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 he is a full-time student, he has made a major commitment to his schoolwork.  Although he 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 he 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 he can commit to a job, he needs to be realistic about his schedule.  If he is playing a sport, or involved in some other major activity, he 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 he considers work opportunities.

  • What are his reasons for getting a job?  Does he simply want as much cash as possible?  Does he want to learn from the experience?  Does he hope to make connections or turn this into a permanent position?
  • What are the realities of his time commitment?  What obligations does he have outside of class?
  • What transportation options does he have?
  • Is he looking for employment for the school year only, or is he hoping that it will continue year round?
  • Would he like the flexibility of being able to change jobs after a semester or a year?
  • Will he be traveling home many weekends and be unavailable to work?
  • Is he looking for something that will be impressive on his resume?
  • What does he like to do?  How would he like to spend his 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 his options and his priorities before he makes his decision, and he will be more likely to choose a job that best meets his needs and expectations.

On-campus or off-campus job?

Once your student has decided that he needs 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 his 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 he has an agreement with his employer if he expects to take time off to go home.
  • If your student has had a job at home with a major company, it is possible that he can transfer to a location close to school. 
  • An on-campus job will allow your student to make connections on campus.  He will have an opportunity to meet and work with other students, faculty and staff members.  However, an off-campus job will allow him to connect with people outside of the college.  If he 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 him to make connections.  Have him 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 his job all year, he should ask about summer employment.
  • Off campus jobs may lead to employment after college.  Your student might consider what he hopes 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.  He 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 he is looking for in a job, and has considered the many factors involved, he 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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