The Effect of College Students Struggling to Balance School & Work

by Beverly Bird

Researchers at Georgetown University pinned down some statistics in 2015 regarding how many Americans both work and go to school, either full or part time. They found that between 70 and 80 percent of college students hold down jobs, a significant number. About 25 percent of those both work full time and attend school full time. These students total nearly 14 million, and they make up almost 10 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Working and going to school isn’t a rarity, but these students often struggle, and they face some unique challenges.

Doing It All

Working part time and going to school part time is obviously more manageable than doing both full time, but the hours add up to a big chunk of the week no matter how you look at it.

You may not even realize you’re struggling at first until you make a mistake at work or do poorly on a school assignment. Midterms and work reviews can provide a wake-up call that juggling multiple responsibilities may not be your strongest suit.

Your grades are typically a direct reflection of your understanding of the coursework, but personalities can become involved in the workplace. Your employer or coworkers may begin to resent your less-than-stellar performance or your absenteeism. If they affect your employer’s revenues, you might find yourself out of a your job.

As for schoolwork, statistics show that working more than 15 hours a week results in more students dropping out or failing out. Surprisingly, however, not working at all can also increase dropout rates. Working may not be the culprit in and of itself, but balancing everything can be critical.

The Financial Fallout

It’s probably safe to say that students work full time not because they want to but because they must meet financial responsibilities. But unless that full-time job pays reasonably well, attending school can be something of a rabbit hole that can prove difficult to crawl out of. Working full time at a minimum wage job – which meant earning just over $15,000 annually at the time of the Georgetown University study – is nowhere near enough to pay for tuition and related educational fees plus the student’s personal living expenses.

This can result in students finishing school with a hill – if not a mountain – of student loan debt, so the financial pressure can remain on even after graduation. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that the employment rate for adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is about 22 percent higher than for students with only a high school education, so the financial challenge does reap benefits. That challenge will probably last longer than their college years, however, as students pay off their loans.

Dropout Statistics

The employment rate is about 13 percent higher for those with bachelor's degrees compared with those who attend college but don’t graduate. But students who don’t finish may not snag the higher-paying jobs that go to their graduating classmates. They may find themselves only marginally better off than if they had never attempted school at all. The stress of both working and attending school increases the odds that a student will be unable to hang in there to get his degree. The Georgetown University study found that this is particularly the case for low-income students.

What to Do?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for those who want to get ahead by going to school but who also need to work at least part time. Stress busters that require an investment of time just won’t work, and you don’t have the time to give. Some colleges recommend upping your intake of vitamin D, whether through supplements or taking brief strolls in the sun, because the vitamin improves attention. Avoid eating junk food on the fly. Keep your diet as healthy and as energy-sustaining as possible.

Adjust your job, your classes or both, if possible. Maybe you can find a position that doesn’t require a strict work schedule or will be flexible when your school load gets tough. Check to see if any of your classes are available online; more and more are these days. Flexibility is key and can be a lifesaver.

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