Working While Going to College
Some students have no choice but to balance work and school.
By Zoe Esperseth
As Vicky Neira hustles between her full-time responsibilities as a Junior Psychology major at Duquesne University and her three jobs, she still has time to appreciate the things these opportunities have taught her.
Jillian Sinko is a Dance major at Point Park University who works as a hostess at Yuzu Kitchen. With four days of classes per week and two to three days of work, Sinko remains focused on balancing her responsibilities.
“I try to plan out my day and know what my priorities are, like what is most important for me to get done that day,” Sinko said. “Then, I try not to think of the secondary things.”
Neira and Sinko are part of a large community. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University, 70% of college students are maintaining one or more jobs while attending college full-time. While many argue that working while attending school is beneficial to student development, the evidence argues that the stresses of work and school can be damaging to both mental health and academic performance.
While Neira maintains a six-day workweek that includes two days of school and four days of work schedules, she laments that there are plenty of disadvantages to being a working college student.
“I’m exhausted,” Neira said. “I miss out on a ton of things - Events, socializing, seeing my friends. I don’t really have any time to myself either.”
“I try to take some time out of a day and focus on myself and do something I like -painting, watching T.V, playing video games- even if it’s just for 20 minutes,” Sinko said.
The Georgetown study analyzed how lower-income students
are impacted by the stresses of working while going to
school. These students are forced to work longer hours
than higher-income students. They often get lower grades
and are less likely to obtain a degree.
While the results of the study indicate that lower-income
students are at a disadvantage in the world of higher
education, Elsie Boucek argues that working through
college is beneficial for students when taking careers
“There are definitely advantages to having some work
experience,” Boucek said. “Employers are always looking
for ‘soft skills.’ Certainly, there can be elevated maturity
levels, developing respect for authority, learning how to
function in different work environments, developing
supervision or training skills.”
Boucek, a career counselor at Point Park University, often works with students who hold part-time jobs during their time at Point Park.
“I would work with a student to try to identify the source of the frustration. Things like hours, scheduling and transportation can be a problem. Perhaps awkward relationships with other workers, toxic environment, employer expectations, lack of appropriate supervision and feedback cause anxiety.”
Jessica Ureste is a Human Resources Coordinator at Point Park who has a personal understanding of the struggles undertaken by many students.
“I personally worked three jobs as an undergrad (two on-campus & one off-campus) while always taking 18 credits because I felt I had to,” she said. “I personally could handle it, but not everyone can, so I think it really comes down to knowing what you can handle and adjusting your schedule to meet that.”
Jessica Hobson, Director of the Career Readiness Center at Point Park, points out that Point Park can provide unique opportunities for student workers.
“The university offers professional and personal support to students and also offers the opportunity to register experiences for academic credit, eliminating the need for students to choose between making money and getting an education,” Hobson said.
Other universities also offer resources that aim at keeping students in a healthy mindset amidst a stressful academic and social environment.
Hallie Stotsky, Consultation and Outreach Coordinator for Pitt University’s Stress-Free Zone, sees firsthand how stress can affect students.
“Troubles with sleep, struggles in relationships, troubles staying focused couples with anxiety, bad eating habits, and overall health declines are what we most commonly hear or see from students,” Stotsky said.
The Stress-Free Zone at Pitt focuses on mindfulness workshops and practices, such as meditation and yoga, to try to reduce unhealthy reactions to stress.
Sinko recognizes the struggles of working while attending school but believes that the experience can be rewarding if responsibilities are properly managed.
“Finding the balance between both is key, and not forgetting to take care of yourself when things get overwhelming,” Sinko said.
Neira is grateful for the opportunities she’s discovered through her job, but she also recognizes that working students, especially those who are low-income, are often at a disadvantage in college.
“It’s hard to learn how to balance school and work and it can take a while to figure out a good routine, and during that time, they may be challenged with school and fall back a little,” Neira said. “So while it’s hard work now, I’m gaining experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”
Keywords: Students, Working, College, Jobs, Income, Responsibilities, Stress, Struggles, Experience
Zoe Esperseth is a junior Mass Communications major at Point Park University. She has had articles published with the Point Park News Service, The Globe, and The Flashlight. She hopes to pursue a career in marketing, sales or advertising.
Sinko's place of work is just a short distance away from Point Park University.