By Karly Balslew
It was two days after I turned sixteen, I started my first job working at McDonald’s. Since that day, I have always worked a job. Sometimes two jobs, this semester three, but I was always at least working one job. I didn’t choose to work this much because I had nothing better to do with my time, it is what I had to do to survive.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020, the percentage of undergraduate students who were employed was higher among part-time students (74 percent) than among full-time students (40 percent). For full-time undergraduates, there was a higher percentage of females (43 percent) than of males (35 percent) that were employed that year. That being stated, it’s not relatively uncommon for a student, either part-time or full-time, to have a job during their college career. For some students, like me, choosing to work a job wasn’t a question but rather my only option to continue going to college and further my education.
As I wrap up my final semester in college, I am working three jobs so I can just make ends meet, meaning no savings or extra money. I work roughly 25 to 30 hours per week at my retail job, I freelance around two to three articles per month, and I am a TA for a class twice a week. All these jobs give me a paycheck, and it is just enough to keep food in my fridge, keep me from being evicted, keep my car from being repossessed and keep me enrolled in a full-time student status.
Though my financial situation may not be the college norm, there are others just like me that must work long hours and sometimes multiple jobs to get by. If this is the position you’re in too, I hope I can offer some advice to make this journey a little more manageable.
Schedule Plan like it’s Your Part-Time Job: I write this title ironically because if you’re reading this, you want to avoid another job at all costs. However, in my experience, keeping a tight watch over your schedule is the only way to stay sane while juggling so much on your plate. Everyone’s method of scheduling is different too and your methods may change based on your life at the current moment. When I started college, purchasing a physical planner was the highlight of starting the school year. Now as graduation dangles in front of me, the post-it note function on my computer has been my best friend this entire semester.
Regardless of how where you put your schedule, it needs to happen. Write absolutely everything you can down so you can visually see the steps you need to take for that day. I plan my schedule down to 10-minute increments sometimes, so I don’t forget to take breaks, text that friend I’m missing or grab something to eat. This helps with a busy schedule and reduces anxiety if you forget to do something because if it’s written down and staring you back in the face, there is a lesser chance of forgetting.
Be Selective About Where You Work: Whenever I job search, I always look for jobs based on three principles. I always start with; will this job offer me benefits that will help with school? Such as paid vacation time, flexible scheduling with students or sick time. Having a company that is flexible with my school schedule gives me the power to craft my schedule based on my needs and other obligations.
Secondly, will this job help with overall general living? No one truly likes working in the food industry but one of the perks of working in the food industry is that some places offer employees free meals or let them take home extra food at the end of the day. The job may not be the best, but you are taking home a paycheck and food which will save you money in the end. Other jobs may offer employee discounts that could be beneficial depending on your lifestyle.
Finally, I ask myself how a job will contribute to my resume and give me skills that are transferable to the degree I am perusing. I’ve worked at Home Depot for almost three years now which has nothing to do with journalism. However, I have learned how to better interact with the community, talk to others and had the opportunity for leadership roles. Often just talking with customers and coworkers has led to story ideas that have helped me in my classes.
I understand not everyone may have the privilege to be selective when it comes to the job market. However, the point I strive to make is that there is always a silver lining of some sort when having to work a job in college.
Sacrifice is Inevitable: I’ve commonly heard from parents, friends, teachers, and others that school will always come before work, which I’d like to believe is true. But what if that isn’t the case for every student? The only reason I can attend college is because I put work before school and a lot of other things in life. I didn’t neglect my academics, but other areas of my life had to be sacrificed so I could work as much as possible while being a full-time student. My social life dimmed, four hours of sleep became the norm and working seven days a week didn’t faze me anymore.
I’m not saying it’s the ideal lifestyle, because it’s not by a landslide, but I didn’t have a choice unless I wanted to drop out of school. When it comes to working while being a student, there is usually a negative stereotype that students will neglect their academic work which will put them further behind in school. According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, students who at least work part-time achieve lower marks and spend more time in college.
However, a study done at McPherson College reported that the 270 students in the Student Debt Project, a program to help students balance work and school life, that work an average of 15 hours per week carry a higher GPA compared to students that don’t work. The study states that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that students that work 10 to 15 hours per week while being full-time students have stronger grades as they are forced to develop better self-discipline and life skills.
Without working, I wouldn’t be where I am today. However, I decided to receive a higher education in hopes to one day having a better-paying job where I wouldn’t have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet in the future. Understanding that my current situation is temporary and better opportunities are on the way is a key motivating factor.
Don’t Forget About You: I’ve left this section for last because this is hands down the most important aspect of working an insane schedule while trying to balance everything else life throws at you. It is integral to take time for yourself throughout the day, weeks, and months. I commonly tell myself, “Well I don’t have the time, I’m too busy.” This is untrue because there is always time to take care of yourself. Even if you take 10 minutes to check your phone, meditate, eat your favorite snack, or take a quick walk, your inner self will thank you for doing so.
I am still working on this part myself but the time I have made for myself is always appreciated and puts my mind in a better headspace to handle the long days to come. Seriously, take it easy and be gentle on yourself, you will be amazed at how far it takes you. In the wise words of one of my nutrition professors, stay safe and stay sane.
Karly Balslew is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism