Should you work while studying? A guest post by Rosaline Oh
At LifeStart we talk about the advantages and disadvantages of working while studying a lot. Rosaline who we met during one of our #LifeStartCareerChats offered to write a blog post to highlight why she’s glad she worked during her time at university.
I’ve worked throughout my 5-year university career. Yes, you read that right – 5 years of undergrad. These years included a 4-year Bachelor programme and one year off from school to do an international stint in China that allowed me to travel to more than 15 different cities over weekends and paid vacations.
The primary reason that I worked was, as one would imagine, financial. Tertiary education is expensive, and my student loans only covered tuition and barely the rent. Unless I was willing to eat air and run around naked, I had to earn spending money. Travelling to another country was just bonus.
As a graduate, I can say with confidence that I would still choose to work as a student, even if I were fortunate enough to be able to pay for my education outright. You might be thinking that working while studying sounds ideal, but unrealistic, considering the amount of schoolwork and extracurricular activities that you have. One solution may be to get part-time jobs, or to put school on hold while you have a full-time job as I did. Another is to make time through personal sacrifices, like cutting back on some social life and hobbies. Does this sound like a lot of trouble for not enough benefit? Well, I disagree. Here’s why.
Working while studying can teach you to how to be a better student.
We usually think of school as a training ground for our professional careers, but the opposite is true as well. During my 8 months in China, I worked as a Business Development intern for a consulting company. I had to research on everything from South Korean government’s tax budget to wearable medical devices. If it weren’t a job assignment, I would never have run focus groups or extracted annual reports from stock exchange servers. My job trained me to work with more than established knowledge as found in textbooks, but to make practical conclusions from limited data on current or less-studied topics. This helped me be more efficient in my university paper and allowed me to be a better researcher in general.
Working while studying can give you motivation and meaning to your studies.
Just like any of you, I was required to take some modules I found unbearably boring. However, I found even the most banal of subjects (i.e. Corporate Finance and Managerial Accounting for me) became more interesting once I saw their potential usefulness in the workplace. Even if I didn’t like studying the content, I realised that I would have to re-learn this content to do my job well. So, I reasoned I would rather learn it now when I have already paid tuition to do so. Also, having a taste of the professional career can really motivate your studies beyond your least favourite ones. After falling in love with an internship or apprenticeship in your industry, you’ll truly want to be better prepared for that job.
Working while studying means that you will have prior experience, even when you’ve just graduated.
I see most of the benefits of my work experience now, as I am searching for my next full-time position. Not only do my previous work experiences distinguish me from other new graduates on the job market, I can make better career choices because I know which work environments I thrive in. When I read a job description, I can imagine what that job would be like because I’ve done these tasks myself or seen someone work in a similar position at another department. Also, being able to apply for positions that ask for 2-3 years of prior experience radically expands the range of opportunities.
Even the worst jobs can help you.
Knowing what you hate is as useful in making career decisions as knowing what you love to do. I worked in my university’s alumni engagement department as a Project Assistant. The title may sound fancy, but the reality of the job was that I sat in a cubicle, phoning alumni to convince them to donate to the university’s bursaries. Call Centres and fundraising are two notoriously stressful positions and extremely highest turnover rates as testaments to that stress I began my job at the beginning of the academic year with nearly 50 recruits and ended with less than 10 colleagues.
I listened to countless racist remarks and handled hours of furious spewing from alumni who thought they knew how to better use the university’s finances. I cried twice at work. What broke me each time was not the racism or hatred, but the sheer overwhelming amount of refusal that I had heard that day. There’s only so much ‘no’ that you can hear in a row before it starts to wear down one’s self-esteem. Ouch.
I wanted to quit from the third week, but I held on. Once I had done that, I could write on my CV with confidence that I was diligent and tenacious. I had proven to my managers, and most importantly, myself, that I don’t give up easily. During the next few jobs that I applied to, several employers recognised and appreciated my stress management and oral communication skills. The horrible experience paid off, and I now had a wonderful story to tell at any interview.
How do I know if working while studying is right for me?
Being a student is already a full-time occupation. I would never recommend overloading yourself with yet another responsibility when you don’t have enough energy to complete your studies or take care of yourself. Finding a reasonable balance is important, and we must remember that 1) every choice comes with consequences and thus we must be content with the required sacrifices, 2) we don’t have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. Internships or part-time work is only one of the many endeavours you can take on as a student. Ask yourself how much time you can make out of the week without affecting your studies, and honestly examine what sacrifices beyond your time are needed to make this job work. If there are any skills that you feel are not adequately cultivated in your academic explorations, try to look for jobs that would grow them – even if facing your weaknesses scares you.
For some, like myself, working while studying is a necessary and enjoyable part of their student lives, and for many others it can be the best learning experience of your university years. I urge you to explore student job opportunities that will accommodate your course schedule and complement your studies. Who knows? Perhaps you will love the adventure so much that you extend your studies to jump early into full-time work as I did. It certainly is an unconventional choice but making the unconventional choice will ensure that your time in university, and ultimately your life story, will be that much more special.
Rosaline Oh is a recent business graduate with big ambitions. She’s interested in urbanism, which she also blogs about on Medium. She has big dreams to raise the status quo for every city in the world.
If you’d like to share your experiences by writing a blog post or creating a video for our Youtube channel please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org. We are accepting contributions about personal finance, time management, internships, student jobs and anything career related that as a student you have to deal with.