When I started college, I had two choices to pay for my schooling and incidentals and fun. First, I could get a job.

Second, I could…

Oh wait, I did not have another choice. If I was going to be able to go to school, I was going to have to work. In fact, in spite of various scholarships and grants that were received, I cannot think of any of my friends who did not work as they went to school, no matter what they studied. Not to say that it was easy or always desirable to have to work, it just was what it was a means to an end (which is a bit ironic because that “end” was more work, but at least it was work in a field I desired, rather than just what I could get).

Before making the decision to work while you’re in school, you’ll want to first investigate your financial aid options thoroughly to know exactly how much extra you need to make to get by. You can learn more about your financial aid options by reading our post “How to Pay For Your College Education.”

If you do have a choice, there are absolutely pros and cons to working while going to college:

Pros

1. Money

Top of the list for pros is, of course, money, because most of us only consider that one going in. It takes money to pay for tuition, and fees, and living expenses, and books, not to mention having any money to spend on clubs or Greek organizations, activities and fun, or for a car or gas, etc., etc. For most of us the only way to get the green stuff is by working.

2. Avoiding debt

By making some money along the way in college, you can also avoid greater debt than you would otherwise have. There are credit cards and loans that sometimes have to be utilized to pay for college, but if you can pay it off even a little each month, and if you can use money you earn to pay for some things and not have to borrow more, you’ll have a smaller mountain of debt to tackle when you graduate.

3. Work experience

Experience and references are two things gained while working, as well. In order to build a resume and get a job after you get your degree, you need to be able to show a potential employer that you have some experience working, that you know how to be an employee, even if that work experience isn’t related to your degree in any way. According to a study done in 2004 on college students and work and noted by Jacqueline E. King from the American Council of Education:

“About one-third of students who work say that their jobs help with career preparation and only 14 percent say that it helps with coursework.”

So it may not directly help you land a job, but sometimes you will be able to learn skills that would be marketable to an employer, including leadership. In either scenario, employers like to be able to contact former employers to see what kind of worker you are.

If you can get a job that relates in some way to your field of study, whether it’s on campus or off, it’s to your advantage to network and work with people who could introduce you to others, give you a good reference, or help you turn a part-time job into your career.

4. Better grades

Interestingly enough, having a job while in college has been shown to raise your grade point average (GPA). In a study posted on the Bureau of Labor and Statistics site, it reports that students who work between one and 20 hours a week had higher GPAs than those who didn’t work at all.

Many think the higher GPA can be attributed to students learning the balancing act of work vs. study. You’re forced to learn time management, to complete the work you are paid for and the work required for your courses. It requires both discipline and focus. You have to prioritize how you spend your time.

5. Employer benefits

If you are lucky and land just the right job with just the right amount of hours per week, some companies offer benefits. This means you could qualify for health insurance, begin a 401(k), and sometimes participate in a tuition assistance program while attending college. It depends on the company and the requirements, but it’s a selling point.

All these pros paint a peachy picture of working through school, but it’s not all wine and roses. There are certainly cons to having to work while taking classes.

Cons

1. Slower progress

One con of working through school is slower progression. Sometimes if the demand of work is too great or your hours don’t work around courses that are required, you may have to take lesser hours to make it work or wait a semester to take a class when it is offered at a different time. So it may take longer to complete your degree.

2. Worse grades

While a higher GPA was a pro if you worked under 20 hours, sometimes your GPA suffers if you work too much. The study King referred to notes that as the number of hours working increases for students at four-year institutions, the average GPA for students “declines modestly.” If you are working so much that it’s a distraction for your studies and you aren’t fulfilling projects or assignments, it’s not beneficial.

3. Course conflicts

Some programs have a specific set of courses that have to be taken simultaneously, such as programs in the health field. Trying to work around the courses and the set hours, not to mention having to travel and make time for hands-on training, makes it difficult to work and go to college.

4. Time constraints

While learning time management is a perk of working while going to college, time is also a con because working can limit extracurricular activities. While most college campuses have a variety of activities to choose from, you may find that your options are limited because you have to work when they are offered or you just simply don’t have time to participate because you have to get your studying done after working.

5. More stress

I have to include stress on the list of cons. While life gets crazy even when you don’t work while going to college, it can get more stressful when you add work to your list of things you have to tend to each day. To compound that, work can take time that you would spend on napping or studying during normal hours, forcing you to go to sleep later, and ultimately get less than the amount of sleep you need to maintain healthy stress levels.

If I would have had other options available to pay for college, would I have worked? Good question. I am glad I had to work. It paid off for me, literally. While it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons, looking beyond just the money to see if it would enhance your abilities and help on your career path, or hinder you.

Have you had to work while attending college? Has it helped or hindered your performance as a student? Tell us in the comments below!

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