Working While You’re a Student
When you’re a student, your classes are your job. In fact, it’s so accepted by society, that it’s standard practice to list “student” when asked to complete a form asking where you work. Still, many students will work a job or two in addition to studying. Naturally, there are pros and cons to this.
Working while taking classes is a great way to gain some experience and to apply what you’re learning in the classroom to the real world. Doing so can help to make the material feel more real, more applicable, and make better sense. It becomes less theoretical and more tangible when you can see how a concept actually plays on in practice.
Often there are also situations where the theoretical and abstract concepts learned in the classroom do not apply very well to the real world. Abstract concepts may have a place in academia and in the research world, but the practicalities of society often create a different reality.
I remember taking a course on Real Estate Development and reading in our textbook about charettes. Described as being part of community outreach and research, the book defined a charette as a “multi-day workshop in which interested parties provide input or collaborate” on proposed development projects. Thinking about a multi-day workshop, I couldn’t help but suspect that charettes as described might not be that realistic.
I later spoke with someone with experience in development, entitlement, and planning. As suspected, he explained that multi-day workshops are not common. More common are multi-hour community workshops where neighbors are brought to together to voice their concerns, ask and answer questions, and discuss proposed development projects. A multi-day event just isn’t feasible for most people, though a few hours in the evening is much more realistic.
In addition to the experience, working while studying can provide a student with valuable connections with industry professionals. These professionals may later serve as references and/or be able to help make introductions to potential future employers.
Of course, assuming the student is not working at an unpaid internship, there will also be financial benefits. While, many students may not be able to work a full-time position and their salary may be less than what they can expect upon graduation, having a little extra cash is something that we can all use.
Despite some significant benefits, working is not without its challenges. The biggest potential issue with working while studying is the potential impact on your academics. When people go to college, they’re making a decision to prioritize their schoolwork. Still, conflict will occur.
Naturally, some employers will be more accommodating than others and allow students to take more time off if they have a major project or final exam coming up. However, employers are still running businesses and have their own priorities. Those business priorities can put added pressure and stress on a student and where there are deadlines, can pull the student away from time that they’d otherwise use for studying or attending class.
In addition, your social life can be impacted. There are only so many hours in a week and as more of those hours are filled with class lectures, academic assignments, and outside employment, there are fewer hours available for friends and family. There may also be professional networking events such as conferences and seminars that you’ll be unable to attend because of your work schedule.
Many students also end up sacrificing sleep in an effort to accommodate everyone. Unfortunately, losing sleep often leads to poor performance on both academic and work-related tasks, and can even make a person more vulnerable to accidents such as when driving tired.
There are a number of different ways to combine work with academics and how you go about it should be based upon your goals. For example, if your goal is to make enough money to afford your classes, you may need to work a full-time schedule and take classes on a part-time basis. You may even need to work a job that doesn’t relate to your future career goals. Obviously though, if you can work a job that will give you experience that pertains to your future career, that would be ideal.
Finding an internship is often a good choice, because these are positions specifically for students. That means that the employers are generally more accommodating of a student’s schedule. There are also fewer expectations in terms of prerequisite knowledge. An intern is a student and as a result isn’t expected to know everything.
If money is not your primary goal for working, but rather experience is your objective, then volunteering can be a great alternative. Volunteers generally work very limited hours, which would decrease the likelihood that the time commitment would negatively impact your academic performance.
Further, because of the limited hours, it’s quite possible that you could take on more than one volunteer assignment at the same time. This can be a great way to explore multiple career interests concurrently. In other words, volunteer with an organization or group doing something that you may have an interest in doing as a future career. Freelancing can provide a similar experience, and often has the additional benefit of a paycheck.
Perhaps you’re interested in real estate, but you aren’t sure what aspect of real estate you want to pursue. In addition to learning about your options in the classroom, you might work part-time for a sales agent sitting in at open houses. Here you can gain some first-hand experience into what it takes to be a successful salesperson while only putting in a few hours a week. You might also volunteer at an agency that provides social services to low-income tenants. Finally, if you have some experience in finance you may be able to work as a freelancer helping real estate investors organize and prepare financial statements, while learning how real estate finance differs from corporate finance.
Finally, don’t feel like you need to work the entire time that you’re in college. If you’re a new student, it may be worth giving yourself a few weeks or even a few months to get acclimated to your classes. Once you have a better idea of the work load and expectations, it may be easier to add a job. On the other end, you may work an internship for one or more semesters and then leave to focus on your academics when you start taking more difficult and time demanding upper-level courses.