It’s a working student’s world out there

The decision to balance work and school can prove difficult in the short term, but it pays off in time.

by Martha Pietruszewski

When I was a freshman in college, working during school just seemed like something I was supposed to do. I had worked all through high school, so it made sense to keep going.
It’s important for students to work during their college career because it gives them relevant experience and might help them narrow down the path they want to walk after graduation.
Since I started college, I’ve worked as a literacy mentor, an intern at a nonprofit in London, an assistant in technology learning, a newspaper columnist and a receptionist at a salon. Throw in a few other internships and you’d have my resume.
Through all these jobs, I’ve learned I really enjoy working with people and making a difference, whether in a large or small capacity. Because of that, I already know that I could hardly stand to sit in a cubicle for the rest of my life. 
You may be thinking, will having a part-time job affect my academics? The fact is, if you work during the school year, you’ll have less time to do other things, such as homework and studying. Speaking from experience, there have been days when I’ve definitely wished I could have studied longer instead of going to work.
However, the reverse is also true — sometimes I just don’t put enough effort into working on work because I’m more worried about school.
Yet as I prepare for graduation at the end of this semester, I’m often glad I work so much. Even though my grades could have been better, working has allowed me to save money and pay off loans or to go out and socialize with my friends. 
Of course, for some people, working isn’t something they choose to do — it’s something they have to do. Unfortunately, working full time hardly makes a dent in the cost of tuition nowadays. I admire students who work full time and still manage to graduate because I know there are times when it would be much easier to just drop out of school.
Besides the fact that it lets me make money, I also enjoy working because it allows me to develop my soft skills. Communicating with people all day has really improved my leadership ability, and it’s also made me more comfortable in unfamiliar situations, such as networking events. Balancing coursework and, well, real work has also made my time management skills better. 
Finally, holding a job gives me plenty of material to talk about in interviews. “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a challenging coworker.” Nailed it. 
But don’t think the best part of holding a job is the material it supplies me for my interviews. Rather, it’s that working allows me to apply what I’ve learned in classes in the real world. 
For example, if I’m taking a course on transportation and logistics at the same time that I have an internship in that field, I’m going to be ahead of the game. I won’t have to learn new material on the first day of work, which will allow me to be more efficient at my job. 
I know working may not be possible for you — maybe you’re taking 21 credits or studying abroad — but if at some point you do have an opportunity to hold a job, I highly recommend it.
Martha Pietruszewski welcomes comments at [email protected].