There’s no denying it. College is expensive. For most students, it’s not feasible to put work on hold for four years just to earn a degree. Even if you could get by without extra income, working during your time at college is a great way to help shape your career trajectory, build a professional network, and even help you decide what classes will be most valuable for you.
But working while studying can also be risky. How do you balance the demands of the classes you’re paying for with the requirements of the job that’s paying you? What kind of jobs for students are available, and what should you be looking for in a student job? Here are some tips and tricks for striking just the right balance.
1. Know Your Limits
Earning a college degree is important, because it increases your chances of landing a high-paying job and building a successful career down the line. In order to pay for college, there is no doubt that you must take up a job as soon as possible. However, if you’ve just arrived on campus for the first time, now is probably not the best time to be looking for a job. Take some time to get acclimated to your new schedule and figure out the demands of your class load.
Not only will this keep your stress levels from getting too high—no one wants eight hours of homework to complete after a shift at work—but prospective employers will appreciate your forethought when you come to them knowing exactly when you aren’t available, and when you may need extra time for exams or other class obligations.
2. Make It Count
The transition from high school to college can be tricky. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from learning facts and figures to building the skills you’re going to need in the workplace…and you may not have any idea what kind of workplace you’re looking for yet! While there are probably plenty of jobs for students right on campus—great when you’re short on time or unable to commute—it’s also a good idea to use your student employment to examine different career paths.
Many highly successful professionals, from Anderson Cooper to Steve Jobs, explored a variety of career options through student jobs and internships. Some ended up pursuing those first jobs further, while others realized they were better suited to other paths. Use your own student job to explore!
3. Mentors Matter
One of the most valuable aspects of a student job is the opportunity for mentoring. Working professionals have so much to offer students just getting their feet wet, and many are eager for the opportunity to share.
Once you have an idea of what kind of field you want to work in and are pursuing related job opportunities and internships, be sure to ask questions about whether there’s an existing structure in place for mentorship, or whether you would have the opportunity to work closely with more senior professionals to get a sense of what the work is really like.
Meet with different potential mentors and try to determine who can support and challenge you as you learn and grow.
4. Be Upfront with Your Employer
It may be only a “college job,” but remember that your boss can either be a great reference or an awkward topic to discuss with your next employer. Always be honest with your employer. If you know you’re only going to be available during the school year and not during the summer, that should come up during your interview.
If your class schedule for the next semester changes and you’re unable to pick up as many hours, it’s better to let your boss know right away rather than have to revise the schedule later, or, even worse, missing shifts or turning up late.
Keep in mind that not all employers are flexible, especially if they don’t frequently hire students. Be sure to discuss issues like this during the hiring process. If an employer isn’t willing to occasionally work with you for things like exams or lab times, it might be best to keep looking.
5. Be Professional
All too often, students fall into the habit of thinking of their work as “just a student job,” something to kill time and make a little extra money while waiting to start their “real job.”
The truth is, however, that your student job is practice for the real world. The habits you develop now are the ones that will follow you throughout your professional career, so if you flout dress codes, turn up late, and forget to call in, not only will it result in a bad reference, but they’re habits that will be hard to break once you finally land that “real job.”
Ready to start submitting applications? Your first stop should be your school’s career counseling or professional development center. They’ll likely have extensive lists of jobs for students, as well as internships and career mentoring opportunities.
They can also help you hone your resume or curriculum vitae and practice your interviewing techniques. With a bit of searching and a little luck, you’ll find a student job that not only helps pay the bills, but also gives you a toehold in your career long before you graduate!
This article was contributed by guest author Amanda Wilks.