The back to school season is upon us, and many newly graduated high school students will head off to college for the first time. More than ever, college students feel financial pressure. The cost of college tuition continues to rise, and a student is often forced to decide to go into student loan debt to pay for her education or to work many hours to try to pay for the tuition without going into debt.
As a former college teacher I have a few thoughts on the subject. If a student is going to college full-time, I cannot stress enough that school should be the main focus. If a student needs to work, he should work part-time, 10 to 20 hours a week. Yes, there are plenty of college graduates who brag that they worked full-time and went to school full-time and did just fine. Yet, what were their grades?
I routinely had students in my class who worked full-time and went to school full-time. In this scenario, education almost always gets shortchanged. A student cannot neglect their employment, or they will be fired. Instead they neglect their school work and get low grades, often not even passing grades. A good rule of thumb is that for every hour in a credit course, plan to study three hours outside the class for a liberal arts class and four hours for a science or math class. That means a student taking a 3 credit hour rhetoric course should plan on spending 9 hours outside the classroom doing homework. If the student is taking a 4 hour anatomy class, he should plan on spending 16 hours outside the classroom on homework. A full load of classes can range anywhere from 12 to 18 credit hours. Those hours represent the time spent in the classroom. Even if all the classes are liberal arts classes, the student should still be putting in 36 to 54 hours on homework a week to obtain optimal grades. So, be sure to take your degree options into consideration when deciding on a job. Because, unless the student doesn’t plan on sleeping, working a full-time job is too much.
There is nothing wrong with reversing the situation and working full-time to avoid taking on student loan debt. However, the student should only commit to taking a maximum of 2 classes a semester to obtain optimal grades.
College students should accept that they can’t do it all. Either go to school full-time and work part-time and accept that you will have to pay off debt when you graduate or work full-time and go to school part-time and accept that you will graduate debt free, but it will take longer. If a student takes on too much and earns low or failing grades, they have ultimately just wasted their time AND money.