I can still hear my 7:45 a.m. alarm buzzing on Saturday morning.
For my entire freshman year of college, I’d mumble a curse, shut off the alarm, and force myself to wander down the hall to shower.
The rest of the dorm was silent. Unlike my roommate and the majority of my fellow students, I had somewhere to be every Saturday morning. I was working as a receptionist at an acupuncture clinic not far from my campus.
Back then, I hated getting up for work, especially since it meant I had to limit my Friday-night fun.
But I needed the money. I was paying my own way through college, and my school was situated in downtown Boston—not the most financially-friendly city.
Looking back, I’m so glad I did it. Not only did it help me make ends meet, but it did a lot to prepare me for the real world, and even helped me land my first “grown-up job” just a few months after I graduated. (Side note: I graduated in 2008, at the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression, so getting a job so quick was no easy feat.)
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I get a job in college?” I’m here to tell you that, yes, you should. And in this article, I’m going to tell you exactly why you should, what kind of jobs you should be looking for, and how to balance your work, school, and personal life.
Let’s dig in.
The Pros and Cons of Working While in College
There are two major drawbacks to working while in college—but quite a few benefits. So rather than try and give you a balanced list of pros and cons, let’s get the two cons out of the way right off the bat:
Con #1: Less personal time
This is the obvious drawback. If you work while in college, you’ll miss out on the free time your non-working classmates will enjoy. While they sleep in, go on weekend adventures, or stay up until the wee hours dancing and partying, you’ll be stuck putting in hours at your job.
To mitigate this, if you do end up working while in college, try your best to find a job that offers part-time hours. (Though some students may need more work to make ends meet.)
Work-life balance is no joke, and working too many hours without having at least a little fun while in college will burn you out quickly. Which brings me to con #2…
Con #2: Work can be a distraction from school
No matter what degree you’re pursuing, you’ll be dedicating a lot of your time to your education. With a side job, you may find that you have less time to study and prepare for classes, and you’ll have fewer hours in the day for things like homework, projects, and group work.
The key to working while in college is time management—you must be disciplined and use your time wisely, or else your job, schoolwork, or both will suffer.
Those are the two downsides to working in college. So, what are the pros?
Pro #1: Extra spending cash
A side job will give you extra cash to fund your lifestyle, which is bound to be more expensive than it was when you were living at home.
With the extra money, you can enjoy non-campus food every once in a while, attend social events, or tuck the money away in savings for the future. It’s not just about having the extra cash—it’s about having more financial freedom, and not needing to rely on your parents or other people to give you an allowance.
Pro #2: Fewer student loans
The less money you have to borrow for school, the easier life will be once you graduate.
If you work while in college, you won’t have to take out as many (or any) loans to fund your lifestyle. Though you may still need to borrow money to cover tuition and board, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t take out any extra just to live your life while in college.
Pro #3: New social and real-world experiences
Attending a university can be a little bit like living in a bubble. You see the same people in your classes, around the dorms, in the dining hall, etc.
An off-campus job will take you out of this bubble, expanding your social opportunities and giving you more real-world experiences. I’m still friends with some of the folks I met while working in college, and some of the older people I met at my job became mentors to me.
Pro #4: A more impressive resume
Every job is a stepping stone toward your next better-paying and more rewarding role. By working while you’re in college, you start building a bridge to your ideal career sooner than your non-working classmates, which will give you a big advantage when you graduate and start looking for work.
Your resume will stand out from the crowd because you’ll already have work experience to feature. You can also impress potential employers by demonstrating that you had the discipline and time-management skills to work and study at the same time.
Pro #5: Potential course credits
In some cases, working while in college can also help you graduate sooner. Many colleges allow you to use a paid job to earn extra credits, provided the role you’re taking on is relevant to your course work.
Speak with your school’s career counseling office to see if this is an option. If they don’t have a formal system, it may be worth talking to your professor directly to see if they can help you arrange something.
Pro #6: Job referrals and references
I know for a fact that my job at the acupuncture clinic helped me get my first job after graduation, working as a writer. How do I know that? Because my boss wrote an excellent referral for me, and the person who interviewed me told me it helped me land the job.
In some cases, the job you have during school may become your full-time job after graduation if it’s aligned with what you’re studying. Or the employers and colleagues you meet at your day job could introduce you to someone who ends up hiring you after graduation. Working while in college is an excellent way to start building a professional network.
How can students find the right job?
Now that you understand the benefits of working a job while studying, how do you actually go about finding a role that will work with your class schedule?
I’ve got tips and resources to help you do just that.
Campus job fairs
Many schools host on-campus job fairs, which is a great place to start looking for a job. These typically happen at the beginning of the school year, so keep an eye out for an event sometime in September (though they may fall later at some schools).
When attending these fairs, be sure to come equipped with copies of your resume—though some jobs may accept a digital version, it’s a good idea to have it on hand.
Most colleges and universities have a career office dedicated to helping students find a job. You can likely book an appointment at no cost, where you’ll meet with a counselor who can give you advice, help you finetune your resume, and provide you with resources to find a good job.
Former graduates from your university are a great career resource. Often, it’s easier to get a position when the hiring manager knows and loves the school you’re attending.
Your school may have an alumni office, which is a great place to start, or there may be an online group or publication for alumni. If you come across an alumnus who might be able to help you get a job, send them a polite and professional message expressing your interest.
Working during school will fast-track your career
The short-term benefits (like extra spending cash and potential course credits) and the medium-term benefits (fewer student loans = less time to pay off when you graduate) are worthwhile on their own.
The biggest gains, though? The benefits you can’t see right away:
The connection that helps you land a job five years from now.
Soft skills like managing conflict and learning how to adapt to change.
Hard skills specific to your career path.
Workplace social savvy.
You can add many of these to your resume, sure. But your real edge over the competition will be obvious in your interactions—in an interview, leading a project, training junior colleagues. When the skills you developed are applied.
It’s impossible to quantify how this real-world experience will impact your specific profession or salary.
But the value it will bring to your future career? Priceless.
More resources for finding a job while in college
We have lots of other articles here on The Vector Impact that can help you find a good job. Check out some of these resources: