More students juggling work and higher education

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University life conjures up images of idyllic days divided between study and play, free from the stress and strain of the working world.

Those days are over.

Working students of America
Thanks to rising costs, many of today’s college students are hitting the job just as hard as they hit the books. Fifty-seven percent of all college students have jobs, according to Sebago Associates.

In 2000, one in 10 college students attended classes full-time and worked full-time.

“It’s almost as if they’re trying to work two full-time jobs at the same time — going to college and paying for it,” says Jonathan Orszag, managing director of Sebago Associates, an economic consulting firm that conducted a study on working college students.

Most of today’s college students are working and working hard, before, in-between, and after classes. Students with jobs typically work 25 hours a week and earn $7.50 an hour. Most jobs are off campus.

“Many times it’s in their field. Many times it’s a survival job like washing dishes,” says Gordon Wadsworth, author of
Cost-Effective College: Creative Ways to Pay for College and Stay Out of Debt.

Money on their minds
Why are so many students working their way through school? A key reason is education costs. Many students would not be able to attend college if they didn’t work. They couldn’t afford it. Consider these numbers:

  • College costs have gone up five times faster than family income since 1981, according to the College Board.
  • In the 2001-2002 academic year, the average cost for tuition, room and board was $23,578 at a private university and $9,008 at a public university.

Many college students work out of necessity. Other students work because they want something. They’re saving up for a Spring Break adventure or a new car.

Some students get jobs because they want more spending money each month.

“If they think they need $500 a month for beer they will work to get it,” says Flora Williams, a Purdue University professor and author of
Financial Success for College Students: Climbing the Steps from Financial Dependence to Independence.

Many working students benefit from the experience, especially if they’re working part-time. For one thing, they get a crash course in money management.

“You have an appreciation of the value of money,” Williams says. “When you do it yourself, it’s your own sweat and blood. You’re going to think twice before frittering it away.”

Gaining, maintaining perspective
Working students tend to be more focused and efficient in and out of the classroom.

“Students that have to contribute something for their own education tend to value it more,” says Vickie Hampton, an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

“They tend to be better students. They tend to come to class. They tend to do their assignments. They tend to work up to their potential.”

However, students who work full-time and attend classes full-time have a much harder time. Some students are able to juggle both. Others get worn down trying. Their grades slip and they may even drop out of school.

“Their grades suffer and they’re told to forget it. Or they suffer personally and they’re not enjoying their college experience and decide they’re better off just working,” Orszag says.

Weary and frustrated student workers may want to cut back on the number of hours they’re working. They might be able to get by working 25 hours a week instead of 40 if they just trim a few expenses.

worksheet from will help students zero in on where every penny of that paycheck is going each month.

“The key to survival today for any college student is management of money,” Wadsworth says. “It doesn’t matter how much you make. It’s how you manage what you make. It’s very, very basic.”

And there may be some easy ways to cut costs. Brown bag your lunch. Get a roommate. Check out these
12 money management tips from

Balancing the load
The other option for exhausted student workers is to cut back on the number of classes they’re taking. There’s no need to rush your way to graduation. And wouldn’t it be nice to actually be awake in your classes?

“Take a reduced load,” Williams says. “There’s a myth of the four-year college degree. On average, it’s five years or more to get through.”

So take a deep breath and slow it down some if you’re starting to feel burned out.

Take a look at your schedule. You might be able to free up some more time for studying and sleeping just by getting a bit more organized.

Are you a morning person or a night person? Try to schedule your study hours when you’ll be at your peak.

“Anything you can do to better organize yourself — do it,” Hampton says.

Don’t forget to have some fun. You won’t be a student forever.

“You’re only in college for a small number of years,” Hampton says. “It’s not a permanent lifestyle.

“You might as well enjoy yourself as much as you can.”