4 Essential Rules for Balancing College and a Part-Time Job

You can do it all; you just have to be smart about it.

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Balancing college and a job

Being a college student and working on the side is neither new or rare, especially with the rising costs of college in addition to student loans. In fact, not having a job in college is now uncommon.

Whether you’re working at a restaurant, doing retail, or employed on campus, finding a balance between studies and a job can be hard. Sometimes it might seem like you’re missing out on being social, or even simple things like eating and sleeping.

This wasn’t a problem for me my first semester: I worked a desk job on campus, it was only 3 hours a week, and I could do schoolwork during my shift. Later, I got a job as a local news correspondent and took on a bigger course load. But things were still OK.

These days, though, it’s a struggle: I work at a local restaurant 15 hours a week in addition to being a full-time student and interning. If I don’t work at finding balance, there won’t be any balance.

I’m far from perfect at balancing school, having a life, and working. But here are some things that I’ve learned along the way that have helped keep my head above water.

1. Make sure your manager is aware of your schedule.

In most cases, even if your your job isn’t on campus, working students are so common that employers understand and are willing to work with your schedule. 

When you’re hired, it’s important to make sure your manager or supervisor is flexible, especially during exam time or in the case of important assignments. If your supervisor can’t be flexible with you, this may not be the right job.

As satisfying as it is to have some sort of regular income, you have to remember that you’re a student first. You’re not paying thousands of dollars a year to be spending all your time working and not at least somewhat focused on school.

2. Take it slow when you start.

Even if your job is related to your major, don’t get overexcited and take on too much when you start. 

Of course, you should try your best and take initiative at your job. However, it’s also smart to take it slow at first to see how your work hours might conflict with your personal and school time. It’s better to under-promise at first rather than over-promise and disappoint your employer.

Ask yourself: Can you participate in extracurriculars with the hours you have? Do you have time to write that essay or finish a lab? Do you even have time to sleep? 

You know yourself best, so don’t put more on your plate than you can handle. And if you do need to readjust, make sure to notify your employer sooner rather than later so you won’t be leaving them in a bind.

Girl working on laptop

3. Make a plan for yourself and stick to it.

Creating a sample schedule with your classes, work, and things you’re involved in allows you to prioritize and see how everything fits in your life visually. 

Then, when you get further down the term, you can add things like due dates and exam dates along with things like social events, appointments, office hours, internships/co-ops, etc. 

The key? This allows you to see potential stressful weeks and conflicts in advance and plan for them.

Having a planner or wall calendar helps — not only does it force you to follow through with your schedule, it also helps you maximize your free time and set goals to get the important stuff done.

Planner notebook.

4. Don’t give up your life.

So you have a job now and you have to prove your worth to your boss and show your dedication. That’s great! But don’t forget about your friends or family, and don’t forget that you deserve room to breathe

Making time for people who matter to you and making time to treat yourself can help you from feeling overworked both at your job and academically. 

For optimal balance, give yourself a day or two a week where you can hang out with friends, FaceTime your family, or catch up on some much-needed sleep. 

Money and good grades are both necessities and obviously important. But they’re not worth it if you have to sacrifice your health. That burnout and buildup of stress can lead to anxiety, moodiness, and depression. Your life is worth more than one day without pay, trust me.

What do you think?

Do you agree with these tips? Have any you’d like to add? Sound off in the comments!

3 thoughts on “4 Essential Rules for Balancing College and a Part-Time Job”

  1. I informed my manager that I can work 20 hours a less a week (I work as a cashier/supervisor), but whenever we are understaffed for any reason, I always look at my schedule on Friday, and regardless of exam week or speech studies, it’s like 32 hours. I’m thinking about quitting that job, but I’m pined for a few months until the college semester ends cause of a 3 week Japanese trip for experience for translating. Burnout is real. It’s gotten to the point I’m forced to call out shifts where I’m the “only one available”. I feel bad, but at the same time, I don’t have time to eat, sleep, or do any self care at all. I hope I get a scholarship for my excellent grades, extracurricular activities, ability to speak Japanese, one day.

    • I’m really late replying to this, but I hope things are going better for you and that you’ve been able to manage your burnout! Since writing this article, I’ve realized that if your manager is telling you you’re the only one available, it’s their own lack of planning that’s hurting them, not yours! They should have been looking ahead better. Hope you’re taking care of yourself!

  2. I totally agree! I am working full time, going to school full time and completing clinical hours towards my degree. Having a balance is key because you don’t want to burn yourself out. Self care must be a priority?.


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