A guide to working while in college

A guide to working while in college

    Although students are worried about part-time work impacting their studies, the rising cost of education is leaving many with no choice. According to a 2020 report, 40% of full-time students have a part-time job, and this percentage rises to 74% for part-time students. Others are turning to summer jobs to cover rocketing school costs. While selling ice cream over the summer won’t fund your entire education, the money can quickly add up when combined with other ways to pay for college.

    Working in school can complicate an already busy schedule, but taking a proactive approach to your finances by getting a job can also reduce related stresses and boost self-confidence. The opportunity to meet new people in a different context can help you to get more out of college. An additional benefit is that future employers tend to look favorably on the experience, as balancing work with studies requires a strong work ethic and time management skills.

    Finding a job as a college student

    It may take time to find a job that fits your schedule. Ask around, browse online classified ads, and check the college message boards – all the same things you need to do when finding a job after graduation. If you want a summer job, start the search early. Very much like planning your career, leave it to the last minute and you risk losing competitive advantage.

    How many hours should a college student work?

    Most students limit their work to 10-20 hours per week. Some schools stipulate 20 hours a week as the maximum during the semester. For graduate students this often rises to around 28 hours.

    It is up to the student to decide whether the demands of the work are having a negative effect on their studies. Research has shown that working less than 10 hours may be the sweet spot when it comes to balancing work and school.

    Some students work 40-hour weeks over the summer, but as you can only commit to 3 months, these positions tend to be hard to find. Most college students work between 20-30 per week over the summer break. The last thing you want is to work so hard that you return to school exhausted and unprepared for the new semester.

    Five of the best paying jobs for college students

    Tutoring – Earn money, use your knowledge, and help other students. Online tutoring, on-campus tutoring, and private tutoring can all be lucrative part-time jobs.

    Creative freelance work – It is simple to become a freelancer with online platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. Use your skills in writing, photography, graphic design, or other creative talent.

    Delivery service driver – Earn anywhere from $17 to $30 an hour. Evening and weekend shifts make this an excellent option.

    Office temp – Answering phones and performing administrative tasks may not be your dream job, but the pay is better than fast-food counters.

    Mail room – Witness how businesses operate and make above-average money at the same time.

    Tips for balancing study and work

    Working part-time during your degree requires a little adjustment. The following tips can help you navigate between work and study without becoming overwhelmed.

    Schedule everything

    As a working student, you need to schedule many things in advance, from the classes you want to attend to downtime with your buddies. Mark important events on your calendar and set up email or phone reminders so they don’t slip your mind.

    Communicate with your employer

    Be upfront with your employer about how you plan to manage work alongside your studies. Most employers are understanding and open to negotiating some flexibility. Perhaps you can work from home a couple of days a week, get earlier or later hours, or work more on weekends.

    Find out if your school accepts transfer credits

    Transfer credits can cut down the amount of schoolwork you need to complete in college. Courses you did years ago may help you earn a few credits towards the degree you are currently pursuing. In some cases, you may even be able to translate your work experience into course credits, so it’s worth finding out what your school’s transfer credit policy is.


    Regardless of how meticulously you schedule activities, there will be times when you need to pick and choose due to unexpected circumstances. Work and school should take priority over most other things, but it’s important to keep your sanity, so judge each situation separately and make sure you aren’t neglecting your personal life.

    On-campus jobs for students

    For many students, the best-case scenario is landing a job on campus. These roles involve less travel and can often feel like an extension of your social life. An additional benefit is that campus management tends to understand employees’ study commitments.

    One way to secure a job on campus is to enroll in the federal work-study program. This offers work during the semester to students who demonstrate financial need. To apply for the program simply check ‘yes’ when completing the FAFSA form.

    On-campus jobs include:

    • Research assistant – If you’re at a large research university, there may be opportunities to contribute to a research project in your study field. This can be particularly beneficial for science majors.
    • Campus ambassador – A liaison role between a company and college. Campus ambassadors may be involved in promotional activities or job fairs, and they can sometimes land a full-time job at the company when they graduate.
    • Administrative assistant – The purpose of this role is to simplify the work of teaching or faculty staff. Tasks may include scheduling, research, or assisting with correspondence.

    Benefits of on-campus jobs

    1. Flexible hours – Your manager will likely be an upperclassman or professor who understands that you need a flexible schedule. Swapping hours with coworkers tends to be easy.
    2. Making friends – If you are an incoming freshman or transfer student, on-campus jobs can help you to meet people. Connecting with your coworkers can be great for your social life, also helping you build a professional network.
    3. Resume builder – When applying for internships, an on-campus job can make your resume stand out. If your job is in a relevant field, it can also demonstrate your ability to learn outside of the classroom to potential employers.

