This article was updated in January 2022.
The increasing cost of college suggests that it may be necessary for more full-time students to work — and that more students who work are working more. College students may feel that they need to work more, and parents may wonder whether or not their college student should get a job while in college. But before you and your student make any decisions about whether or not to work while at school, and how much to work, have some conversations about the realities, the benefits, and the challenges of working while attending college full time.
One of the first things to consider is whether or not the perception is accurate that more students are working more. According to a study by the Bureau of Economic Research, the average weekly hours spent working by full time undergraduates decreased in the early 2000’s . This may seem odd during these days of higher and higher tuition costs. According to this study, between the 1970’s and the year 2000, the number of hours spent working at paid employment by full time college students rose steadily then leveled off between 2000 and 2008 at about 11 hours per week. From 2009 to 2013, the number decreased to about 8 hours per week and has now risen again. (These averages include students who do not work at all, so the number of hours worked by students who do work are actually somewhat higher.)
A 2018 study found that 3% of students worked less than 10 hours/week, 5% of students worked 10-15 hours/week, 24% of students worked 20-34 hour/week, and 47% of students worked more than 35 hours/week.
Students who work may be working fewer hours, but are fewer students working? According to the Bureau of Economic Research study, in 1970, approximately 33% of full-time students had jobs. By 2000 that percentage had risen to 52%. This number declined to approximately 45% of students in 2007 and according to a study by Georgetown University, that number is now approximately 70%.
Most students feel the need to work in order to help pay for tuition, fees, books, or living expenses. According to a study by HSBC Bank, 57% of those students who work say they do so out of financial necessity. If your student is one of these individuals wondering whether to get a job at school, it is important that you talk about the realities. Here are a few things that you may want to discuss:
- Help your student understand that not all students work and that finding a job at school (either on or off campus) may be more difficult than they anticipate. Your student may need to start their search early, or wait until they are an upperclassman to get a prime on-campus job.
- Discuss costs of college and additional expenses frankly. How much do you expect your student to contribute? Will they be responsible for part of tuition? For books? For their own living expenses? How essential is a school-year job?
- Talk to your student about how many hours per week it is reasonable for them to expect to be able to work and still do well academically. Most studies have shown that students who work between 10-20 hours per week actually do better than those students who do not work at all, perhaps because they must exercise better time-management skills. But students who work more than 20 hours per week may find that their academic work suffers. Your student should keep in mind the rule of thumb that they should be studying approximately two hours for each hour spent in class.. This may total 40+ hours per week.
- Help your student consider whether they will look for an on-campus or off-campus job. There are advantages and disadvantages of both. However, studies have also suggested that students who work less than 20 hours/week at on campus jobs show the greatest gains of all. Students who work on campus tend to be more engaged in their college career and make important campus connections.
- Before getting a job, your student should investigate whether that income will affect their financial aid. Be sure that the income from the job will not mean less aid.
According to statistics and studies, the ideal may be for a student to work 10-15 hours at an on-campus job. But each family situation is different. Each student is different. As a college parent, you can help your student determine their reasons for working, their interest in being involved in other campus activities, and their ability to succeed academically while balancing work, studies, social life, and other responsibilities. The important thing is that your student make an informed and considered decision, weighing the benefits and challenges of all of the options.