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.
photo credit: ralph and jenny
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.
I did 35 hrs at an office with 9 credits, and did fine, but even 20 to 25 hrs at a warehouse with 12 credits was tougher; commute time is something to factor in as well.
Aside from that one can also look at internships or look at the trades or other alternatives to a bac.
I went to school full-time, year-round, as a double-major and worked full-time all the while. I made the dean’s list every semester and had a GPA above 3.4 on a 4.0 scale.
Did it suck? Oh, yes. It was incredibly stressful. Was it worth it? Absolutely, and I would do it all over again. Though I was working full-time while going to school, I still graduated with roughly $12,000 in student loan debt due to the exorbitant cost of tuition, books, and other related student fees (and I didn’t go to a big-name school, either). I don’t want to even think about what my student loans would have been if I hadn’t been working full-time. The more loans a student takes out while they’re in school, the more expensive their college education will be overall when they’re still trying to pay it (and tons of interest) more than a decade later. College is expensive enough as it is.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Miranda. I think that there are certainly going to be exceptions, but, unless you know you can manage the schoolwork, and the job at the same time, it’s best to focus on the schoolwork first. Does the extra student loan debt cause more problems? Absolutely. But, if you miss a grade here or there, and end up taking an extra year of school, that will cause problems too. It’s a balancing act, to be sure.
I would add there is a tremendous part of your education in college outside the classroom. Whether it is socializing, building a network, student organizations, sports clubs and fraternities/sororities. Employers look for more than good grades and relevant experience. There is so much more than classes in a college education that some may think of as trivial. It is some of those trivial experiences where you learn leadership, getting along with people and social skills.
Harri @ TotallyMoney says
For my first degree, my university at the time didn’t allow us to have jobs for the very reason that we should be focussing on our studies.
During my postgrad degree I worked on a freelance basis, which I could fit in well around my studies. During my postgrad degree, I noticed that students with freelance work or shift jobs tended to perform more strongly in the classroom than those who were contracted to work specific days and couldn’t be more flexible.
Employers are looking for students who have not only good grades but are also demonstrably capable of working and holding down a job. That said it’s all about striking a balance.
My situation was somewhat like Miranda’s. I never took less than 15 credit hours in a semester, and I worked full time up until my last semester of college (when I did my student teaching). I graduated with a 3.8! When I went back for my master’s, I took 6 hours ever semester, worked full time (I had been teaching for 5 years at that point) and had a newborn. I think it all really depends on the person. My sister has also maintained excellent grades while working full time and taking classes for her nursing degree. However, my brother didn’t work while he was in college because he just couldn’t juggle it all. Absolutely if someone cannot manage the stress of working and classes, then they should focus on classes so as to get their money’s worth out of college. But for the people who can juggle it all, they should try to keep those student loans down as much as possible! 🙂
Brave New Life says
I worked part-time and went to school full time, in fact more than full time since I graduated in 3.5 years.
With all that said, if my kids were in high school, I would likely point them away from college altogether and encourage them to learn 1 or more trades. Education is a major bubble right now and if you account for the rising costs, the decreasing value, and the opportunity costs I don’t see it as a financially wise choice unless you are fixated on a career in something that requires formal education (e.g. Medicine).
My kids are 1 and 3, so I don’t know what it will look like when they get older. Perhaps continued education will be a better choice in 15 years.
That is a good point, Brave New Life. In addition to the students who were working full-time and struggling to take classes full-time, I also had many students who had no desire to be in college. They were just bodies in the seats so to speak because they had to be full-time students to stay on their parents’ insurance. They came to class every day, but they didn’t do any of the work.
I would much rather see someone work for a few years, decide what they really want to do for a career and then go to college. My older students were some of my best students.
Finish College! Can’t stress it enough.
Throughout college, I took 12 hours in the fall and spring semesters and at least 6 hours during the summer. I worked part-time all the while. I finished magna cum laude so this strategy really worked for me, and I had a job in my chosen field awaiting me more than a year before I graduated.
I can’t imagine going to school full-time and working full-time. People who choose this path are probably more likely to burn out and quit. I graduated with about $16K or $17K in student loan debt, but that wasn’t hard to tackle at all.
Like krantcents said, college is more than studying. I used whatever free time I had to, not only party, but network.
shanendoah @ Baking the Budget says
I think that as long as the only student loans you have to take out are the federal loans, then sure, don’t work if you can get away with it.
At the same time, in my experience, working had no real effect on my grades. As an undergrad, I worked part time and went to school full time, then I worked full time and went to school part time, and then back to school full time and work part time in order to finally (it took me 6 years) graduate. My cumulative GPA was 2.8.
Work had nothing to do with my low (for me) grades. It all had to do with the social freedom I had not living at home. It had to do with the fact that I had to manage my procastination myself, and I didn’t. If I hadn’t been working, I wouldn’t have been doing school work.
Six years later, I went back to grad school. I got my masters in 2 years – going to school full time and working full time. I graduated with a 3.97. I worked more. I worked at a much more complex job that took more energy, but I did better. Because I had changed. I had grown up.
Personally, I think its silly that we expect teenagers to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. That society expects them to ransom their future at an age when they should still be exploring life. And, we make it harder for them to get financial aid on top of that, on the assumption that mom and dad should still be paying for people who are legally adults.
Again, if you can go to school and not work, great. My husband and cousin are both currently doing that. But I don’t expect the lack of job to improve their grades. How well they do in school will be determined by their personal maturity levels and drive to succeed.
Marie at FamilyMoneyValues says
Some people don’t have a choice – if they want college they have to work.
Bret @ Hope to Prosper says
Everyone in my family, including myself, worked their way through college and graduated without any student debt. It was definitely way cheaper back then. I saved up college funds for my kids, but they will still need to work to pay for their cars, cell phones and other living expenses.
Here are two important points from my experience:
1. Statistically, students who work during college get slightly better grades than those who don’t. The study I read said non-working students waste more time than working students.
2. Graduates with work experience have a huge advantage when entering the job market over those who have never worked or been an intern.
Funancials dot biz says
Great points! The extracurriculars of college taught me more than attending lectures. Joining clubs, etc…I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I were working in a dining hall.