Consider Pros and Cons of Working in College

Some students need to have a job, but it’s smart to restrict the number of hours, research shows.

Some college students find working at a coffee shop to be an ideal job while in school.

Some students find working at a coffee shop to be an ideal college job.

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For some students, working in college is a necessity; for others, it is simply a desire. Whatever the reason, however, it's important to know the pros and cons of working while in college before agreeing to take a job.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 79 percent of undergraduates in 2007-2008 worked while they were enrolled. When it comes to having a college job, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is not necessarily where you'll work in college—but how much.

[See 10 college jobs that look good on your résumé.]

Research shows that "students who work a modest number of hours per week (10 to 15 hours), on campus, are more likely than other students—even students who do not work at all—to persist and earn degrees," notes Professor Laura Perna of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.

But what exactly should students look for in a college job? While some jobs can offer the obvious benefits, such as extra income and a better college experience, others can offer perks that extend well past graduation.

Debbie Kaylor, director of the Boise State University Career Center, believes that one of the best things a college job provides is "an opportunity to develop professional skills that employers will be expecting upon graduation. When employers recruit new college grads, they are not only looking for a major, but they are looking for a skillset."

Kaylor notes that "any on-campus job can provide [students] with the opportunity to learn professional skills such as communication (verbal and written), teamwork, time management, [and] customer service" while also providing opportunities to "build a professional network."

[Learn 6 ways to network while you're in college.]

Additionally, working on campus can help students connect with their institution. "Working on campus is also a great way to connect to your community and make you feel a part of something," Kaylor says. It also gives students a chance to meet people and make new friends, she notes.

Kyra Bannister, a junior at the University of Oregon, says she met more people while at work at a coffee shop when she previously attended community college. She encountered new people "not only through my coworkers but just the customers themselves remembering my face and acknowledging me on campus."

Working at the coffee shop gave her a paycheck as well as the opportunity to expand her social circle. "You'd be surprised what the power of coffee in the morning to sleepy finals-takers will do for your social life!" she jokes.

One downside to working in college, however, is the potential for students to work so much that their jobs interfere with their college goals and academic progress. UPenn's Perna explains that "working a higher number of hours, especially when the employment is off campus, increases time to [a] degree and reduces the likelihood of completing a degree."

Kaylor has noticed the same trend in the students she helps find jobs during their time in school. "I think working around 15 hours a week is ideal," she says. "This allows students to have lots of time for academics and studying as well as other extracurricular activities."

While Bannister's job may have sometimes left her "a little more sleep deprived some days than usual," her academics did not suffer because of it. "I still came out strong," she notes.

[Find companies hiring students from your school.]

Perna agrees that finding a balance between financial and academic obligations can be a challenge. "While working more than 15 hours per week may be financially necessary," she says, "I suggest that students first be sure that they have taken full advantage of all available sources of financial aid, especially financial aid in the form of grants."

The pros and cons of working while in college, then, depend not necessarily on the job itself but instead on how often a student works. All the benefits of working while in school can unfortunately be reduced, if not eliminated, by the cons of working too much.