How to Recognize & Face the Challenges to Working College Students

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Can You Lessen the Challenges of Your Chosen Course?

A large majority of undergraduate college students work while going to school. Some students work to earn spending money or to gain job experience. Most, however, work to pay living expenses and tuition. In fact, undergraduates are more likely to be employed than to attend school full-time, attend a four-year college or university, live on campus, or apply for or receive financial aid. Academic and demographic characteristics do not vary much in employed students. Students work regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity, dependency or marital status, full-time or part-time school status, or income. While the number of hours students work varies regarding type of institution attended (public vs. private institution) and income, being employed in college takes a toll on academics and the college experience.

Although most employed undergraduates do not find work overly stressing, the challenges facing these students include limitations in course schedule, the number of academic hours they can take, course choice, and access to campus facilities. Students experience more stress unsurprisingly, as the number of hours they work increases. In addition, undergraduates who work in off-campus jobs feel that their employment increases these limitations.

Working Part-Time

Working part-time hours seems to have little negative impact on a student’s academic performance at most types of institutions. Undergraduates who work between 1 to 20 hours per week have actually shown a higher grade point average (GPA) than undergraduates who do not work. Students’ GPAs, however, decline slightly as they work more hours. Academic performance is not the only factor of college success to consider when students work over 20 hours per week. Students who work more than part-time hours while in college have less persistence in earning their degree and are more likely to drop out before completing it.

Balancing the Load

With these all of these challenges facing working students, how can they balance the load? First of all, students should slow down if they begin feeling burned out. Looking at their schedule critically can help them find some more time for studying and sleeping. Working students should also do whatever it takes to get more organized. Scheduling study hours when students are at their peak, whether it is morning or night, can maximize academic performance.

Working college students should consider reducing the number of academic hours they are taking. Students should remember that for each hour they attend class, 1-3 hours should be devoted to completing assignments and studying. And, students should not forget to do some of the activities they enjoy doing. Having fun helps manage stress and can make undergraduates better students and better workers.

Of all the challenges facing working college students, completing a degree in four years is really a challenge in itself. Earning a degree actually takes five or more years. Graduating in a certain number of years does not matter. What matters is graduating.


King, J.E. American Council on Education. (2006). Working their way through college: student employment and its impact on the college experience. Retrieved June 14, 2010, from https:///