    The best jobs for college students

    The best part-time jobs offer a mix of flexibility, enjoyment, benefits, and reasonable pay. Many students choose to work in hospitality, taking on roles such as:

    • Barista – As well as helping college students deal with sleep deprivation, coffee shops provide excellent part-time opportunities. A part-time Starbucks barista can expect to earn an average of $17 per hour. Starbucks also offers bonuses, paid time off, and health and dental coverage if you work at least 160 hours over a 2-month period.
    • Server – A waiter or waitressing job is a great way to make fast cash and meet people. If you already have serving experience, check with some higher-end establishments; they may need additional help, and the tips tend to be better than at most chain restaurants.
    • Fast food attendant – Fast food chains are always hiring. A college student, especially one with prior experience, may be a welcome addition to a busy counter.

    Retail is another popular choice, as there’s plenty of weekend shifts and evening work available. A supermarket may not be the most glamorous job location, but the benefits make it an excellent workplace. Whole Foods is among Fortune Magazine’s “Top 100 companies to work for” and offers a wide range of part-time positions. College students can get health insurance and other benefits once they have worked between 400 and 600 hours.

    Jobs related to your college major

    The short-term goal of a summer job is to make money, but most students realize that a job related to the career path they plan to pursue looks great on their resume. While the roles you apply for will depend on your major, a couple of examples include:

    • Paid intern – A paid internship provides hands-on work experience and can help you to establish a network of professional contacts. Depending on your college’s requirements, you may also be able to get academic credit. Paid internships usually pay around $20.00 per hour.
    • Working in schools – Summer is a time for special projects, and school districts regularly hire college students to help in the office or to manage younger students who are also working in some capacity over the summer. This is a great option if you are planning for a career in education.
    • Hospital staff – If you aim to purse a healthcare career, check whether local hospitals have any additional staffing needs. College students are sometimes hired to transport patients or assist in offices. This experience can be invaluable for those who plan to apply to medical school.

    Remote jobs for college students

    Students can now do many jobs from their dormitory or family home. All they need is a decent internet connection. Remote roles suit students because of the flexible hours. Examples of virtual roles include:

    • Online transcription – The work is straightforward: listen to an audio file and type exactly what you hear in a specific format. Transcription companies such as TranscribeMe, Rev, and Quicktate, hire new employees who pass a skills test. Companies usually pay between $15 and $25 per audio hour.
    • Online tutor – Teach students studying for exams you have already passed. Alternatively, teach skills outside of academia, such as playing a musical instrument.
    • Virtual assistant (VA) – The specific duties of a VA depend on the company you work for. Tasks are administrative, such as scheduling appointments, writing e-mails, filling in spreadsheets, or performing market research.

    Summer jobs for college students

    While it may be refreshing to spend time with your family during the summer months, this feeling can quickly wear off if you’re on top of each other 24 hours a day. A summer job is an excellent way to re-establish the independence you have grown to enjoy at college.

    For a more immersive summer job experience, apply for jobs where accommodation is included. You’ll spend less on daily living costs, so you save and earn at the same time. Jobs where free housing is part of the deal include:

    • Camp counselor – Most communities have park districts that hire college students to work summer recreational camps. Typically, the park district looks for college-age instructors that can teach arts and crafts, tumbling, or tennis.
    • Seasonal resort or hotel staff – Some resorts and hotels offer accommodation to seasonal staff, which can involve staying in some of the world’s most beautiful locations for free. As well as earning excellent money, you can meet new people and maybe make friends for life.

    Outdoor summer jobs for college students

    After a semester spent in stuffy classrooms and lecture halls, you might dream of a summer in the sun. Outdoor roles tend to be physically demanding, but they allow you to enjoy the summer weather:

    • Pool attendant – Pool maintenance is a great way to get poolside over the summer. It can also be lucrative if you round up enough pools. Check with stores that sell pools or pool supplies to see if opportunities exist in your area.
    • Landscape crew – Most landscaping companies take on extra help for the summer season. They perform a range of tasks – from mowing lawns to trimming trees to moving earth.
    • Garden center – These are popular places to find summer work because they tend to rely on seasonal workers. You’ll get to know plants, meet people, and earn a decent paycheck.

    Final thoughts on working while at college

    Working while at college can be financially rewarding, character-building, and excellent for your resume. Just be sure to strike the right balance between work and study. Although there are hundreds of different jobs to choose from, don’t fret if you can’t find a position immediately, as finding a role with the required flexibility can take time. If you feel that working during the semester is too much of a commitment, there are usually plenty of summer openings if you plan ahead.

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