Why College Students Should Work—But Only 12 Hours a Week

Libby Miller Updated on June 22, 2018

There are a lot of different financial ingredients to consider when figuring out how to pay for college and the “recipe” for every family is different.

For families across the financial spectrum, a part-time job for their college student is a piece of the puzzle, whether it's just for some extra pizza money or to pay the tuition bill.

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But before your child goes on a job hunt, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind about working while attending college.

More than money: the benefits of working in college

Think 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 student’s target major or field. If your child wants to pursue a career in health care, part-time work as an EMT or hospital worker could help supplement their studies by giving them hands-on vocational experience. The same is true for elementary education majors who work in child care.

Students who are considering graduate school in research-heavy fields like economics or biology might consider reaching out to their professors to see if any positions are available as research assistants or teaching assistants, especially in their junior and senior years. They could not only gain valuable work experience but a potential letter of recommendation from the professor they 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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Workers beware: the drawbacks of working in college

But though there are obvious positives to working during college, you and your child will want to exercise caution when it comes to workload.

If students work too many hours, the risk is often not worth the reward.

To begin, students need to be able to focus primarily on their studies while at school. If they are mentally balancing a larger workload, it could detract from their ability to concentrate, focus on and absorb the academic material they’re covering in class.

And if they have less free time to study, their grades could suffer as a result.

Furthermore, some work schedules may not be flexible enough for college students. For example, if your child has an upcoming final but a coworker calls in sick, they may have no choice but to cover for them.

And 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.

What’s worse, if your child’s grades suffer because they are working too much, they could risk losing other funding sources that are dependent on maintaining good grades like scholarships and grants.

And if your child earns too much, they could also risk reducing the awards of need-based aid like grants.

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

Finding the right balance

As with everything, the decision about whether to work in college is all about balance. One of the most important factors is deciding how much your child should work. 

A look at statistics from the Department of Education finds 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.

If your child is considering college work, it’s important to know their personality and their ability to balance responsibilities. 

Encourage your child to be honest with themselves and to keep reassessing their situation. What they 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 child's time and career potential. 

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

See more articles about Getting Ready for College.

About the Author
Libby Miller

Libby Miller is a freelance copywriter. With experience working in both financial aid and the student loan industry, Libby loves helping students and their families get the best bang for their buck on a college degree. Read more by Libby Miller

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