For many undergraduates, work is as much a part of the campus experience as cramming and pizza
Joshua Howton has relied on loans, scholarships, and grants to pay for his five years at the University of Texas-Austin. But he has also put in long hours of hard work. The Dallas native filled orders for cappuccinos and cafe au laits his freshman year as a Starbucks barista. The next year, tired of commuting, Howton opted for an on-campus job as a tour guide. He traded that gig his junior year for a position in the university's career center, where he has stayed. "My family did not contribute to my education at all," says Howton, who will graduate this spring with a degree in communications. "By working, I was able to finance my living expenses and pay for books and clothes."
Working in college is familiar territory for many students. With total costs expected to average $32,000 this fall at private schools (and roughly half that at in-state public universities), more and more students are working to help pay the bills. A whopping 74 percent of full-time students juggle work and school, according to a study by the Higher Education Project of the State Public Interest Research Groups. Forty-six percent of them log 25 hours or more a week on the job, with 1 in 5 working full time.
Keeping it real. As the number of working students has grown, so has the emphasis on real-world work experience. "In my day, I was a summer camp counselor until the day I graduated," says Jody Queen-Hubert, executive director of co-op education and career services at Pace University in New York. "We recognize how competitive the world is. We are pushing students to get pre-professional experience before they graduate."
That's good news for cash-strapped students, who find that jobs requiring more experience or skills often pay well. The average undergraduate student at Pace who participated in a co-op program earned around $13.65 an hour and worked 15 to 20 hours a week.
Engineering students are paid particularly well. Caroline Monroe, a chemical engineering major, participated in a co-op program at Penn State University. She earned $18 to $19 an hour working full time for a vaccine manufacturer the spring semester of her junior year. With her earnings, Monroe quickly recouped the $871 cost of the co-op program, paid off about $3,000 of her semester's tuition at Penn State, and bought a 2005 Honda. And she learned the ins and outs of a plant, something that would have been impossible to do at Penn State itself. "It's not realistic for a campus to have that kind of equipment," says Monroe, who extended her stay to work full time during the summer. "It's a completely different world and industry."
Some companies offer tuition reimbursement to employees. UPS's Earn and Learn program provides between $2,000 and $3,000 for school costs for part-time workers, on top of wages. Kathleen O'Leary, 19, took advantage of the program to attend Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Ky. She works 25 to 30 hours a week at UPS headquarters, where she manages 11 employees who route packages, while attending school full time. O'Leary, who hopes to transfer to a four-year university and major in business after two years at Jefferson, expects that her work experience will also translate into a better job at UPS. "I want to keep moving up," she says. "I hope to move into a managerial position someday."