Working while in college can pay dividends

August 21, 2006|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Whenever my daughter came home from college, she would rummage through the house looking for things we didn't want or need anymore. It wasn't that she wanted to redecorate just like home - far from it - she made spending money in college by selling things on eBay, the Internet auction site.

While Kristi's job probably isn't the norm for college students, a lot of students do work their way through school. More than half of the students starting college this fall who took the ACT said they need to find a job when they get there.

Jobs in restaurants, bars or in retail are popular because those businesses are open during hours that work well with student schedules. Any job can teach students a lot about the responsibilities of working. And if they don't work too many hours, the jobs also can help with time management. I've always found that I'm more productive when I have more to do than when I have extra time on my hands.


Another option for students is to work on campus. I worked in the international graduate student dorm as a receptionist when I was in school. One of the best parts of the job was that they encouraged me to bring my books and study during slow times. My son worked as a resident adviser his last two years of college, and he earned free housing (with a single room) in return.

Students also can apply for work study jobs as they apply for financial aid. The program finds jobs - usually on campus - and sometimes related to the student's major. A woman I know worked with the veterinary school through a work-study program while she studied to become a vet. Working can help students earn some scholarships, too. Those like The Colonel's Kids Scholars Program award students scholarship money when they work or participate in internships, as well as get good grades in school.

Many students - and their parents - don't see working during the school year as an option. Some students need more time for studying and don't want to let work get in the way. My husband understands that. He spent most of his college career working more than one job so that he could graduate debt-free. He now admits that working so much wasn't necessarily the best idea. He ended up spending so much time and energy at work that he sometimes shortchanged his classes and studying.

Working during the summer and other breaks is another way to save up money for the school year. Summer internships also help students get their feet in the door of a future career. They meet people who might be able to help them get a full-time job later. Even better, an internship gives students a look at what will be expected of them when they go to work. Internship experiences can be very valuable, even when students learn that they don't like a career path as much as they thought they would.

To find a job, students should check out what's available on campus and off. Talk with the financial aid office for work-study programs and the career services office about internship and job opportunities. Students also can find jobs posted on bulletin boards, through classified ads and on the Internet.

ACT research has shown that students who work more than 20 hours a week begin to see a negative impact on grades, but holding a job or getting an internship can add to the educational experience of college, teaching students the value of money and the demands that the workplace will put on them after they graduate.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to Rose at

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