OPINION: Balancing a job and college doesn’t have to be hard!

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

Everyone goes to college for different reasons and to do different things. Many people come to college just to meet new people and have new experiences. Some come to college to join a fraternity, sorority or other organization on campus. Some come just to further their education and career prospects after college.

One thing many students have in common, no matter their reason for attending college, is finding a job while at the university. The National Center for Education statistics reported that in 2018, 43% of full-time students and 81% of part-time students were employed while enrolled in classes.

Students take jobs either on or off campus – both are common. I fall into the latter category this semester. I have taken a job that allows me to work remotely. It has been an adjustment to learn to balance what I call the “work work” and the “school work.”

I sat down with the College of Health and Human Services Student Wellness Navigator Amy Wininger to discuss the challenges students face when being a student and working.

“A negative could possibly be some time management,” Wininger said, while stating that this could also be a positive. “I feel like busier people get more things done a lot of times, to a certain extent, but we can overload ourselves, also.”

This is an issue that I wrestled with this summer when deciding whether to take my job. It’s important for me to be able to do all of the things I want to do – classwork, “work work” and have a social life – while not being overwhelmed with the work I have to get done. This is a completely valid reason to be skeptical of working while being enrolled in college courses. It forces one to develop their time management skills, and this is an important skill to have after college.

Wininger also identified many benefits of having a job in college.

“Positives would be having that extra layer of support, getting to meet new people, different management styles with a job,” Wininger said. “It exposes you to a future career – or it could even confirm a decision that you don’t want to go into a certain career. I do find it healthy for students to have jobs, if possible, because it does provide them with an extra layer of support: coworkers, a manager, etcetera.”

In an email, Karl Laves, associate director of the WKU Counseling Center, said that to avoid or limit extra stress having a job in college can bring, students should “Be realistic in estimating your costs, be ready to cut back on spending, start considering that spending is a privilege, not a necessity.”

Laves also stated that in some cases, it could make more sense to work full time to save up before beginning college.

If there was any advice Wininger could give to college students who are looking for a job or are already employed, it would be good to try something new.

“I would say that it’s good to maybe get out of your comfort zone and try something a little bit different. Realize that you don’t already have to have the skills,” said Wininger. Skills necessary for work will be learned on the job. Many of the skills you have are going to be applicable to anything that you do, and anything else you will pick up along the way.

When asked the same question, Laves said he would tell these students to “watch out for the trap that ‘you have to work to afford school, and going to school cuts into work, so you have to work more to afford the education you can’t get because you don’t work.’ If one is getting in the way of the other, then find a way to do only one.”

I have only been employed and enrolled in classes for a couple weeks now, but I already see the benefits of Wininger’s and Laves’s advice. It has been important for me to try new things, but to also make sure I have time for everything I want to do.

I made sure that I had my priorities worked out before starting my job. This was the most helpful thing I could have done. Setting these boundaries for myself gave me the opportunity to tell my bosses what I could and couldn’t do. It allowed me to prioritize the things that were most important. It allowed me to not feel overwhelmed.

The largest adjustment I had to make when starting college was realizing that I wasn’t “stuck” in the things that I do – in my majors, clubs and other activities. This is no different for a job. Of course, you need to give it a good try before deciding it is too much, but realizing when you can’t do something shows character.

When it came to recommending an on campus or an off campus job for students, Wininger recommended one on campus.

“I really do recommend an on campus [job]. Although they’re typically minimum wage jobs, they’re more flexible, more understanding,” Wininger said. “And a lot of times, the departments will take you in and treat you as one of their own. They might celebrate your birthday, or they might really converse with you about your life, your major.”

Wininger and Laves both expressed the ability that in some ways, on campus jobs can save you time and money.

“On campus work avoids cost of gas and maintenance, it might be easier to take on extra hours at the last minute,” Laves wrote. “On campus you build relationships that help with life in general and promotions are something you can expect.”

If you want or need to get a job while in college, I would tell you to go for it if you feel comfortable about it. Of course there are days that are more of a struggle than others. That’s okay, though! We’re all human. We are all going to have those days where we just need a break but can’t find the time to get one. It seems like a lot, but I promise it’s okay.

If you have a job or are considering getting one, I admire you. It can be hard, but it can be worth it. You’ve got it. You’re awesome.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.