Should You Work While In School?

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Students who don’t have to work while enrolled in college are in an enviable position as they can concentrate on their academic pursuits without distraction. In this economy not having to work to supplement the parental contribution and/or scholarships is a gift, but should students automatically refrain from working at all?

college studentThat isn’t an easy question to answer even though putting one’s nose to the grindstone seems to be a logical response. Study harder, get better grades, land a good job when you graduate—or so the thinking goes. But, there may be situations where part-time work can benefit the student, perhaps providing skills useful for rounding out his education or preparing her to find a job upon graduation.

Stephen Kreider Yoder and his oldest son, Isaac, had that conversation recently, publishing their thoughts to The Wall Street Journal, the elder Yoder’s employer. Mr. Yoder is bureau chief for the Journal’s San Francisco office and writes an occasional column called, Yoder & Sons. Isaac is joined in print by his brother, Levi, from time to time, to discuss weighty matters involving parents and their not quite emancipated offspring.

In the Jan. 10, 2010, issue of “The Wall Street Journal,” Isaac shared his thoughts about working while in college. Currently a college freshman, young Yoder said that he worked while in high school, but didn’t think that he would work part time while in college remembering how sleep deprived he was working nights at a tea shop. But, when an opportunity arose to take a paid position working for his college’s student government, he jumped at the chance, reasoning that the skills he would learn would enhance his education, teaching him things no college course could offer.

And that is probably the difference maker for college students who don’t need to work: if the job has some sort of added value to it, that is, it enhances what is being learned while not detracting from studies, then why not?

Conversely, juggling work and school can also mean that the student may not be able to take a full class load. That can result in school being stretched out by an extra year, an added cost not too many families can afford especially when paying $30,000 or more annually for a private college education.

In Yoder’s case he is taking four courses instead of five which will likely translate into his graduating a year behind his class unless, of course, he makes up what he has missed over the summer or during inter-session. Dad is in agreement with Isaac’s decision to work realizing that his son is gaining valuable life skills at a job that challenges his son to learn and grow.

And that may be the difference here: if the part time job adds value to the educational process, then why not go for it? Sure, some things can be learned while working behind a cash register but perhaps not enough to justify cutting back on courses in exchange for taking on menial work.

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Categories: Personal Advice