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Why College Students Should Work, But Ideally Only 12 Hours a Week

Working while going to college has benefits other than the obvious financial ones. There's good evidence that juggling a job while seeking your degree can actually boost your GPA.

Here's what you need to know.

As with everything, the decision about whether to work in college is all about balance. One of the most important factors to consider is deciding how many hours of work each week is best for you. Of course, some students are in a financial situation where they have to work as many hours as they can.  But if you have more flexibility, a recent report provides some data that may impact your decision.

Statistics from the Department of Education show that students who work 12 hours per week or less actually have stronger grades, perhaps because working forces them to have better discipline and time management skills.

On the other hand, students who work more than 15 hours a week are more likely to drop out of school due to the demands of balancing work and school.

Pros: The benefits of working in college

If you're considering working while going to school, you can maximize that time by thinking beyond classic part-time positions like waiting tables or working a cash register. College campuses and their surrounding communities offer a wide variety of work options that can yield more than just extra cash earnings.

Consider your major or field. If you want to pursue a career in health care, part-time work as an EMT or hospital worker could help supplement your studies by providing hands-on vocational experience. The same is true for elementary education majors who work in child care.

If you're considering graduate school in a research-heavy field like economics or biology, reach out to your professors to see if any positions are available as research assistants or teaching assistants, especially during your junior and senior years. You could not only gain valuable work experience, but a potential letter of recommendation from the professor you work with.

Like many work-study positions, some part-time jobs also offer the flexibility to multitask. Night owls willing to work an overnight shift at the front desk of a hotel or an IT help desk can get some schoolwork done during the slow late night hours.

See also: 6 Things You Should Know About Work-Study

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Cons: The drawbacks of working in college

But though there are obvious positives to working during college, you'll want to exercise caution when it comes to workload. If you work too many hours, the risk is often not worth the reward.

Remember, you'll need to be able to focus primarily on your studies while at school. If you're mentally balancing a larger workload, it could detract from your ability to concentrate, focus on, and absorb the academic material being covered in class.

And if you don't have enough time to study, your grades could suffer as a result. You could risk losing funding sources that are dependent on maintaining good grades, like many scholarships and grants.

It's also important to make sure you're putting your focus on the big picture. On a day-to-day basis, some student workers feel more of an obligation to work a shift for their employer than they do to attend class, leading some to skip class in order to maintain good standing with their employer.

And if you earn too much, you could also risk reducing the awards of need-based aid, like grants. The upshot: Be sure to investigate the terms and conditions of your financial aid before accepting a job.

See also: How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter: 5 Examples

Finding the right balance

If you're thinking about working during college, do an honest self-assessment first. Consider how well you multitask, handle competing responsibilities, and prioritize your time.

Remember that what you can handle one semester may be overwhelming the next semester due to changes in coursework, job demands, personal relationships, and a host of other issues.

Lastly, keep perspective about what's most important. A college degree is a huge investment of not only money but also your time and career potential.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you graduate with a college degree and get a quality education—and a job shouldn't get in the way of that.

See more articles about Getting Ready for College.

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