Not long ago, the standard advice to college students was that hitting the books and holding down a job during the school year didn’t mix.
Now, whether out of necessity to help cover college costs or by desire, working students are the norm.
In its annual snapshot of “How America Pays for College,” education lender Sallie Mae found that 74 percent of students work at some point during the school year. Most of those students are likely to work year-round, mainly in food service and retail jobs.
Sallie Mae also noted that college kids from middle-class backgrounds are more likely to work year-round than low-income students.
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But multitasking can be stressful and can lengthen the time it takes to earn a degree. Are the tradeoffs worth it?
For perspective on the pros and cons of working while taking classes, I asked my youngest son about his college job experiences. I also sought advice from several Kansas City Star summer newsroom interns on the lessons they learned.
Their answers were enlightening, especially because many parents often underestimate the positive influences that juggling classes and working can have on college kids beyond earning a paycheck.
My son Grant, a recent graduate, held down several jobs during his college days, including working as a campus representative for a line of clothing, toiling in the college athletic department and selling tickets for a professional soccer team. Those experiences taught him the importance of connecting with a larger circle of people on campus and off.
“Take the opportunity to network,” he said.
But restrict the number of hours on the job, he said, so work doesn’t overshadow academics.
“Anything over 20 hours, you’re kidding yourself,” Grant said.
Indeed, the Sallie Mae survey noted that the largest share of working students reported spending 11 to 20 hours a week at jobs.
Star intern Sarah Darby, who has worked in college on and off, including running social media pages for an organization, cited the benefits of developing skills that could attract employers.
“I have been able to build a portfolio of social media and design work that I feel has strengthened my resume,” Darby said.
Intern Kasia Kovacs held several jobs as an undergraduate student.
“I lived off the money I made from work,” Kovacs said.
While the work was stressful at times, it added to her college experience.
“I learned how to deal with bosses and co-workers, as opposed to being in school, where you’re learning a lot of theory.”
Meredith Newman told about learning to take criticism, especially when in a leadership position.
“I was the managing editor of the college paper during my senior year,” she said, “and taking criticism — both constructive and nonconstructive — from readers, my staff and alumni was the hardest adjustment.
“I learned that the majority of the time the people who were providing criticism simply wanted to make the paper better. It also taught me that everyone has different perspectives and ideas.”
Several interns said they realized the importance of having fun on the job and enjoying what you’re doing. Amen to that.