Balancing a Job and Studying in Your Freshman Year


Whether or not you had a job in high school, balancing work with adjusting to your first year of college can test your energy and time management skills. But it’s do-able — it just takes some intentionality.

What to consider before you get a job

First, decide if you want to work on- or off-campus. Advantages of on-campus employment include convenience, a typically forgiving attitude for academic conflicts, and an easier hiring process. You’re also more likely to work with fellow students. Working off campus, however, could mean higher wages, broader opportunities, building connections in the greater community, and more “realistic” real world work standards.

When choosing what jobs to apply for, decide what you hope to gain — beyond the money. Prioritize roles that excite you or get you one step closer to a long-term goal. If you need to meet a financial goal quickly, perhaps waiting tables is the way to go so you can earn tips on busy nights. If you want to work in an office environment to build experience for internships in the future, look opportunities with academic departments. Consider management roles that can arise from a job, too. My university dining hall dishline job might not have seemed like much, but generally workers were eligible for management after two years, and that can be a great skill to add to a resume.

And if your goal is to learn something new from your college job, follow your curiosity! You can still use your high school work experience to lifeguard the student pool and babysit your professors’ kids, but why not branch out? Working in college is a great time to try new roles with a forgiving student audience. For example, let’s say you want to learn how to make coffee. It’s much easier to get a cafe job in college with no prior experience than it would be to do so in the middle of a city.

You might consider casual jobs (i.e., food service) over office roles as a break from the mental energy of your college courses. I worked as a dishwasher at the university dining hall and enjoyed the fact that I could chat with my colleagues while working with my hands. I found it nice to work on my feet after spending all day studying.

Consider how your college job can build up to your career interests, too. For example, my university offered work-study partnerships that paid students to tutor local high schoolers. This would be handy experience for anyone interested in non-profit work or education.

If you want to rack up a lot of hours in a job, it helps to get hired somewhere that allows you to study in the downtime. For example, my friends with reception-type roles would often have downtime to do some homework while working the desk (with the boss’ blessing of course!).

What to do once you get the job

After you get a job, you might have some flexibility to decide your schedule. Plan your hours around your best work style or what you expect it to be. If you like to work in blocks, you could work a few long days and leave the rest free. Or you may want to start work right after classes end to continue the momentum of the day. Maybe you’ll find that you like to study in small chunks of time and spread your work hours evenly throughout the week.

Do tax paperwork correctly and know your work rights (e.g., sick leave policy, time off requests). If your main work experience is under-the-table cash from mowing your neighbor’s lawns, this might be the first time you’ve ever had paperwork and workplace policies. Put in holiday and exam time off requests early. As a first-year student, you might not realize that you’ll need to be on the ball with requesting time off — most of your colleagues will be students on the same semester calendar as you. Don’t be the one stuck working during your fall homecoming game because you were the last to request a shift switch.

How to balance work and school

Let go of academic perfection when balancing work and your first year of college. Take advantage of tutoring and writing center support. They can often teach you more efficient ways to do your work — and you’ll need those skills to maximize your time. And if it feels like you’re sinking, let your professors know what’s going on so you can work out a solution or get help. The people at your college want you to succeed —  you won’t be disappointing anyone if you reach out for help.

Work eats into your free time, so be intentional with your extracurricular involvement. Follow what you like, not what you think you should like. For example, at my university it was common for freshman girls to join their dorm flag football team Many upperclassmen girls cited it as the best part of their freshman year. Sounds great right? So I signed up. But since I don’t like team sports and had early work shifts, the night games and time commitment got me pretty tired, so I quit the next year.

Remember, if it gets to be too much, you can always reassess at the end of the semester. You could plan to work more than usual in the summer to reduce your needed weekly hours your sophomore year.

Finally, be proud of yourself! It’s tough to balance academics and working. Any money you can put to your education while you’re getting it will reduce the loans you’ll be paying off — with interest — years after you get your diploma. And you are building a foundation for work-life balance that will help for years to come.

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