonstrate that you have initiative, are responsible, are a team player or can work independently, and can take on financial responsibility. Potential future employers will check your work references. Having an employer from your college years say you did a good job, were always on time to work, and were honest and responsible in doing your job definitely gives you an advantage over students who graduate without having worked at all.
At the same time, some jobs contribute more to your overall college experience. Remember, you’re in college for an education and to gain a wide range of skills—not just for the degree. The best student jobs help you engage more deeply in the college experience, while the wrong kind of job gets in the way of that experience. Here are some factors to consider as you look for a job:
- What kinds of people will you be interacting with? Other students, instructors, researchers? Interacting with others in the world of college can broaden your college experience, help motivate you to study, and help you feel part of a shared experience. You may work with or meet people who in the future can refer you to employers in your field. On the other hand, working in a business far from campus, for example, may offer a steady paycheck but can separate you from the academic community and detract from a positive college experience.
- Is the job flexible enough to meet a college student’s needs? Will you be able to change your work hours during final exam week or when a special project is due? A rigid work schedule may cause difficulty at times when you really need to focus on your classes.
- What will you be able to say about your work in your future résumé? Does it involve any skills—including people skills or financial or managerial responsibilities—that your employer can someday praise you for? Will working this job help you get a different, better job next year?
These factors can make a job ideal for college students, but in the real world many students will have to work less-than-ideal jobs. Working at a fast food restaurant or overnight shipping company may not seem very glamorous or offer the benefits described previously, but it may be the only job available at present. Don’t despair—things can always change. Make the money you need to get by in college but don’t become complacent and stop looking for more meaningful work. Keep your eyes and ears open for other possibilities. Visit the campus student employment office frequently (or check online) for new postings. Talk to other students.
At the same time, even with a dull job, do your best and keep a good attitude. Remember that your boss or supervisor may someday be a work reference who can help (or hurt) your chances of getting a job you really want.
The number of hours college students work per week varies considerably, from five to ten hours a week to full time and everywhere in between. Before deciding how much you need to work, first make a detailed budget as described later. Your goal should be to make as much as you need, and hopefully a little more to save, but first you need to know your true need. Remember your goals in college and stay focused on your education. Cut back on your optional spending so that you don’t have to work so many hours that your studies are impacted.
Where to Find a Job
Start at your campus financial aid office or student employment office. If they don’t have anything right for you at first, check back frequently for new job postings.
For off-campus jobs, check the classified ads in your local newspaper and Craigslist. Many jobs are never advertised, however, so ask friends, family members, and other students. Visit appropriate companies in your area and ask if they have openings.
If you applied for financial aid when you applied to your college, you probably already know whether you qualify for a work study program. Often these jobs are ideal because they are designed for students. If your financial circumstances change, be sure to check in with the financial aid office because your eligibility may have changed.
Many government agencies also have summer jobs or internships for college students. This work may be an ideal way to gain experience related to your chosen field. (See “Additional Resources” below for more information.)
Go to Work for Yourself
If you have energy and initiative, you can create your own work. While it may take some time to get started, flexibility and being your own boss can make up for this drawback. Students often make money in ways like these:
- Tutor classmates in a subject you are good in.
- Sell your technical skills to help others set up new computer hardware, teach software skills such as PowerPoint or Excel, or design Web sites.
- Sell things you no longer need (video games, DVDs, textbooks) on eBay or Craigslist. Earn a commission by helping others sell their stuff online.
- Provide services to faculty members and residents in the nearby community: lawn mowing, snow shoveling, housecleaning, babysitting, pet sitting, dog walking, and so on.
Campus jobs and work study. Check with your campus student employment or financial aid office.
Broad listing of links for federal government jobs and internships for students. See https://www.usajobs.gov/StudentsAndGrads
Student Opportunities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). See http://www.epa.gov/careers.
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Defense. See http://godefense.cpms.osd.mil/student_opportunities.aspx.
Student Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See http://www.hhs.gov/about/careers/pathways/internship-opportunities-students/index.html.
Student Opportunities at the National Science Foundation. See http://www.nsf.gov/careers/careertypes/pathways.jsp.
Student Internships at the State Department. See https://careers.state.gov/intern/student-programs.
Balancing the Job You Have with Your Ideal Job
A growing percentage of students are working full time when they return to school, and many continue in the same jobs. If you’re in this situation, you know that balancing work and college is one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. You’re used to working—but not used to finding time for class and studying at the same time. You likely feel harried and frustrated at times, and you may even start to wonder if you’re cut out for college. The time may come when you start thinking about dropping classes or leaving college altogether. It may be hard to stay motivated.
If you start feeling this way, focus on your big goals and don’t let the day-to-day time stresses get you down. As difficult as it may be, try to keep your priorities, and remember that while you face temporary difficulties now, a college degree is forever.
- Acknowledge that sacrifice and compromise may be needed.
- Reduce your expenses, if you can, so you can cut back on the number of hours you work. This may mean temporarily giving up some things you enjoy in order to reach your goals.
- If you cannot cut your expenses and work hours and simply do not have the time to do well in your classes, you may have to cut back on how many classes you take per term. Try everything else first, but know that it’s better to succeed a little at a time than to push too hard and risk not succeeding. If you do have to cut back, keep a positive attitude: you’re still working toward your future ideal.
If you ever feel the temptation to quit, see your college counselor to explore all your options. Resources may be available that you don’t know about.
- The best student jobs have value for your college experience and future résumé and network, while the wrong kinds of jobs may detract from your college experience.
- How much you work should be based on a realistic budget and your financial goals and needs.
- To find the best job for you, use all the resources available.
What are the primary benefits of a student job on campus? (List as many as you can.)
Considering your abilities and interests, what would be your ideal job while a college student?