Working while in College

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Should college freshman have a part-time job?

March 2012

My spouse and I are in disagreement about whether our son should get a part time job when he'll be a college freshman next fall. I say it will give him spending money (instead of ours), provide structure, and teach him some life lessons. The main argument against is that it will be too much for him while he adjusts to college and that his grades come first. It is still up in the air as to whether he will attend a CSU away or a local community college. We both agree he should get a job this summer, hopefully full-time. We'd like to hear others experience with this situation. Anon

I vote for working part-time while in college, though a maximum of fifteen hours a week would be best (10-12 optimal). I worked all through college, and it provided me with contact with people in the community, a different kind of responsibility, and, frankly, lessons in humility. I got to serve others rather than being served all the time. The argument that a freshman has no time to work seems specious to me; most college freshman have lots of time that they blow on video games, hanging out, etc. Some hanging out time is essential, but even working and doing one's homework, there is still enough time in the week to work. Getting a work ethic is at least as important as any of the things one learns in a classroom (and I am speaking as a professor). The work ethic achieved in working a part-time job is different from that achieved by handing homework in on time. So a job, absolutely. still working!

Is he going to take chemistry, calculus for engineers, and physics? Because if he is, I would definitely recommend that he not work part time while in school. Now if he's going to take only one liberal arts class, then working part time should not be a problem. The real question is how seriously you take him going to college. In my opinion, college is an investment in the future, and should be all about studying and preparing yourself for graduate school or a career. Other people think college is about finding yourself, and that working part time is ok. I disagree with that view. I've seen so many students flunk their college courses or do lousy in them because they were working part time. They were too tired to study and ended up dropping out or retaking classes which in this economy is very expensive and time consuming. So why risk his future over a part time job? If it were my kid, I would expect him to study very hard and earn good grades, and no, I would not want him to work part time. Anon

I work at UC Berkeley and employ up to six students at a time in a pretty demanding job (they're all publications assistants, and they don't just sit on their butts answering telephones!). I have hired MANY freshmen (I like them young and try to retain them for several years), as well as pre-med, pre-law, and engineering students. My students work 10-15 hours/week, and they seem to be able to juggle the demands of the job. I am very flexible about their hours (e.g., if they need to switch their schedules around, it's no big deal), but I expect them to contact me in advance. There are many job opportunities on campuses that are not stressful. For instance, the libraries and residence halls employ security monitors who can get some studying done as they buzz people through doors (but these jobs usually pay less). I also think that campus employers are more flexible and usually fit hours around students' schedules.

My students have enjoyed learning new skills or developing basic skills they may already have (they do a lot of photography, videography, web work, proofreading, research, writing, and print design), and for the more techie students, it's given them a chance to use their brains in different ways and meet students outside of their fields. I also agree with one of the other posters: they are learning life skills. Okay, maybe they can do this during the summer or during another year, BUT as each year passes at a university, students have more chances for other opportunities (e.g., unpaid research, volunteer work, or year abroad).

All students are different, but I'd vote for having your student start out with a low-stress job for 10 hours a week, and if that goes well, s/he can take on more hours or find a more demanding position. Love working with college students!

My kids are still much younger than yours, so please take my two cents for what they're worth. I found that when I was in college (and I went to a school where students seemed to study around the clock!), it really helped me to have some commitments other than studying. It helped me manage my time and anxiety about my workload. No one can study full-time! When I tried to be a full-time SAHM, it was the same for me. Congrats on Your Son's College Acceptance!