Kanika Tandon outlines the benefits and downsides of taking on a student job during your time at university.
With the various costs associated with higher education slowly (or not so slowly in some cases) rising, working part-time while studying is a necessity for many students – be it to cover living and academic expenses or to just for the sake of getting hold of a bit of spending money.
But money is not the only thing you can gain from part-time work. It’s a great way to get a hands-on feel for the real working world and what it’s like to work with (and for) other people, as opposed to the often solitary pursuits involved in studying.
You might even be able to get some experience in the field into which you wish to go, demonstrating your passion and getting an invaluable head start. And they can be particularly useful for international students trying to get a feel for the language and culture of their host country (though you must stay alive to working hour restrictions that may be placed on them).
However, it goes without saying that there can be a less positive side to working part-time, which is that it quite simply takes up time. As you’ll soon find out, at university, time can become a pretty valuable asset at the best of times, and a seemingly unattainable precious resource during harder ones.
The temptation of a few extra dollars in your pocket can make it easy to bite off more than you can chew, and it won’t just be your studies which will be affected. If you don’t allow yourself any downtime you’ll soon burn out, with the avalanche of responsibilities that comes with attending classes, completing assignments and sacrificing your social life to work quickly draining your energy and enthusiasm.
And we have to be realistic: most students will not be get jobs at law firms or newspapers, but will more likely occupy unskilled positions which won’t glamorize your CV, and at which you may not find an sympathetic ear when you need a few shifts off to meet a looming deadline.
“International students who do find jobs usually don’t tend to find intellectually challenging work, but tend to work in call-centers, washing dishes or serving in restaurants, babysitting and so on. We warn students, therefore, that they need to make sure they have sufficient financial means and that aren’t relying on a menial job they may or may not even find,” says Linda de Haan of the University of Amsterdam.
Find relevant work
If it can’t be helped, go out of your way to find something which is relevant to your interests, and at which you can learn something useful. Almost every university will have a counselling service and/or an international office where you can get some guidance and advice from those who have prior experience and some useful information to impart.
“Network—talk to professors, utilize the services of the career centre. Use on-campus or off-campus jobs as an opportunity to build skills, not just extra money. A student may be able to find a position which is related to their field of study and provides a foundation from which they can meet their career goals,” says Brendan O’Brien, Director of the International Students and Scholars Office, at Cornell University.
Spend your time wisely
By and large, though, universities discourage students from working during term-time. A University of Oxford spokesperson told us that, “The University gives consistent advice to students that working during term-time is not a good idea. Oxford’s terms are short but intensive, and leave little time for taking on part-time work, particularly as students are only resident in college during term. Many students do choose to take on jobs outside of the 8-week term schedule, however.”
(Working during your time off and putting some money aside for term-time may one way to enjoy the best of both worlds – although be warned, it’s unlikely your holidays will be devoid of academic obligations.)
A spokesperson from the University of Cambridge adds, “It’s important that students have sufficient time both to keep up with the academic demands of their course and to give themselves time out to take advantage of the social and recreational opportunities available at the University.”
Remember – if you’re a full-time student, it will be just that: full-time, so be realistic. You don’t want to look back and see that you allowed your grades to suffer as a consequence of a part-time job.
Be sure that you are confident of your time management and organizational skills in order to make sure you can fulfil your academic potential. O’Brien concludes, “Students need to budget their time wisely. Academics can be demanding, on-campus employment can be time-consuming and it is important to have additional time for activities, recreation and exercise. Don’t spread yourself too thin, particularly in your first semester.”