If you’re a university student, you know that you’re learning more than just what’s taught in lecture. You’re learning new skills for your future, as well as gaining experience for life after graduating. One thing that can be really helpful for you is working part time while completing your studies – but that doesn’t make it easy. I know for myself that I had a lot to think about before committing to working while at school and I want to use my experiences to help you decide if working while at school is the right decision for you. I’ve shared a short list of pros and cons below, and some steps on how you can balance your work and school lives at the same time.
PROS of working while attending school:
Get new experiences!
Working as a student is a great time to start getting work experience. That way when you graduate you already have a resume and some experiences under your belt.
Really great way to make friends!
You see each other every week for longer than just 50 minutes, and you have a chance to get to know each other because you’re not constantly taking notes.
Make meaningful connections.
Your coworkers become friends, but also references for your work ethic and could lead to new connections.
Madeleine’s experience: One of my supervisors at my previous workplaces became a reliable work friend and later recommended me for a position at his new job. This gave me the opportunity to get a way better position than what I originally had at my old job through his reference!
CONS of working while attending school:
You have to be able to manage an extra commitment without falling behind.
Because you’re adding another commitment, you’re adding another thing that could potentially cause you more stress.
Madeleine’s advice: Evaluate how you’re doing and seek help from resources available to you. I’ll speak more on this below!
HOW TO work and study and do everything else.
1. Get organized and start slow
Balancing your school life and work life isn’t always the easiest task. Don’t try and start with too many things at once. Just because you have free time does not mean you have to fill it up with more things. Start by working less hours than you think you can do, and think about adding more when you’ve figured out how to manage what you already have. Take your first few nights off to get ahead on your tasks for the upcoming week – this will make you feel like you have your life more under control. When you take on more responsibilities, being organized becomes non-negotiable. It may be helpful to plan your weeks in advance so you can make sure you’ve allocated time for every thing you need to get done.
Madeleine’s advice: when planning out time to work on certain tasks, always give yourself 25% more time than you think you will need. So if something unexpected comes up, or it takes longer than you thought, you won’t be panicking to finish up.
2. School comes first
As a student, school should always be your first priority. You need to ask yourself a few questions when managing everything in your life.
Are my grades falling behind?
Do I have the amount of time I NEED for my assignments?
Am I balancing everything, but it’s making me really stressed out?
If the answer to any of these questions is YES, it is time to take a step back.
Madeleine’s experience: Last year, I started the term by working 15 hours a week, taking 4 courses, and doing my usual sports and social activities. This worked for me until around mid-October, and then it wasn’t working anymore. I started to cram my assignments, when I normally liked to have them finished days in advance. I started getting 6 or 7 hours of sleep of night, when normally I need 8 or 9 to be my best self. I noticed I was extra tired during the day, and when I went to my field hockey games, I was missing easy shots because I just didn’t have the same amount of energy that I normally did. None of these things were life threatening problems, but I was clearly getting tired and worn out. The best thing I did for myself was cut back my work hours. I talked with my manager and explained that I was in a bit over my head, and she agreed because she had even noticed it. I cut my hours down to 8 a week, and it made all the difference in the world. This was really hard for me to do because it made me feel like I was a quitter, but when I noticed how much more time, and then energy I ended up having, I knew it was the right call.
3. Communicate with your manager
Upon being hired, your manager or direct supervisor should know that you are a student. Personally, I have never had a manager that did not respect my responsibilities as a student – most people want to help you! It is important to let your manager or supervisor know how you are doing, and if you have problems. Tell them how many hours you are able to work, and tell them if this number changes as time goes on.
Be sure to communicate responsibly! When sending a text or email, be as professional as you would if you were in person. It is best to speak with them in person, but if that proves trickier than expected, you should still get your message through to them at least electronically. If you want to discuss something bigger than just a simple question with them, ask if you can schedule a meeting. If you are feeling mentally exhausted or overwhelmed by school and you don’t feel like you can work, speak to your manager about getting your shift covered. Part of being responsible when you communicate, is doing so in advance. If you feel stressed and you don’t think you can work on Friday, don’t tell them Friday morning! Tell them on Monday when you’re planning your week and realize that you have too much to do!
4. Work is a break from school, school is a break from work
Madeleine’s advice: When starting out with working alongside school, I found it to be super helpful to have a job that gave me a break from school. If you’re sitting all day for your classes, then having a job where you’re standing and moving around can be a really good way to get refreshed, and vice versa. Having a job that you can do pretty subconsciously is also a great way to give your brain a break from all the work its doing during your lectures and homework!
5. Don’t let either of these take away from the fun things in your life
For some of you, I know having a part time job is non-negotiable, and for others I know how it can be addicting once you start seeing the paycheques roll in. But in either case, do not let it take over your life. Your body does not have the capacity to go from work to school to work to school in a never-ending cycle. Just like taking rest days when you work out, your brain needs rest time too. You need time to relax and have fun, so that you have energy when its time to get back into it!
Madeleine’s advice: Schedule one evening or afternoon at the very least where you do not do any school or work
The most important thing to realize when balancing school and work life is that you are not alone. There are thousands of students at UBC and so many of them are experiencing the same feelings as you! Because of this, there are so many resources available to you. First, I will mention that we, the Chapman Learning Commons, have plenty of resources to offer you! We have toolkits designed to help students with common problems like how to manage your time – which is a great resource when balancing school and work! Check it out here!
My personal saviour last year was the UBC SRC (the fitness center). This is a great resource for students on campus, and other gyms not on campus work just as well. Physical activity is a great way to get a good brain break and to get in touch with your body and what it needs from you. Even just a half hour can help you shake up your thoughts, without losing too much time in your day. This is especially important for when you’re super busy between work and assignments because your brain needs that break for it to keep up with your busy schedule. The SRC has lots and lots of classes too that are short and fun! Check them out here!
While there are many great resources available to you out there, the best one is closer than you may realize. Your friends and your family are resources. In my experience, some of my closest friends and family members know me just as well as I know myself, and sometimes even better. Sometimes when you’re trying to manage a lot of different things, your vision can get clouded with projects and deadlines, rather than what you should be doing to take care of yourself. My best friend always finds a way of tricking me into eating when I get extra stressed or anxious, and taking a break and then trying things again on a full stomach usually makes my mind 100 times clearer. Little things like this can make all the difference, and sometimes a friend’s help can go a long way.
I realize that friends and family can’t always be there, and that sometimes there are bigger issues that your best friend can’t really fix. This is why UBC has resources specifically designed to help you. The UBC Wellness Centre is a really great resource for students. It’s important to remember that, yes grades and work are important, but your mental health should always come first. Make sure you stay in touch with how you are.
Working while at school is a challenge, but hopefully with these tips and tricks it can be less daunting and more manageable. If school / work balance is something that’s new to you, don’t be hard on yourself if it takes some adjusting and getting used to it – I know you’re doing a great job! Remember that you’re giving yourself so many new skills you don’t even know about yet, and you’re learning how push yourself and do more. If work and school is something you’ve been balancing for a little while now, I challenge you to name 3 skills you think that balance has helped you improve. Remember that all these things help you learn and you can only get better!