When you can’t afford to work

It may sound like I misspoke (or mis-typed), but not being able to afford to work is a very possible scenario and realistic problem for college students.

One thing I have learned this semester especially (my fifth of eight undergrad semesters) is that balance is key. However, working more hours and making more money is not worth losing sleep, increasing stress, and decreasing your grades. You have to be able to find a balance between all of your activities, work and school included.

I used to work Saturday and Sunday shifts in a local hospital; they were typically 8-hour shifts, and always during daylight hours, but I was always exhausted by the beginning of the next week. It wasn’t good for my health or for my grades.

This changed when I started working my second job as a library assistant. I had to find a better time balance for my full-time studies and two part-time jobs. Instead of working at the hospital two days a week, I limited it to one day a week (more on breaks). I wouldn’t always work every weekend, though. I would work every Friday at the library, where my boss was fine with me studying during my shift.

This only really worked because my boss encouraged studying during our shifts…it was a work-study job, which was part of the reason he didn’t care if we let the pile of return books get over a foot high before putting them back on the shelves. I was able to write papers, study for exams, and do the few sparse paper homework assignments I received at this job. That left me with time to work (without stress from not having my homework done) at my other job…which actually made me feel better about my performance there. I wasn’t distracted or stressed, and was able to focus on my job.

I still work at the library as a work-study, but I work at a different hospital as my other job. Transferring to another hospital also helped me in the long run; my first job was a very high-stress environment with patients who could be violent. My new hospital job is very much more relaxed and lower stress. This allowed me to find a “mental” balance and reduce the stress that I was feeling — at least from the employment aspect of me life.

But what do I mean by “can’t afford to work?”

What I mean by this is not a financial issue; I mean not being able to afford the stress and the lack of time that working causes. I already mentioned that my first hospital job was stressful and it really helped for me to transfer to a different hospital in a lower-stress environment. As for lack of time, I think students who are in my situation can understand not being able to work. If you have an especially hard semester (18 credits, hardcore science core classes and labs, etc), it is easier to rationalize to yourself why you need to cut back your hours or even quit one of your jobs. 

The biggest thing to remember about college is that no matter what, college has to be your first priority (outside of family). You are paying (or will be, if you use student loans) thousands upon thousands of dollars…if you don’t make it worth while and do the work, you’re just wasting your time and money.

So when you sit down to schedule your next semester, keep that in the back of your mind. Schedule what classes you need, and worry about talking to your boss(es) later. Especially in a college town (and doubly especially for work-study jobs), bosses have to understand that college is a full-time job that is more important at this time than a part-time job. Work-study jobs are the best solution, as the employers through these programs are required to be flexible around your class schedule (they cannot force you to work during your class times) and down time is a great time to get work or readings done.

Have you had any trouble scheduling work around classes? What did you do – work anyway or quit your job?