10 Former College Students on How They Balanced Work and School

work student balance

When I was in college as a full-time student I always had a job and at least one extracurricular activity going on at all times. Sometimes I felt sTreSsEd, and other days I fully enjoyed everything I was able to do and felt very fortunate. It wasn’t always easy to transition from student life to employee mode, especially when there was a ton of stuff in the back of my mind that I knew I needed to get done. Papers, projects, group work, and emails, on top of wanting to do my best at my job and prove to my employer that I was not going to be another flaky college hire. The biggest takeaway during this time of my life was understanding the way I work best, what my optimal balance between work, play, and school look like, and how to handle intense periods of stress.

It’s not at all uncommon to work while going to school — in fact, nearly 80% of student do. I was interested in talking to some people with whom I went to school to talk about the ways in which they made it all work (without losing their minds). Whether it was taking online classes, or working a night job with weird hours to accommodate daytime classes, people did whatever it took. My friends were all over the map — some friends were paying their own way through college so they had to work full-time, while other friends only squeezed in two days a week at their part-time gigs.

Below, I’ve rounded up 10 post-grads to talk about how they managed work and school when they were in college and some of the ways they found their own balance. Check it out!

One. “Try to find on-campus work if possible. When I was in college, I worked at the on-campus print center three days a week. It was a huge bonus to be able to get back and forth to my dorm and classes quickly on a busy day which allowed me to balance more on my plate. I would say do what you can to try to work on campus if possible!” –Michelle

Two. “During my freshman year and (half) of my sophomore year of college, I worked at a local pizzeria a short way away from my campus. The hours were pretty flexible and the work was easy. While I wasn’t making a ton of money the tips were enough to cover my relatively small-sized bills. It was perfect because it was the kind of work I could get through even after a late night of studying or going out, and I could still do what I needed to.” –Stacy

Three. “It’s always useful to see if your professors are looking for help with their out-of-the-classroom projects/endeavors. I worked with my professor as a research assistant and helped her with a psychology study she was developing. She paid me well and would often allow me to do class assignments and write papers that were relevant to my experiences with the study. It was like a win-win — not only was I getting paid for the work I did, but it was reinforcing what I was doing in the classroom and made my schoolwork more meaningful.” –Monica

Four. “25% of student work full-time while going to school, and that’s just what I did. I was a full-time nanny for a family near my college, and I scheduled night and weekend classes around it. I somehow made everything work, but it wasn’t easy. I toiled away on assignments and papers while the kids were watching movies, and I would enlist them to help me with some coursework (I was an early childhood specialist) where I needed the input of children. I paid my way through college with that job, and it forced me to bring school to work and work to school.” –Rachael

Five. “I worked the late-night shift at a 24-hour freshly baked cookie delivery service near my college. 90% of it was delivering to parties and people who had been up late drinking and wanted something to munch on. The tips were unreal. I feel like I hit the jackpot because it allowed me to work only a few days a week during off hours, and I could spend the rest of my time studying and going to class. Don’t be afraid of jobs with slightly odd hours! It allows you to make money while the rest of your peers might be wasting time.” –Haley

Six. “I didn’t work my freshmen year of college, and I found myself acting lazy and procrastinating with schoolwork because I had almost too much free time. When I started working it forced me to adhere to a schedule and get assignments done on time. My job provided me with structure and spending money so I didn’t have to dip into the (small amount) of savings I did have. I highly recommend creating and abiding by a strict schedule wherever possible as it will help you make the most of your time and work efficiently.” –Jaclyn

Seven. “This probably sounds obvious, but it’s really beneficial to get a job that’s related to your major. You get to do double duty if you’re making money while also getting more in-depth knowledge of your education and classes.” –Steph

Eight. “Communicate! Be open and honest with your manager and your co-workers about your role as a student first and foremost. It will help you balance out everything you need to do when those who surround you are aware of your responsibilities as a student. When I got a part-time job off campus I let my supervisor know my situation. I found that he was understanding and very chill about me coming into work a few minutes late or leaving early if I had class or extra homework to get done.” –Erica

Nine. “Consider online classes! I was able to really optimize my work-student balance by enrolling in one online class per semester. I could finish the coursework at my leisure and fit it into my schedule with greater ease. Online classes make working and student-ing in 2015 easier than ever.” –Laurie

Ten. “Create goals for yourself so you don’t feel like you’re living to work. When you start feeling run down it’s helpful to think about all the favors you’re doing your future self. I used to feel better by reminding myself that working now was preventing me from accruing mountains of loan debt that would follow me for years to come. I felt like it made the most sense to work throughout my college years so when I got out I wasn’t immediately hit with piles of student debt.” –Melissa

Check out these great resources for helping you balance work and life as a student:

The Financial Diet

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