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A perennial question for students starting college is whether or not to work while taking classes.

Parents and students alike can vary in their preferences around part-time employment, but these preferences can sometimes be accompanied by a belief that working will be detrimental to a student’s performance in classes. This isn’t necessarily true. What’s more important is how your student manages work and school. That is what determines their outcomes in either context.

Although work can be viewed as a distraction from their studies, students have the opportunity to build work into their lives in a way that supports their academic success. They get to choose how work fits into the week and into their priorities during school.

Here are five ideas for your student to keep in mind as they consider part-time work:

1. Avoid working more than part-time.

It can be tempting to bring in more income during college, especially if students are helping pay for tuition or living costs. Working more than part-time, generally considered twenty hours per week, can create a conflict of interest. In a worst-case scenario, students would need to choose between work and school work. While this can be avoided with advance planning, working too much can cause strain on time allocation—which students sometimes don’t fully realize until they have to miss an assignment due to a shift at work. By sticking with part-time work, students create a more sustainable approach to managing both work and school successfully.

2. Find a job on campus.

An on-campus job not only provides a deeper connection to the campus community but also provides students with a workplace that is knowledgeable about what it means for them to be a student. When working on campus, supervisors will likely have more understanding of your student’s availability and of busy times of the semester. Depending on the size of their campus, they may also have a shorter commute to and from work, allowing more time to transition between work and school throughout the week.

3. Be clear about priorities.

If a student is working in order to be enrolled in school, they are more likely to view work as support for their overall goal of earning a degree, rather than as a goal itself. This distinction can be important. If earning a degree and generating a certain income, for example, are perceived as two separate goals, a student is likely to feel like these goals are in competition. But if the primary goal is to earn a degree by a certain date, it becomes just as important to do classwork well and on time as it is to contribute to the cost of attendance or pay for expenses during college. When completing a degree is the clear priority, students can make real-time choices that balance work and classes.

4. Search for an internship that pays.

The pinnacle of part-time work in college is an internship that simultaneously provides career-focused work experience and a paycheck. Even if the internship isn’t in the exact career field a student is aiming for, an internship provides a different kind of data than part-time work about what they enjoy or don’t about a work environment. An internship can also provide the opportunity to cultivate workplace skills that may not otherwise be required in a service-based part-time job. Similarly, the connection developed with supervisors and other interns could potentially be aligned with a student’s long-term career aspirations and thus add another dimension of value.

5. Have an earning goal.

If your student has a budget, they can be clear about how much they need to earn to contribute toward that total amount each month. Having a clear goal enables them to know how much progress they’ve made toward the goal, and it equips them with the data they need to strategize. For example, if they know midterm exams are coming up, they may want to work more hours at the start of the semester in order to work fewer hours during that week when they want to focus on school. Having a clear goal positions your student to proactively manage their work, rather than chasing a sense that they need to earn an unknown amount each month.

As you and your student consider whether they will work during college, keep these considerations in mind, and ask your admissions counselor if you want to know more about how students manage these aspects of part-time work at their future institution.


Dr. Jennifer Tharp is an alumna of Azusa Pacific University where she earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education. Dr. Tharp teaches at the graduate level and consults nationally in the area of student success.