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Should You Take a Part-Time Job at University?

University can be hard work. However, most students have got another problem to deal with: money. Loans might cover rent and fees, but students still need extra cash for essentials and luxuries. That's why more students than ever are working part-time while they study. So what are the best jobs for students? How many hours a week can you work as an international student? And what are the extra benefits of having a part-time job? Let's take a look at if you should get a part-time job in university and how you can go about it.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Should You Take a Part-Time Job at University?

How many hours should you work?

The number of hours you can work depends on where you study and your student status. Some countries put a cap on part-time working hours for international students. It can be anywhere between 10-25 hours. A survey by the US Department of Education found that 12 hours part-time work a week is the sweet spot for most students. Those that work 12 hours or less tend to get better grades and have a strong sense of self-discipline. Anything above that and your grades might start to drop off. Plus, students who work more than 15 hours per week are more likely to drop out of school as they struggle to balance work and study demands. Those extra three hours don't sound like much on paper, but with every week they add up and they could be the difference between finishing an assignment on time or a final revision session before an end-of-semester exam.

Meet people and have fun

Some students won't find their part-time jobs at university to be particularly stimulating or intellectually rewarding -- they are often very different from what you're hoping to do after graduation. Still, working in bars, coffee shops, and restaurants are excellent opportunities to meet new people. Many service industry employers hire part-time college students, giving you a chance to make more friends and socialize after work. What's more, when you're on the job, you will be interacting with people you wouldn't usually bump into on campus. This is a great way to learn more about the local culture, expand your social circle, and develop your conversational language skills if you’re an international student. After all, there's usually a big difference between learning a language in the classroom and how it's actually spoken.

A little extra makes a big difference

Money won't always make you happy, but being poor will significantly increase your chances of feeling miserable. Money worries create stress, anxiety, and a lower sense of self-esteem. Inevitably, this will impact your chances of getting the best grades. Scientific studies have shown poverty and chronic stress can damage brain cells and cause the prefrontal cortex to shrink. This is bad news for anyone, but even more so for students. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain associated with memory, learning, and rational decision-making. A study by two neuroscientists from Georgetown University found school children under physical or mental stress score 13% lower on intelligence tests than worry-free youngsters.

In other words, you may not be able to fully focus on your essay if you know you haven't got enough money to pay the rent next month. And you may not be able to concentrate for long periods if you're living off instant noodles and discounted frozen pizzas, because a healthy diet is directly linked to increased brain function and a greater sense of well-being. An extra $50/100 every week can make a considerable difference to the quality of life when you're scraping by on a student budget.

Minimize your debts

University can be expensive. A part-time job probably won't cover all these costs, but it can prevent you from taking on additional debt, such as extra loans or even credit cards. As long as rent and tuition fees are covered, most students can get by on a modest budget if they take advantage of student deals and shop at locally owned businesses or discount stores. It means working just 10/12 hours a week can bring in enough cash for food and a few drinks on the weekend. Student debt can feel quite abstract when graduation is still a long way off. However, personal debt has real-world implications on how we live and plan for the future. Students who graduate with higher debt levels delay getting married, starting a family, buying a home, and saving for their retirement.

Learn some life skills

For many young people, leaving home for university is the first giant leap into the real world. It's a place where all actions have consequences. Having extra responsibilities outside of college is one of the best ways to develop life skills to set you up for long-term personal and professional success. A job requires you to be in a specific place at a particular time, no matter what else is going on. This encourages better time management and builds your emotional resilience.

"Working while in school enhances the ability to meet deadlines, work under pressure and effectively structure time blocks," says Wendy Patrick, a behavioral expert and business ethics lecturer at San Diego State University. "It instills a sense of discipline, responsibility, structure — all elements that contribute to a successful life."

You'll also improve your interpersonal soft skills, such as collaboration, effective decision making, and listening. Dealing with difficult (and even rude) customers is a potential learning experience. These tense and awkward conversations require self-control, negotiation skills, and assertiveness, things you won't learn in the library. More importantly, these are skills that most recruiters look for in potential employees. A 2019 study by LinkedIn found that 91% of employers think personal skills are just as important as academic achievements.

What jobs can I do?

Many students find part-time work in the service industry. Bar and waiting roles offer the kind of flexibility that most students look for and there's always the chance to earn some cash from tips. Other suitable part-time jobs for students include barista, store clerk, shop assistant, cook, and telemarketer.

Alternatively, you can earn some extra cash by putting your academic skills to good use. If you're an English Literature student, look out for freelance content writing or copywriting gigs. STEM students can find part-time jobs as lab assistants. International students can work as foreign language tutors. Thanks to the internet and video chat services such as Zoom, you can do this from your dorm room. Websites like italki let you set up up a teaching profile and attract students from all over the world. Some freelance language teachers earn over $30 an hour. The expansion of the gig economy has caused some controversy regarding worker's rights, but it also provides flexible and causal work for students. Gig economy jobs include food delivery, security worker, and ride-sharing. Or you could do some dog-walking or pet-sitting. Looking after someone's pooch for a few hours is a very fun way to earn some extra cash!

Finding a part-time job is important, but finding the right kind of job is crucial. It should always complement your studies -- ideally your lifestyle too -- and never get in the way of assignments, lectures, or exam revision.

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Ashley Murphy


After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.

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