63 Working While in College

David Evans


What you’ll learn to do: describe employment opportunities for students and factors in deciding whether to work in college

A barista behind the counter in a coffee shop.

Internships and work experience are a proven method of getting your foot in the door. —Duane Strauss, TV presenter and producer

By the end of this section, you will be able to explore characteristics of employment opportunities for college students. You will be able to describe the pros and cons of working while in college. In addition, you will be able to identify employment resources on campus and in the community.

Student Employment

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify typical job categories for college students
  • Describe the pros and cons of working while in college
  • Identify employment resources on campus and in the community
  • Explore employment opportunities for college students

How Many Students Work while Going to School?

College students can take on a range of jobs while in school, depending on their availability, experience, talents, and financial needs. For example, if a student is taking a lot of course credits in order to graduate early, he or she may not have time to work more than five hours a week. In 2018, forty-three percent of full-time undergraduate students and eighty-one percent of part-time undergraduate students were employed at the same time they were enrolled in school.[1] Of those students, the majority were employed for twenty hours a week or more.

Undergraduate student hours worked per week by attendance status: 2018
Hours worked per week Full-time undergraduate students Part-time undergraduate students
Less than 10 hours 6% 3%
10 to 19 hours 7% 5%
20 to 34 hours 17% 24%
35 hours or more 10% 47%

Additionally, only forty-percent of full-time undergraduates ages sixteen to twenty-four were employed while they were in school compared to seventy-eight of part-time undergraduates in the same age range.

Percentage of undergraduate students who were employed, by attendance status and age group: 2018
Age range Percentage employed for full-time undergraduate students Percentage employed for part-time undergraduate students
16 to 24 40% 78%
25 to 29 56% 85%
30 to 39 56% 85%
40 to 49 61% 84%
50 to 64 72% 70%

Types of Student Employment

Let’s look at the types of jobs college students might have.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study is part-time work that’s awarded to students as part of a financial aid package. Students can often find work-study jobs related to their areas of interest. For example, someone studying biology might have a work-study job taking inventory of lab supplies on campus. One drawback to work study is that because it’s based on financial need, students who have adequate resources for college but who want to earn extra money may not qualify.

Campus Jobs

Campus tour guide speaking

Not all campus jobs are work-study related. Students may be able to ask their institution’s human resource director or individual campus departments to see if other work is available. For example, the office of the registrar might need help filing papers. It may also be possible to apply to become a resident adviser (RA) and get free room and board in exchange for living on campus and serving as a role model for students. Students may also be able to work in the campus bookstore, the cafeteria, the admissions office, or as a research assistant for their academic department later on in their academic career.

Off-Campus Jobs

Students can certainly explore job opportunities off-campus. Such work might be related to a student’s field of interest—for example, a student interested in journalism might get a job writing ads for a local publication. Or it might be worth seeking a job that’s unrelated to school because it offers the most hours and pay.

Campus Jobs vs. Off-campus Jobs

Some students may prefer to seek work off-campus since they may be able to work more hours and avoid competing with other students for on-campus jobs. On the other hand, some students may prefer on-campus jobs because their work supervisors are more respectful of their academic commitments and the need for flexible hours. If you’re seeking work, your choice might depend on a number of factors including compensation, hours, work schedule, alignment with your academic or career goals, and much more.


Similar to work-study opportunities, internships are usually related to a student’s area of interest. For example, a marketing student may get an internship working with a marketing director and contributing to the company’s social media campaigns. Internships can provide invaluable work experience, but it can be hard to find ones that are paid. Still, if you’re in a position to work without pay, don’t dismiss the value an internship can add to your resume and your everyday life, especially if you’re exploring career options.

Summer Jobs

Students who are concerned about not having enough time to work during the school year might wait and find part-time or full-time work during the summer break. Such opportunities can be found through one’s guidance counselor, financial aid department, community members, or even online. One disadvantage of summer jobs is that they don’t last very long, which means that it won’t feel like much of a break or “vacation” if you’re trying to earn a significant amount of money during that time.

Try It


Working During College

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the pros and cons of working while in college

Finding a job as a college student can be both exciting and stressful, and it’s not for everyone. For example, students who have already received tuition assistance through scholarships and have full course loads may not have enough time for work. Let’s look more closely at the advantages and disadvantages of working during college:

Pros of Working while in College

A man juggling.

  • Earning money: One of the most obvious benefits to working during college is earning money. This money can help cover smaller expenses like your coffee and lunches, or it might help you cover larger expenses like rent, your monthly food budget, or other financial obligations.
  • Enhanced budgeting skills: Students with the responsibility of working may learn to budget their money better since they have to earn it themselves.
  • Enhanced time-management skills: Students who have to juggle classes, work, and possibly other activities such as clubs or sports may actually excel in classes because they learn how to effectively manage their time.
  • Networking: Students may not only get work experience in a field related to their interests, but they may also meet people who can help them later when they’re ready for a career. For example, a law student who gets a job as a file clerk with a law firm may be able to ask the lawyers at the firm for recommendations when she applies to law school.
  • Gaining work experience: Students who work during school are gaining work experience while they earn their degree. This experience can help you learn more about what you’re interested in (and not interested in) doing for work, and it can make you a more competitive and skilled applicant for when you’re looking for employment after college.

