No matter what college you go to, part-time employment while also pursuing a degree is a popular option for students. Oftentimes, the right amount of academic discipline and motivation, as well as proper planning and time management can help students optimize the free time they do have, and find a balanced schedule.
Personally, I stayed employed throughout my entire college career, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. For a variety of reasons, I felt more financially, emotionally, and intellectually prepared to tackle problems on a daily basis, and coming out of college I felt like I was better able to grapple with the dynamic of professional life (even in a pandemic!). For those of you anxiously awaiting the freedom and independence that comes with moving to college, many of you might be thinking about what kind of job you might get to accompany your studies. Maybe you’ll become a Campus Ambassador like I did, helping high school students applying after you paint a picture of their future there. Maybe you’ll help out at the local coffee shop, serving students just like yourself on their way to morning classes. Or maybe you’ll become an apprentice at the campus art studio, taking inventory and helping classes run smoothly. Whatever opportunities you find when you arrive at college, choosing a part-time job that is understanding of your class/study schedule and touches on skills that you enjoy developing can truly set you up for success, and can teach you skills of resilience, teamwork, and motivation that you otherwise might lose out on.
What are some other benefits of working while taking classes in college you might ask? Just to name a few:
1. Money: Whether you’re taking on a part-time job to pay off college expenses/tuition, or you just want some extra saving/spending money, working in your free time can help you become more financially independent, and can help you be prepared when the time comes to move into a new apartment, to start cooking for yourself, or to stock up on the most essential study materials.
2. Independence & Confidence: For me, working while in college always gave me a sense of independence: I had a job that I was constantly working to get better at - a job that was developing skills I otherwise didn’t exercise while in a classroom. I learned to prove myself and really APPLY my skills in the real world, rather than solely intaking information, studying it, and showing my knowledge on a test. Holding a job helped me see the impact I could make based on the skills I was developing, and it felt more real to me than any book I read in school.
3. Accountability: Going off of the last point: having a job instills a strong sense of accountability, since it is always in your best interest to perfect what you do in order to keep your job and enjoy doing it. As an employee, you’ll feel the weight of whatever you do in your job resting on your shoulders, which for me, was always a healthy amount of pressure that motivated me to do my best. I never really had the option of slacking off: my coworkers, my clients, and my bosses all depended on me to do my job correctly and completely (and on time), so I learned how to take myself seriously and hold myself accountable.
4. Explore Different Interests: Pursuing a career while in college can also take the form of exploration: you don’t necessarily have to find a part-time job that aligns with your academic studies. In reality, most students don’t! Feel free to take the time that you have during the school year to explore employment that you’re just genuinely interested in, and then when it comes to summer internships, you can try to get your foot in the door of your desired career. Doing so can open you up to new interests, and can help you develop skills that actually aid you down the line in a more indirect way.
Example: I studied design in college, but working as a Campus Ambassador and then a Tour Coordinator helped me develop communication, organization, and financial skills that weren't necessarily taught in design school.
5. Versatility: In a lot of college jobs, you might find yourself being thrown into a bunch of different situations, some of which you might not feel totally equipped to deal with. No matter the job, a lot of times your supervisors in college may not exactly expect you to be an expert in the field that you’re working in, so they’ll expose you to different kinds of projects to work on. This can be particularly true if you find yourself working in higher-education (an administrative job at your school), so in all honesty, you learn how to adapt and stay flexible. You might learn a variety of skills that you didn’t know were important, and you’ll learn how to react productively when thrown into similar situations in your professional future.
6. Staying Busy: If you’re anything like me, staying busy will keep your life interesting, and will constantly open you up to new opportunities every day. That’s not to say that I don’t like my relaxation time, but always having something to do helped me stay motivated in college, and helped me remain ready to jump at great opportunities that came my way. I always found myself meeting new people, attending new events, and getting involved with groups that ultimately made me so much happier than if I were to have stayed at home in my pajamas watching TV all day.
7. Time Management: Above all, time management proved to be the hardest, yet most worthwhile skill that I developed while working in college. Although this is also a skill you develop when keeping up with academics, having two very different commitments that largely don’t have anything to do with one another (work and school) helps you learn how to switch between activities quickly, keep your ideas/materials organized, and really figure out how to prioritize important work. For me, having set-in-stone shifts that I could not miss (and could not catch up on school work during) helped me hold myself accountable to all of the checklist items I made for myself.
8. Blending of Academic and Professional Skills: Sometimes, the skills you learn in school and the skills you learn in the workplace can have an interesting connection that you never expected. For me, after working at the same job for several years, I was able to integrate my design skills/software knowledge into my job creating virtual tours for high school students: which is something I never thought I would do as a campus ambassador. I had always thought that my job revolved around communication, friendliness, and professionalism, but as my role developed and I grew, I found ways to integrate my academic knowledge into my professional life, and I become much stronger at the job I had already been doing for years. (In reality, even if you don’t end up working specifically in the field that you studied for, you develop skills that can have the most unexpected applications!)
9. Preparation for after graduation: Holding a job (or different jobs) throughout your time in college will undoubtedly make you more prepared for the real-world once you finish college, in more ways than one. Not only will you develop a wealth of skills necessary in the workplace, but you will be able to develop a much stronger resume to showcase those skills, and you will be able to have a diverse array of experience to present employers once you enter the workforce. While summer internships are great for building your resume too, employers love to see applicants that were involved in college, and took opportunities to apply themselves, keep themselves busy, and develop their professional skills during the year as well. Keeping a job during the year shows dedication and time management (on top of the other skills I’ve already mentioned), so it’s a great way to make yourself a stronger candidate even as a college freshman several years in advance.
10. Workplace dynamics: Lastly, having a job throughout college is extremely useful for learning the workplace dynamic: between coworkers, bosses and their employees, or even learning how to manage people yourself. You’ll learn what kind of management style you like best (hands-on, hands-off, etc.) before even entering the workforce, and you’ll probably come across workplace dynamics that you wish to never replicate yourself (unhealthy expectations from a boss, being overworked, etc.) In addition, you’ll learn how to communicate these kinds of things with your boss or coworkers, and you’ll be better equipped to avoid unhealthy work dynamics in the future - since you will have already gone through them before! You’ll also learn the balance of friendship and professionalism in the workplace, understanding how to make a positive workplace culture, respect others, and work as a team.
While it’s hard to synthesize the benefits of being a student employee into just 10 points, I hope this gets you started thinking about where a job during college could take you. Working throughout my four years in college was certainly the best decision that I ever made, and was certainly just as valuable as my academic studies.
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the Class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at shcollegeconsulting.com.