Earn the Grades and the Gas Money: A Note on Work-Study Balance


Whether it’s a restaurant chain or a local joint, a visit to any business will show you that student workers are a common sight in and around most college campuses. Student employees can be found in almost all fields, from the restaurant business to research positions. Of course, the motivation to take on a part-time job in addition to pursuing a degree will be different for every student employee, but each will ultimately have to seek and maintain a balance between his or her studies and job.

This is where most students fail to prioritize. The allure of earning your own spending money, even at the cost of much-needed time for studying, has led many student employees to disappointing academic careers. After working a couple of days, think about how much of your studying time was taken up, and then adjust your shift accordingly. All businesses who have hired student workers in the past value this highly, because after all: you are a part-time employee, yet foremost a full-time student!

I speak from experience when I say that finding this balance will not come easily. Currently, I work as a student assistant to the Women in Engineering Program (WEP) and as part of the Web Team for Division of Housing on Food (DHFS) in University of Texas Austin. In total, I work 5 hours a week with WEP and 8 hours with DHFS, and I attest to the saying that the hours really fly by if you find passion in your work.

With respect to finding that work-study balance, seek out a set work schedule that allows you to plan out specific times throughout the day that is “blocked-out” for studying. On top of that, be sure to communicate flexibility up front to your employer, so that you may adjust your schedule if other important things arise. Keep track of important events or tasks that is happening at work and also in school, and being organized is key in that aspect. The skills that you earn successfully managing your time and effort will be crucial even after graduation.

More pertinent to some student jobs more than others, I believe keeping work and study separated is important to manage stress and to do successfully in both areas. It may be easy to get carried away working on a recently assigned program that your boss assigned you to build, but once you head home, focus on academics and don’t let your tasks at work occupy the time you have to study. The same goes for getting emotionally carried away after a particularly challenging shift at a restaurant; don’t let it affect you after you leave work. Run, sing, lift, swim, read, skip rope— do any or all these things to relieve stress! On top of leading academic student organizations, I compete every season in intramural soccer and enjoy the Austin culture and live music scene; finding a work-study balance is easier on a level head.

Be sure to develop close relationships with your supervisor and other student workers! Most likely, you will not be the first student they have had as an employee, and they can share with you very important advice on time management and how to maximize your time at work. Communicate the importance you place on your studies, and they will reciprocate it.

Some of you reading this may not currently hold a student job, but whether or not you are considering it, consider both sides of the situation carefully.

On one hand, students who work are generally more confident and may develop better time-management skills than students who are not employed. In addition to offering a paycheck, some independence and satisfaction, a part-time job can provide training, experience, and responsibility. On the other hand, experts agree that students who work more than 15+ hours per week often experience decreased school success. Working long hours can also limit opportunities to build friendships and explore interests outside of academics.

This is where balance comes into play. If working will interfere with completing schoolwork, participating in extracurricular activities, spending time with family and friends or getting enough rest, it may not be a wise decision. Moderation is the answer!


Image credit: Alabama A & M University


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