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Updated on Thursday, August 21, 2014
For some students, working in college is a necessity; for others, it fulfills a major requirement while padding a resume. Whatever the reason, working in college provides both a financial and practical foundation for life after graduation.
I’ve managed to work a number of jobs and internships during my academic career, and found the experience to be challenging, yet extremely rewarding.
I started off as an Administrative Assistant for a local alarm company, then moved onto internships at CNN and NBC in positions closely related to my major. On top of getting compensated while attending college, I broadened my network and learned new skills while simultaneously keeping an arm’s length away from borrowing money for school.
Although it does take extra effort to hold down a job and keep grades up to par, the choice to work during college can be very beneficial.
Working in college can help avoid debt.
Many students struggle with student loan payments, and I was determined to graduate debt free. I chose to attend a city college where tuition is affordable and scholarships were plentiful. So even if I made minimum wage, I could still afford to attend college full time and cover miscellaneous expenses such as books, travel and food. Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm for many college students today.
Student loans are a burden to pay back, and can slow down progress when it comes to buying a home or starting a family. According to a recent survey conducted by American Student Assistance (ASA), 73% of students said they have put off saving for retirement or other investments. The vast majority of students—75%—indicated that student loan debt affected their decision or ability to purchase a home.
Even with jobs, it’s difficult for many students to pay today’s tuition costs without the assistance of loans. However, holding down a steady job through college will enable students to graduate with fewer financial obligations, by reducing the amount of money they need to borrow for tuition and living expenses.
Working in college can make your resume stand out.
Every time I go out on a job interview, employers are impressed by the amount of work experience and skills I possess. When I interviewed for a Production Assistant internship at CNN, the employer skimmed through my resume in amazement and even referred to me as an overachiever. Later on that day, I received an email stating I got the job.
CNN is a large and well-known network, so you can only imagine the amount of people I had to compete with for that position. Thankfully, the fact that I was able to work fulltime and attend school fulltime while maintaining a GPA above a 3.5 made me stand out. With that information alone, employers can automatically conclude that you’re hard working and focused and that’s often enough for you get hired.
Throughout your college career, you should find jobs or internships related to your major. Relevant job experience not only enables a college graduate to become competitive in the job market, it also provides a network to reach out to when searching for employment.
In fact, even if the job isn’t directly related to your specific field of study, the fact that you possess prior job experience will work in your favor. Just figure out how to make the skills you acquired at a previous position fit into the requirements of the job you’re interviewing for.
Working in college teaches time management skills.
I used to struggle with effective time management, but when I started working in high school, my window to study and get homework done became fairly small. It took a lot self-discipline to ensure I could get my studying done, and put in time at work after spending a full day at school. This new busy schedule took a lot of getting used to, but over the course of time it became second nature.
Learning to balance time with classes and work will help students adapt to post college life. It will also teach students how to deal with people at work. There is a difference between working with people at school and collaborating with colleagues. These skills will make adjusting to the real world, much easier.
Working in college can improve academics.
I must say, working through school definitely motivated me to stay diligent with my schoolwork and time management skills. I was surprised to see that my grades actually improved when I started working. This is a result of learning how to organize and plan study time effectively. The added focus made the difference between an A and B.
It’s up to you to find a point where it’s most effective. Some people can handle forty hours a week; some people can handle twenty hours a week. Stress levels should not be so great that it is a distraction, and you should still be able to stay on top of all projects.
Working in college can provide employee benefits.
When I worked as an administrative assistant during high school I had all the great benefits and perks. I was particularly excited about contributing to a 401(k) at such an early age.
Many companies, such as Starbucks, Home Depot., and Whole Foods offer full-time benefits to employees if they work a minimum of twenty-five hours a week. This means students can begin a 401(k), qualify for health insurance, or better yet, a tuition assistance program, all while still attending college.
Working in college allows students to save for an emergency.
During my sophomore year of college, my father, the primary bread winner of my family suffered severe injuries to his back while on the job. He stayed out of work for almost a month, and without his income my family was afraid that our home will fall apart. Luckily, my brother and I both had an emergency stash and was able to maintain some bills until my father’s recovery.
Regardless of how many expenses you’re facing, or how little you’re is able to put aside; it’s imperative that you have an emergency fund. In life, especially as a college student, you should always expect the unexpected. An emergency fund is one way to financially prepare for the unknown. Financial emergencies can come in the form of job loss, significant medical expenses, home or auto repairs or something you’d never even dream of.
Working in college will enhance networking skills.
There is truth in the saying: “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Working during college not only develops your networking skills, but expands your network of people to turn to for a job after graduation. All you have to do is connect with that person and ask to chat over a cup of coffee. It’s that simple.
Networking is exactly how I ended up in the office of CNN’s Director of Business News. I knew someone that knew someone who worked there, and was able get my resume on that director’s desk.
Networking isn’t just a job search strategy; it is a critical professional career development enrichment strategy. Working in college can enhance networking skills, and broaden your horizons well beyond the college campus. More importantly, networking with the right people in your industry can open doors and help your career flourish.
Moral of the story: get a job in college
It doesn’t matter if you’re bussing tables, bartending or fetching coffee for a network executive – working in college helps both financially and professionally. Okay, maybe fetching coffee for a network executive helps more for networking purposes, but working in college provides a foundation to build on post-graduation. From a monetary perspective, any paid job will help college students learn how to budget and pay for some of their lifestyle to prevent sinking (often deeper) into debt. The skills of communication, time management, collaboration and conflict resolution are useful in almost any job interview – even if you developed those talents cleaning plates or mixing drinks. Ultimately, it is always good to be self-sufficient, regardless of your present financial situation and future employment outlook.