America has the second highest college tuition and living expenses in the world. In direct correlation, the average American college student relies on part-time work to pay for school, bills, and other necessities. However, the mental impact of part-time work for college students leads to various other factors. How much can college student work and succeed in school? Furthermore, if said breakeven point exists, is it sustainable?
The significant factors of socioeconomic status, region, and family values are worth mentioning when discussing the interest in and maintaining a job while in college. This work aims to examine the cause-and-effect relation between academia and employment.
Keywords: Work while in college, student loan, college living costs, tuition, work/life balance, student debt.
How Many Hours Do College Students Work on Average?
Based on a study from 2017, 80% of college students work part or full-time jobs.¹ Further research shows that the average hours per week ranged from 24.3 – to 33.1¹ , depending on if the student was full or part-time. And most working students work upwards of 20 hours per week, guaranteed. Of course, this is in addition to academic stressors and those from personal lives, hobbies, and any relevant medical stressors.
The data also suggests a connection between work/college lifestyle, negative mental health, and an increased chance of dropping out.¹ The long-term effects, I.E., decades ahead, have yet to be studied in depth. This is undoubtedly due to the priority of work while in school being relatively new to America. Studies show that in the 1960s, students spent upwards of 40 hours in school², which left little to no time for gainful employment. It’s been suggested this is due to increased social focus on education in the 60s.
Modern students spend less than 30 hours a week in school, even when full-time.
The negative impacts of work/college balance are well documented. For example, the biggest factor in the balance is the hours worked. More hours often equals lower grades and general disengagement from work and school. Plus, the average senior college student works more hours than their freshmen counterparts. The result, for a college student that works all four years, is a trend of increasingly lower grades.³
However, the job itself plays a significant role in academic success. Data reveals that dead-end jobs such as call center employee, cashier, etc., lead to higher instances of poor academic performance. Comparatively, jobs that can potentially turn into careers such as marketing, finance, corporate work, etc., lead to a more engaged, productive college student.⁴
How Does It Differ Between Full-time and Part-time Students?
Part-time students work, on average, nine more hours than full-time students. However, both groups routinely work more than twenty hours a week. Data shows that flexibility is key to a positive work/college balance. In this case, flexibility is needed on the part of both a student’s job and higher educators. For a student, structuring their day as they see fit not only improves general mental health but also boosts morale and life outlook. Like with dead-end jobs, an inflexible schedule invariably leads to social and academic burnout.⁴
Experiencing burnout leads to worsening depressive states, poor decision-making skills, and complex medical conditions.⁵ Because of this, it’s paramount to the academic and job success of the student to seek work they enjoy, which offers low hours.
Also, students attending 2-year colleges have higher rates of working while in college.¹ Studies also show students attending 2-year colleges are made up primarily of those from low-income households.⁵ Other findings report that students of impoverished families are overly money conscious compared to middle-income and above families. And that disadvantaged students have higher dropout rates. The stats compound if the students of poorer families have parents with no college education.
However, the college graduation rate increases if impoverished students find a “right fit” college. In this context, right fit refers to college courses with flexible timelines, school culture akin to the student’s values, and that caters to a student’s economic background.
Most common jobs and industries that college students work in
The average college student finds employment in the following industries.⁶
- Fast Food
- Manual Labor
A working college student’s average yearly income is approximately $5,000 to $15,000 per year, depending on full or time work. Worth noting students who work more hours and graduate college report higher immediate earnings than their low-hour counterparts. Lifetime earnings between the two groups have yet to be studied.
Furthermore, college students’ average living costs range from $11,800 to $17,600.⁷ The median cost of living causes upwards of 50% of student income to go solely towards living expenses. This makes saving significant amounts of money difficult. In fact, 31% of 18-23 have $0 in their savings⁸. A majority of the remaining percentage have only $1,000 saved up. Reviewing common causes of life emergencies shows that $1,000 in savings is rarely enough to depend on. For example, the average E.R. visit is $530. The average car repair costs approx $600. And the average rent is $1,300. This means it’s up to the student to prioritize certain emergencies over others. If their car needs repairs, they may opt for cheaper methods of transportation to ensure they can afford medical care or the next month’s rent.
However, the question arises of what college students spend their money on. Costs such as tuition, living expenses, etc., are expected, as are the occasional splurges. But, on a daily basis, where is the money going?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is two-fold. First and foremost, the average college student doesn’t generate enough income to bolster their savings based on working trends, tax reporting, and socioeconomic status. A trend that is only increasing with inflation and stagnant pay rates.
The second factor is marketing tailored towards college-aged students. College students tend to influence the economic market based on clothing choices, trend-setting habits, and brand loyalty. Because of this, companies are inspired to target college students with deals, retail credit cards, etc.
Other Interesting Data About College Student Employment
- The average GPA for a college student not working in their field is lower than for students who work in their chosen field.⁹
- Interestingly enough, students that work more than 20 hours a week report higher instances of money problems.¹
- 1st generation students from impoverished families are more likely to stress over finances.⁵
- The average working student requires approximately $9,100 more annually to earn a living wage.¹
- The average student has upwards of 25,000 in student loan debt.¹
What College Students Can Do To Balance School and Work
Based on the data, here are the factors in maintaining a positive college/work balance.
Work Flexibility: The ability to prioritize school without fear of losing your job allows for a healthier perspective on work. This includes structuring your work schedule around school, keeping manageable hours, and having low job-related responsibilities.
Job Field: Students who work in their desired field report higher career satisfaction and improved academic performance. They also report higher wages post-college. A correlating factor is pursuing a degree that interests the student.
Socioeconomic Status: Students from poor families, especially 1st generation collegiates, suffer from heightened worry over money. Students from these backgrounds require the most financial aid and have fewer options in case of emergencies.