By Alexandra Haag, University of Missouri
When I started college, I knew I was going to have to work. What I didn’t know was exactly how much I was going to have to work.
After my first year, it became clear that I was going to have to pay tuition for my remaining years – something I was not prepared for. I was even more unprepared for what followed. I got a second job on campus, worked between classes and at night, and before I knew it the townhouse I was renting became nothing more than a place to sleep and my friends were nowhere to be found.
People tell you that college is going to be hard. You hear stories about tests and staying up all night and the crappy jobs you pick up in your spare time. But no one really tells you how tired you are going to be from doing all that. No one tells you how to explain any of that to the people who’ve never had to have a job. The National Center for Education Statistics found that 43% of college students were employed full-time in 2017, and 81% were employed part-time.
So, while you meet an upsetting number of students who are paying their way through college by doing anything necessary – there is also a large amount who don’t want to, need to or even think about working. Which hey, great for them. If I could choose to not work 30 hours a week on top of 18 credits, I’d do it too. But that option just isn’t available for some people.
“Why are you never home?” “Why can’t you come to dinner?” “You’re working again?” “We never see you anymore.” These were the only things that seemed to be said when I saw my friends in passing. I didn’t know how to explain to them that I didn’t have a choice, it’s either work or don’t go to school, and when those are the only options there is really no choice at all.
What was even worse, was sharing a house with them. The inevitable conversation about where to keep the heat at and the amount of time spent in the shower had to happen because I could no longer afford the utility bill. This conversation was followed with the frequently asked “why don’t you just ask your parents for help?” I just wanted to shout back “DON’T YOU THINK I WOULD IF I COULD?” It was difficult to not be envious of their financial situation and a little embarrassed of mine, and it was hard to not be a little mad at them because of it.
While working in college is hard, it is doable. Studies have shown that working part-time is beneficial to students, they make better grades, are introduced to more people and it adds structure to their lives. So, even if you don’t need a job it might help to get one, and if you do need one it is good to hear that it is helping in more ways than just paying for school.
Working in college has taught me how to take care of myself, about responsibility and the importance of time management. It has also taught me that you’re allowed to be tired and frustrated and sometimes even a little jealous.
It is important to have an open and honest conversation about your financial situation with your friends, especially if you are living with them. Be honest about why you want to or have to work, regardless of the reason.
Explain to them that it isn’t that you don’t want to hang out and offer to plan a dinner or night out in a couple weeks when you know you’ll have off (and preferably after pay day.) Make sure they understand what you can and can’t afford to do, and are sympathetic and willing to compromise. Because, while working in college is hard, it tends to be a little harder when your friends just can’t relate.
Alexandra Haag is a senior at the University of Missouri.