Balancing classes with a part-time job

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Nicole Peterson
The campus Student Employment Office offers help to students seeking on-campus employment. (Nicole Peterson)

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The price of tuition, textbooks, rent and groceries adds up fast, leading some students to consider on-campus or other part-time employment during their college careers. According to BYU Student Employment Office manager Jenifer Jarvis, about half of BYU students have a campus job and many have more than one. 

Although part-time work may be necessary, it can be a balancing act to manage the demands of both work and school.

Research is mixed on whether part-time employment affects a student’s academic performance. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education found a negative relationship between hours worked and GPA, but a 2013 study done in Slovenia found “modest employment activity” doesn’t harm students’ academic performance.

Jarvis said she’s seen that part-time work can actually benefit a student’s academic performance as it helps students schedule their time wisely and practice self-discipline. 

“The number one thing is if you want a job on campus, you can have one in the current climate,” Jarvis said. “There are more jobs than people to fill them. So you can get in and you can figure out what it is that works for you or will meet your goals.”

Jarvis, along with some BYU student employees, offered their tips for students who want to work and study at the same time. 

Prioritize school. 

Although jobs can be beneficial, students ultimately come to BYU to learn, not work. If your job is negatively affecting your education, it may be time to reevaluate your job or how many hours you work. 

Chase Jackman is a neuroscience major who has worked at the BYU School of Education’s TEC Lab for two years. He said he sometimes has to spend his weekends studying or doing schoolwork to make sure he can balance his responsibilities. 

“You just have to make sure that you get all your schoolwork done,” Jackman said. “It may mean that … you have to not go hang out with friends Friday, Saturday nights and do stuff. You have to get with a study group or even just come on campus and study yourself.” 

Putting school first may mean you miss out on social opportunities, extra sleep or leisure time, especially if you’re also balancing a job.

Understand and honor your capabilities. 

Jarvis emphasized that students need to learn and understand their capabilities to know what they can individually handle when it comes to work and school. Many times, she said, students can handle more than they think they can.

“I think it’s a good idea to test the waters on what you like or could handle for the next little while and kind of (your) capabilities. Like, ‘OK, I’m capable of this. And maybe I don’t want to do quite all of that,’” Jarvis said.

While some campus jobs offer up to 20 hours a week, Jarvis said others only require a few hours a week, providing a good option for students who may need more time to focus on school. She added that campus employers understand that students’ first priority is school and are willing to work with students to strike a good balance. 

Junior Katherine McCafferty works at the Chick-fil-A on campus. She suggested that students decide how many hours to work each week by analyzing the free time they have leftover after classes and schoolwork. 

“The Cougareat is a really great place to work to balance it out, because they’re super flexible with your hours,” McCafferty said. “They care more about your classes than whether or not you’re at work, which is really helpful, and so I pretty much get to choose when I want to work.”

How many hours you can comfortably work depends on yourself, your study habits, your classes and the nature of your job. Jackman recommended finding a job that isn’t overly time-consuming.

“Don’t overstretch yourself,” Jackman said. “Yes, you might have to cut some stuff out even if you do find a job, but you still can overstretch yourself if you work too much.”

Get an on-campus job. 

Jarvis said on-campus jobs can be more convenient and flexible than off-campus jobs, making it easier for students to schedule work into their busy days. 

According to Jarvis, the environment in on-campus jobs is generally positive and promotes social interaction with other students and supervisors. She added that on-campus jobs can help enrich a student’s academic experience and resume even if the job isn’t directly related to a student’s course of study.

“You learn different programs, you just learn to be a part of a team, you learn to do projects, you learn what a job is about,” Jarvis said. “You learn, ‘Do I like sitting in an office? Do I like working on the grounds? Do I like a more active position? What works for me?’ It gives you time to try out things.”

Jarvis added that work supervisors can serve as student mentors to guide students, act as references on resumes and provide letters of recommendation.

Ben Gordon, who currently works at the BYU Store, has worked several on-campus jobs throughout his time at BYU. He said the biggest draw to working on campus is the convenient location. 

“The job is right next to your classes, so you can quickly go in between the two,” Gordon said. “For example, in the fall, I’ll have a quick break in between my classes, I’ll have a few hours, and I’ll be able to come to work and then go immediately back to class afterwards.” 

Practice self-discipline and manage your time wisely. 

Jarvis said part-time work can help a student’s transition into adulthood by teaching them self-discipline and how to manage time wisely. A job can help students get out of bed in the morning, she said, or waste less time because they know they have responsibilities to fulfill. 

“It just kind of sets the tone for the rest of your day and the things you have to do during the week,” Jarvis said. “It gives you structure.”

If you want to do well in school while also working, it’s necessary to stay up to date with assignments and avoid putting off larger projects or readings until the last minute. Consistently spending time on your schoolwork is key.

Gordon said that, in his experience, balancing work and school requires a lot of planning. 

“If you’re going to work and go to school at the same time, you just have to make sure that you have time for everything else, and you have to set that time aside because it will eat up quite a bit of your time to do both,” Gordon said. 

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