Working Your Way through College

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If you work while going to college, you're not alone. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), 78 percent of undergraduates worked while they were enrolled in college during the 2003-04 academic year. Through the years, the percentage of students who work in college has ranged from 70 to 80 percent, putting them clearly in the majority. So if you have images of the average college student spending all their free time decorating their room in their fraternity/sorority house while mom and dad pay all their expenses, you can think again.

Many college students who have to work while going to school don't consider it an ideal situation. After all, it's hard to apply yourself fully to your classes if you're working—especially if you're working full time—and many working students' grades suffer if they can't figure out a happy balance between work and school. However, if you can find that balance, you're could actually be better off working than not working.

Let's start with those who work 15 hours or less each week. Studies have shown that working part-time at this level actually has a positive effect on persistence and degree completion, particularly if a student works on-campus or in a position related to their academic studies, according to ACE. This almost gives a shout out to federal work-study programs, which allow students to earn an income working part-time at their college taking on tasks like clerical work in the financial aid office, working the desk at your school's rec center, shelving books at the campus library or tech support.

Next, there's students who work in paid internships while going to college. Sure, it takes hard work, sometimes even full-time work—but it equips you with relevant work experience to tack on to your resume after you graduate. After all, employers are more interested in hiring individuals with work experience than students who only have a degree to their name. Paid internships aren't the only way to get work experience. Numerous jobs you take up during college can equip you with key skills, like computer skills, management/supervisory skills, communications skills, people skills, sales skills and organizational skills, depending on where you choose to work.

Finally, if you work to offset the cost of tuition, fees and books, you will have a lot less student loan debt to tackle when you get out of school. Working to pay for your bills and living expenses also helps equip you for life in the real world after college.

In conclusion, while it's certainly a challenge to work while attending college, the job and life skills you gain while working often pay off in the long run. Look at it as a character building experience, an exercise in persistence, and a lesson in prioritizing your time.

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