Many higher income parents aim to fund their child’s college education in full so their child doesn’t need to worry about loans upon graduation or working while in school. They want their kids to focus on the expensive education being provided for them. A noble goal, but is it helping or hurting their kids? There are some fantastic reasons to work part-time while in college, and many of them aren’t just financial!
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Five Reasons to Work Part-Time While in College
I worked in some capacity every year while I was in school, despite the fact that I was lucky enough to have my parents provided for my education. I was a teaching assistant, tutor, and research assistant; usually putting in 15-20 hours a week. It turns out, I was far from alone. Almost 80% of college students work while in school, on average putting in 19 hours a week during the school year.
While money is the primary driver for most working students, the benefits of part-time work stretch far beyond your wallet. Looking back, here are some top reasons I’m glad I signed onto my part-time jobs!
1 – Working Students Improve Their Time Management Skills
It is a well-known productivity axiom that work takes up the time we allot to it. While students may be overwhelmed with a college workload in their first semester, the reality is that many are overwhelmed by a lack of time management skills. New students have rarely been given the freedom of significant free time between classes and the ability to set their own schedules. Especially students that were overachievers in high school with swamped class schedules, sports, and extracurricular activities.
For most students, a part-time job adds more structure to a student’s schedule and forces them to focus on homework and studying in the time outside of work and class. Having a job allows them to learn how to prioritize their work and leisure time and create and stick to a schedule. These skills will be vitally important when they are tackling a full-time job, maintaining their own apartment/home, and balancing family/friends after college.
When I was in school I worked my previously mentioned jobs, played ice hockey, and was an active member of my school’s Investment Club. In addition, I double majored in Economics and Mathematics with a minor in Philosophy. Despite my parents’ occasional worries about my schedule, I never felt overwhelmed by my workload. I developed a system to manage my work, spent time with friends, and now feel like I got the most out of school.
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2 – Working Students Get Better Grades
Many parents are reluctant to have their kids work while in college because they are afraid their student’s grades will suffer. However, research suggests the opposite! A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that students who work part time (15-20 hours a week) have higher GPAs than students who didn’t work at all.
Maybe the higher GPAs are driven by the time management skills noted above or maybe they are driven by a working student’s increased sense of “skin in the game”. Two-thirds of working students are doing so to pay for their education, which must be an incredibly motivating incentive to keep your grades up!
Keep in mind, working is a matter of diminishing returns. Students who worked more than 20 hours a week had lower GPAs than students who didn’t work at all. Not surprisingly, the closer a student gets to full-time work the more their job takes a higher priority over their education. Encourage your college student to work, but to keep their focus on their degree first!
3 – Working Students Develop Valuable Job Experience
Everyone knows the pain of applying for entry level jobs that aren’t really entry level. Even high-quality junior year internships want to see that you have some work experience! A good GPA isn’t enough, you have to have evidence that you have a work ethic outside the classroom.
Part of my desire to work as a teaching and research assistant was that I knew I would be applying to Wall Street and consulting internships while in school. Correctly, I assumed that having just tobacco farming on my resume wouldn’t be enough! Tobacco farming showed a work ethic many of my banking peers wouldn’t be able to display in a resume, but it didn’t exactly show higher level thinking skills. On campus jobs working with professors gave me a better mix of experience come intern applications.
Part-time jobs while in school, and especially summer jobs and internships, build a student’s resume to support their life after graduation. Encouraging a student to just focus on school through high school and college only limits their opportunities. A 4.0 GPA at Harvard means nothing to an employer if the applicant’s only leadership and work experience is being a Board member on the Harvard Chess Club.
4 – Working Students Can Get A Sense of What Work They Enjoy
The average millennial will have 4 or more jobs in their first ten years out of college, compared to an average of 2 jobs for Gen Xers. Working in college likely won’t change the younger generation’s desire for jobs they are passionate about where they feel valued, but it may help them start in the right place.
Most of us had no idea what we wanted to do with our lives when we entered college. And even if we did, we likely didn’t have good reasons why. For me, I had wanted to be an economist from the time I was about 12. I loved Milton Friedman, following the markets and trends, and diving into statistics. It wasn’t until I worked as a research assistant for a macroeconomist in college that I realized that career would bore me to death. I enjoyed the theory, but there are very few economist positions with hands on action and impact. What I really wanted was to take theories and ideas and test them in practice. I wanted a faster moving job. So, my part-time college job led me to Wall Street.
Not every student will have the opportunity to work within their major while at school. However, they can learn their preferences from any job they take. Did they enjoy tracking and optimizing inventory but hate talking to customers? Do they like training new employees? Hands on experience is the only way anyone can get a real sense of what having a job is like and determine what they want. Working while in college gives students the opportunity to focus their studies towards careers they would enjoy and help them optimize for the best internships and post-graduation careers.
5 – Working Students Gain Financial Experience and Responsibility
At minimum wage, a student working 20 hours a week could only make $145 a week. We aren’t talking about big dollars or the opportunity for the student to bankroll their entire education. However, that still comes to about $4,500 in an average school year. They could easily make another $3,000 stepping up to full-time work in the summer. Enough for them to either gain experience managing their own budget and/or make a dent in student loans before interest starts accruing.
Most college students are living away from home for the first time. It is their first taste of what independence feels like, and that experience will be all the more meaningful if it stretches to their wallets as well. If you are a parent to a college student who has never had responsibility for their own bills before (cell phone, car insurance, etc) start weaning them into that reality now. College is their last chance to learn with training wheels.
Even if you don’t want to put the pressure of working for those costs on your child, try joining a program like FamZoo that will allow your college student to practice keeping a budget and paying bills with real money, without the risk of overages and credit card debt. You can transfer them a monthly amount to cover their bills and allow them to practice paying them on their own. Plus, you can still keep an eye on their expenses!
According to LendEdu, 60% of college grads will have student loan debt upon graduation. For students with loans, the average debt burden was $28,400! Those numbers are large and will be exceedingly hard to manage for any student who doesn’t have work and budgeting experience. Don’t let your college student become one of the over 400,000 currently on default on their student loans! Encourage them to work while in school to learn the principles of hard work, time management, and budgeting.
Working While in College Pays in More Than Dollars
It is natural for parents to want their kids to focus on their studies while in college. It is a major expense and you want your kids to get the most out of it. But college is about putting your child in the best position for a stable and well-paying career after school, not just the benefit of a degree for the sake of saying they have one. A part-time job in college enhances the experience and long-term prospects for most students. Encourage your child to find a job that fits in with their studies so they can reap the benefits!
Did you work while in college? Would you encourage your kids to do so? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
This post was proofread by Grammarly.