Should You Work in College? On Campus Employment Explained

College can open up many opportunities. Advanced classes, intramural sports, fine arts, research internships, and other activities compete for students' time and attention. With so much going on, you might be surprised to learn that 43% of full-time college students also hold a job during the school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and many of those students work more than 20 hours per week.

By Connor Daniels — August 31, 2022


Should You Work in College? On Campus Employment Explained

College can open up many opportunities. Advanced classes, intramural sports, fine arts, research internships, and other activities compete for students' time and attention. With so much going on, you might be surprised to learn that 43% of full-time college students also hold a job during the school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and many of those students work more than 20 hours per week.

But is working in college a good idea? Incoming freshman often receive conflicting advice about on-campus employment. Some families encourage college-bound students to get a job to help pay for their degree, while others warn that nothing should distract them from their primary task-getting an education. Does working in college really come down to money versus grades?

Thankfully, if you choose your on-campus job wisely, you don't have to make that tradeoff. Here's the best advice we've found for working in college.

Should I Work in College?

As the cost of a university degree has risen and more students have acquired on-campus jobs, several academic studies have tried to determine if there's a connection between working during the school year and academic performance. Interestingly, students with higher GPA's tend to work more hours and spend more hours studying, possibly because they're more productive and have a better overall work ethic.

However, determining what grades those students would have received if they had worked fewer hours is difficult. According to one academic study, most research shows that working hours can cause a small overall decrease in GPA—0.007 points per work hour. This seems to be because working hours can conflict with studying, which is essential to success in college.

However, other studies have shown that this negative effect concentrates on students working more than twenty hours per week, while first-year students who work less than twenty hours per week achieve slightly higher scores than they would otherwise. Researchers believe that this increase in scores happens because of increased engagement. Students who work on campus tend to make more connections with their peers and faculty, which sets them up nicely for success.

Combine this grade improvement with the extra cash and experience in the workplace that on-campus employment can provide, and you have a powerful argument for getting a job in college. Just ensure you're not working so much that you don't have time to study. Fewer than 20 hours per week is a good guideline, although you might find that you need to limit your working hours more or less than that to thrive.

What Kind of On-Campus Job is Best for Me?

Obviously, everyone has different abilities and different needs. But here are some factors to consider as you search for student employment.

  1. Gain Relevant Experience: Prioritize jobs that relate directly to your planned career. Interested in marketing? Apply to your university's external affairs department. Have a passion for videography? See if students are employed to record lectures. Planning to pursue research in the sciences? Ask your department if it employs undergraduates. There's no better way to gain experience than doing and no better time to start than the present.

  2. Develop Your Skills: If you aren't sure what career you will pursue, consider what skills you could develop with the jobs you pursue. If you have a knack for gab and want to hone your public speaking skills, see if you can become a student tour guide. Talk to the IT department if you want to develop your technical skills. If you enjoy planning social activities and can give good advice, apply to be an RA (usually after your freshman year). Even if it's not directly related to the career you eventually enter, many student jobs can develop soft skills vital to most employers.

  3. Prioritize Manageable Hours: Remember that your on-campus employment has to work for your schedule during the busiest weeks of the school year, not just the first week of school. For jobs with regular, weekly hours, plan enough slack in your schedule to handle midterms and finals. Other jobs may have variable hours depending on the season. If that's the case for your job, ask in advance what you should expect to ensure the busiest weeks don't fall around your exams.

  4. Consider Less-Demanding Desk Jobs: Plenty of jobs necessary for campus life offer a huge advantage—you might be able to study while you work. For example, the security office might employ responsible students to monitor buildings open to the public, or the library might need students to be available in the reference section to help others with research. These positions may not be as exciting as a prestigious research fellowship, but if you have a chance to get paid for doing your homework, take it!

  5. Look for Jobs that Pay Well: If your goal is to earn money to pay for college, it makes sense to take the most profitable jobs available. Since on-campus jobs generally pay minimum wage, you might have to look for a job off-campus, such as waiting tables at a local bar or restaurant where you could earn more money in tips. Alternatively, you could try freelance work using a skill you already have, such as tutoring or photography. Do what works best for you, but keep in mind that off-campus work may not have the same positive effect on student engagement and often causes more frequent conflicts with a busy school schedule.

How do I find job openings and apply?

This part is easier than you think. Your college probably has a career services office where you can start your job search. They will explain how you can apply for on-campus jobs, connect you with job opportunities best suited to your skills, help you to revise your resume, offer advice for nailing the interview, and more.

In addition, don't be afraid to ask your RA or another older friend if they have recommendations. Many people find their jobs, both in college and later in life, because they know the right people to ask.

Finally, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. If you know where you want to work, you can go to the right office with a resume and ask if they have an opening. Even if nothing's available, they'll be impressed by your confidence, and they may be able to point you in the right direction. Many students have positive experiences working while in college-as you begin your freshman year, take some time to figure out what might work best for you! You may be impressed with all you can accomplish.

Connor Daniels

Connor Daniels

Connor Daniels teaches humanities to 7th through 12th grade students at Bloomfield Christian School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 2021, he graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College with a degree in history and politics.
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