Students at Canadian post-secondary institutions frequently grapple with if they should work while completing their degree. On one hand, working while completing a degree can reduce the amount of debt at graduation. On the other hand, adding work can lengthen a degree or lower a GPA.
Our names are Kalli and Jacob, and since joining the Hard Working Student (HWS) Research Project in the Department of Educational Studies, we have been working to shine a light on some of the dilemmas that undergraduate students face. The HWS Research Project is a longitudinal mixed-methods study that looks at how undergraduate students juggle part-time work with other commitments such as school, commuting and volunteering. Reading the experiences of other working students has been eye-opening for our own reflections as working undergrad students. Undergraduate students can feel pressured to get good grades, choose the “right” major/specialty, find a “prestigious” job, volunteer, and socialize, among many other things. These pressures – to be a productive, employable, and planful student – can feel isolating and discouraging. That’s why we aimed to create a resource (not just another scholarly article) that students can reference for direction or general questions. For example, our resource addresses common dilemmas such as whether to work on or off-campus and the pros and cons of volunteer or paid work.
A few key takeaways from the guide include:
1. Take advantage of opportunities during your degree even if you do not feel qualified or as competent as other students.
One of our student participants insightfully shared: “coming in, I was intimidated. I remember how everyone was so bright-eyed and ambitious. I was actually a little afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all these people. But now as I’m graduating, I realize that I can actually take on a lot more challenge than I thought I could… [and] you don’t have to take the path that every other person takes” (16).
2. Living up to the ideal student standard can be difficult because everyone’s student experience is different.
“Working students must manage their time differently as they juggle academics, paid and/or unpaid work, social time, self-care, and much more” (5). Sometimes, “there are opportunities beyond what you should do during your degree” (6) and it can be worth asking yourself whether you need more social time, study time, or more time for self-care. While you don’t need to join numerous clubs, achieve a 4.0 GPA, and work an internship every summer, everyone has different needs which can be constantly evolving over time.
3. Many students cannot give their full time and energy to their studies because of financial pressures (i.e., needing to work part-time).
Instructors, program coordinators, and university staff need to recognize this and provide more support. Many students cannot give their full time and energy to their studies because of financial pressures (i.e., needing to work part-time). Pages 15-19 of the guide are dedicated to providing some advice to our readers about how to cope with being hard-working students. This advice comes from fellow undergraduate students as well as Dr. Alison Taylor.
Above all, our guide aims to provide students with guidance for juggling the many responsibilities that students face. We hope that this guide will provide a sense of community and remind students that “everyone’s ‘juggling act’ is different … and that’s ok” (19).
Do you have any other tips for working and attending school? Share in the comments below!