Cons of Working while in College

  • Less time for studying: Splitting your time and energy between a demanding school schedule, your work schedule, and other obligations, may leave you with less time to study and prepare for your classes. This time constraint can have an adverse effect on your school performance and may make it harder to learn the materials and do well in school. If you’re working in college and struggling with your performance in school, consider what steps are possible for you to take to prioritize earning your degree while also tending to what else is required of you.
  • Lack of time-management skills: Though working during college can help students build time-management skills, those who aren’t used to balancing activities may struggle. For example, a student who heads to college straight from high school without any prior job experience (or with few extracurricular activities during high school) may have trouble meeting multiple academic and job obligations and commitments.
  • Lack of free time: If students take on a lot of work hours while in college, they may not have time for other activities or opportunities, such as joining clubs related to their interests or finding volunteer work or internships that might help them discover career opportunities and connections. These extras are actually significant résumé items that can make students more employable after college.

Deciding whether or not to work while you’re in college is a personal decision that will be affected by your financial circumstance, your personal preferences, what stage you’re at in your career, and the opportunities available to you. Some students may prefer to put off looking for a job until after the first semester of college so they can better gauge their work load and schedule while others may prefer to avoid working altogether. For a lot of students. the question isn’t “Should I or shouldn’t I get a job?” but “How much should I work?” In other words, the challenge is to strike the right balance between schoolwork, social activities, and earning money.

Student Story: Financial aid and working while attending private school

This student story was written as part of Lumen’s College Success Student Contributors project. The story student stories are written in collaboration with real college students and college graduates to reflect real student experiences.

Even though nobody was talking to me about money, it still played an important role in my college experience. I applied to four schools, paid for my applications on my own, and paid for travel expenses to visit those schools. Still, I didn’t have a good understanding of the financial piece of college even when applying for financial aid. I took out loans, I received grants, I received aid from the school I attended. But I didn’t really understand what the different loan terms were or what that meant for repayment. In fact, I didn’t have a conversation with my mother about my student loans until after graduation, when I got the email about repayment. I was happy that she agreed to cover one of my loans, but it would have been nice to have a conversation about it sooner when I was borrowing money.

I had a lot of jobs during my time in school. I started working as a tutor, a student event assistant in conference and events planning, an admissions intern, a tour guide, a dorm host, and in the summer I was an admissions intern and worked part time in the student career center. Working all these jobs really limited the amount of time I had to study and socialize, but it was necessary for me to pay for the things I needed. I remember wishing I had the opportunity to take the unpaid internships that my peers were going for, but I just didn’t have the time.

I went to a small private school where students came from a wide range of financial backgrounds. As I continued my education, I started to become more and more aware of the markers of affluence and the opportunities that time and financial resources can really afford you.

The financial aid office put on an event where students receiving money from a certain school fund were asked to come fill out thank-you cards to the donors. I was the only student from my dorm who attended. That experience made me feel really different from the people I was living with. I felt like I was having a really different experience than they were, all because I had to work and think about my financial aid and they didn’t.

It took me five years to pay off my loan with interest. I made regular payments for a couple years while working two part-time jobs. Then when I got a full-time job, I saved a lump sum to pay off the loan all together. I was so proud that I paid off my loan, but, ironically, I also felt really self-conscious about having such a small loan. Even though I spent a lot of my time in school working to pay my way, I also know that so many other graduates have loan burdens higher than mine, and being excited about paying mine off almost felt like bragging.


If I had to give any advice to students right now, I would just say that loans and financial language are intentionally obstructive, so seek out help and advice as much as you can! I wish I had had more information about my student loans when I was in school so that I was prepared to make more informed decisions. No one should feel like they are doing this alone, but unfortunately a lot of us are.

Employment Resources

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify employment resources on campus and in the community

Help wanted signWe’ve identified some categories of work that are typically available to college students, but what about the actual process of finding a suitable job? You have a number of employment resources available to you on campus, online, and in the community.

Career Centers

Most colleges have a career center where you can learn about job opportunities both on and off campus and also during the summer. Career centers also have staff who can help you practice the interview process and write effective résumés and cover letters.

Career Fairs

Many colleges organize on-campus career fairs. Local—and, in some cases, national—companies are invited to set up booths and share information with you about potential job and career opportunities. Take advantage of the opportunities presented at these fairs to meet employers and make new connections.

Peers, Instructors, and Alumni

You might find your next job connection through a peer or even your college instructors depending on the kind of work you’re looking for. Your peers may also be a good resource for you to get connected to job openings on or off campus. Your instructors might know more about the student positions available in academic departments for research assistants and other department specific jobs. Finally, you might be able to connect to your school’s alumni network, even while you’re in school, to find connections to job and internship opportunities. Making personal connections in your campus network can really help when seeking new employment opportunities.

Online Job Search

Websites such as Careerbuilder, Snagajob, Indeed, and even Craigslist post job listings for positions ranging from seasonal retail work to freelance writing opportunities. You should look for listings that include company and contact information, so you can confirm that the leads are legitimate and reputable.

FSW Student Work Study

FSW Student Work Study: https://www.fsw.edu/studentemployment

Community Centers and Local Businesses

You may be surprised by the job opportunities they can find right in their own backyard. Don’t overlook community centers or bulletin boards in places like neighborhood coffee shops and grocery stores—someone always seems to need a dog walker, house sitter, or nanny.

Places of Worship

Churches, temples, and mosques are additional places that often have notice boards with “Help Wanted” listings.

  1. "College Student Employment." National Center for Education Statistics, May 2020, www.nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_ssa.asp.


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Working While in College Copyright © 2023 by David Evans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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