To decide whether or not you should hold down a job while you’re attending college (or, for that matter, in high school as you work towards getting into your dream college) you first need to budget your school year.
First, add up the total amount of money you have to work with – not just what you’ve got yourself, but what you can expect from your family, from education saving accounts, bursaries, grants, and student loans. Then add up your projected expenses – tuition, residence or rent, books, supplies, food, and don’t forget transportation; flying home for Thanksgiving and Christmas can make a big dent. Then add twenty percent to all your living expenses. Budget for the unexpected!
If your expenses exceed your available money and loans, consider a job. While a job can distract you from your studies, being in financial trouble will distract you more. The last thing you need come spring and exam time is to have money problems on your mind.
If you want to hold down a job, ask three questions:
- Is it compatible with my studies? The best jobs are those related to your field of study, even if the relationship’s a distant one. Taking economics or business? Try to find temp work in a small or medium business. Taking drama? Work for a theater, even if it’s the ticket booth. Planning on a career in medicine? Find work at the student clinic. No matter how modest the work, future employers and school evaluators will be impressed that you worked in your field.
- What’s the real wage? Holding down a job means added trouble and expenses. A three hour shift at $10 an hour is really $7.50 an hour if it takes you an hour to get to work and back, and if you’re out transportation costs, it’s lower still. On the other hand, if you work enough hours, you might qualify for benefits, and avoiding debt means you’re saving interest. Add up all the benefits and drawbacks, not just the hourly wage.
- Can I handle the workload? This you might not know until you get to college and start to juggle your time. If you’re not sure how many hours your college of choice will ask of you, don’t be afraid to call them up and ask. Department offices will be able to tell you what your course schedule will look like. Don’t forget to add time for studying!
It might seem obvious that the decision to hold a job is the trade-off between money and time, but the key is to ensure that you have an accurate picture of exactly what the trade-offs are. Start your budget and planning now… and get your resume ready!