Balancing Work and College

By Catríona Hughes

The task of managing a full time degree with a part-time job can be quite a difficult responsibility for many students. The question is, how can we manage both? The biggest aspect for a student appears to be finding a balance between their college life and working life, whilst also making time for socialising.

Students are advised by officials to work eight hours per week at most, should they choose to work whilst in college. However, flexible timetables or repeating modules may give students the option of working longer part-time hours.

People who have a 12-hour contract for example, will work a minimum of 12 hours a week and often more. It is difficult to find a balance if you’re in college Monday to Friday in addition to working late nights during the week. It can leave you feeling exhausted and can put a strain on your academic work. Often, late nights and caffeine might be the only way students get any work done. Time management should be a focus for working students in order to create the right balance.

Many students work in the retail and hospitality sectors whilst in college, with the majority of them earning €8.65 or more per hour. The incentive of having your own financial independence inspires students to seek employment while in college – especially during these financially turbulent times when not everyone can rely on their parents or guardians for financial aid. The social side of college entails events and nights out that require financing, and this could be one of the reasons why students want their own money. With many bars and nightclubs promoting the offer of three Jagerbombs for €10, how can students resist?

However, in the period before and around Christmas, many employers will give students increased working hours, as business is better. However, this can be a strain physically for students trying to complete assignments and study for exams.

DCU Economics, Politics and Law student, Steven Colgan, explains how difficult it is to balance college and a part-time job.

“Usual part-time jobs are 15 to 20 hours a week. In retail, Thursday evenings, and weekends are a given,” he says. “When you’re in college four or five days a week, it’s hard to study because your free time is taken up by either work or fatigue from doing both. I personally had to cut my hours down to 10 a week to deal with my college workload effectively. During exam times, a lot of jobs are not accommodating, so you still have to work. It can be very stressful and lead to adverse effects on your grades.”

Part-time jobs are shown to increase students’ confidence and social development, whilst also preparing them psychologically for their future careers. They also allow students to grow personally, as they are constantly meeting new people and learning new skills. Students can also feel somewhat at ease as they are under less pressure financially when working as they can purchase materials for college when they require them. Part-time jobs also allow students to value their education more – especially if they are contributing to or paying for their education.

Unfortunately, not all students have been able to secure part-time jobs in recent years due to the current economic climate. Most employers now seek prospective employees that have relevant experience, which makes it tough, as it is currently quite difficult to obtain a job at all.

Michelle Storey, a DCU student, says that she is “unsuccessfully looking for a part-time job.”

“I think if I do eventually get one, it will put more pressure on my college work and I think it will be more of a struggle to complete on time,” she says. “But not having a job really isn’t an option. Finding a work, college, social life balance will be difficult.”

Like Michelle, many college students are constantly seeking employment. However, some students can become very overwhelmed with coursework, travelling and extracurricular activities or work experience – making it impossible for them to even try to seek employment.

For instance, Rachael Healy, a first year student in Athlone IT explains how she finds it impossible to work part-time.

“I would like to have a job, but travelling to and from Dublin to Athlone each day makes it difficult to have a part-time job because my college is so far away,” she says. “College work and the time spent travelling makes it difficult to find the time to obtain a job with hours that would suit me.”

Travel time poses a big problem for students who have to commute from far places to get to college each day. Yet, you could be lucky if an employer is willing to accommodate your needs and provide you solely with weekend work – which some employers will do.

As more and more students desire to go travelling on J1 visas during the summer months, part-time jobs during the college year are a good resource. Having a job during the college year motivates students to save for their summer travels, as it is a way in which students can broaden their horizons and travel during the course of their degree.

Gillian Fitzsimons, a second year DCU student, explains how important her part-time job is for her.

“Without my job, it would be very hard to put myself through college,” she says. “There is only so much you can ask for from parents as times are hard. In my opinion, it’s important to get out and experience the world of work as all too often young people depend on their parents or guardians far too much.”

The main thing students need to do is to find the right balance and stick with it in order to avoid stressful situations. Students need to take time out during their busy work and college schedules to relax and exercise to stay healthy. Overall, part-time jobs can set the foundation for our future work ethic as they empower us and allow us to grow personally and socially. Don’t forget the money in your account at the end of the week or month, which is also a plus.


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