Should My College Student Have a Job at School?

Many students head off to college knowing that, in addition to their academic work — and possibly their sports or other activities — they will need to have a job. The costs of attending college are high — and growing.  In addition to tuition and room and board, there are extra fees, expensive textbooks, and living expenses.  We can help our students think through factors to consider as they decide what kind of job they may want — and a major question of whether to work on campus or off campus.

Thinking about a job at college

The first, and most important, caution is for your student to remember that, if they are a full-time student, they have made a major commitment to their schoolwork.  Although your student may be spending relatively few hours in class, a full-time student has taken on the equivalent of a full-time job.

A general rule of thumb is that students should expect to spend two hours on coursework for each hour that they spend in class.  So, for example, if your college student is registered for 15 credits (approximately 15 hours/week in class) then they should be doing approximately 30 hours of work outside of class — for a total of 45 hours of schoolwork.  Of course, this is an average and the demands will vary each week, but when considering how many hours per week your student can commit to a job, they need to be realistic about their schedule.  If your student is playing a sport, or involved in some other major activity, they will need to consider that time commitment as well.  Several studies have suggested that students who work more than 20 hours a week may have a lower GPA.

Here are some factors your student should think about as they consider work opportunities.

  • What are their reasons for getting a job?  Does your student simply want as much cash as possible?  Do they want to learn from the experience?  Does your student hope to make connections or turn this into a permanent position?
  • What are the realities of the time commitment?  What obligations does your student have outside of class?
  • What transportation options does are available?
  • Is your student looking for employment for the school year only, or are they hoping that it will continue year round?
  • Would your student like the flexibility of being able to change jobs after a semester or a year?
  • Will your student be traveling home many weekends and be unavailable to work?
  • Are they looking for something that will be impressive on a resume?
  • What does your student like to do?  How do they prefer to spend their time?

There are many personal and logistical factors involved in making the right work decision while in college — even for a part-time job.  Help your student think through their options and priorities before they make a decision, and they will be more likely to choose a job that best meets their needs and expectations.

On-campus or off-campus job?

Once your student has decided that they need a job and has time to commit to a job, the next decision will be whether to look for that job on-campus or off-campus.  This is a complex question.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

  • One of the major advantages to an on-campus job is the ease of getting to it.  However, if your student attends a large university, on a sprawling campus, an off-campus job close to their residence hall may actually be more convenient than an on-campus job on the other side of the campus.
  • Because it is easy to get to, an on-campus job may often be ”sandwiched” in between classes with short shifts of an hour or two.
  • On campus employers are usually understanding of student schedules and obligations.  They may allow the student to miss work for a major campus event, they understand about major projects or final exams.  Off-campus employers may be less flexible.
  • A student may be more easily able to find a substitute for an on-campus job because of the number of other student workers.  However, finding a substitute for an off-campus job may be easier at times (such as during finals or breaks) since the pool will include people other than students.
  • An off-campus employer may have difficulty letting a student go during long weekends, school breaks or summer vacation.  Your student should be sure they have an agreement with the employer if they expect to take time off to go home.
  • If your student has had a job at home with a major company, it is possible that they can transfer to a location close to school. 
  • An on-campus job will allow your student to make connections on campus.  Your student will have an opportunity to meet and work with other students, faculty and staff members.  However, an off-campus job will allow them to connect with people outside of the college.  If your student is looking for an opportunity to have a break from school or to connect with the wider community, this may provide a good avenue.
  • Your student might consider which jobs are more interesting.  Both on and off campus jobs may be menial work — clerical work, food service work, landscaping or retail work.  However, some on or off campus jobs may be more challenging or allow your student to make connections.  Have them weigh opportunities.
  • Off-campus jobs may have better pay, possibly with raises and benefits.  A student working on-campus may trade off some cash benefit for convenience or flexibility or an opportunity to work in a particular department or with a particular person.
  • Most on-campus jobs are for the school year only.  If your student hopes to continue their job all year, they should ask about summer employment.
  • Off campus jobs may lead to employment after college.  Your student might consider what they hope to be doing after graduation and look for some off-campus job that is related.
  • Any college job — either on or off campus — will go on your student’s resume.  Your student will be able to demonstrate discipline, reliability, and steady employment.

For some students, working on campus is the perfect opportunity for a number of reasons.  For other students, looking off-campus for employment opens up options.  Once your student has decided what they are looking for in a job, and have considered the many factors involved, they will be able to make an informed decision about whether to work, and where to work, during college.

Related articles:

What Is Federal Work Study?

Is Your Student a Full-Time Student?

Why Your Student Should Consider an On-Campus Internship


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