Working while in school

How to balance a part-time job and your life

We’re all in favor of working while in school—but only if you keep your priorities straight. Learn how to balance it all, while giving your resume some extra love.

Podcast transcript


PETE: You’re back on How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents here on the IU MoneySmarts Radio Network as always I’m Pete the Planner joined as always by my buddy Alex, hello?

ALEX: Hi, good to be here.

PETE: Episode two, Phantom Menace? Is that what [LAUGH] it’s called, do I have pay for that now? You should stay away from that.

ALEX: Yeah we should, yeah.

PETE: Last week we dealt with setting goals for the semester. You can find that podcast as you should at This week we’re talking about jobs, tackling jobs. It’s important to have a job in school for lots of reasons. When you think parents, do you think parents want their kids to just focus on college? Or do you think parents want them to get a job so they can deal with the cost of college?

ALEX: I think getting a job is always a great opportunity. If you can, you need to definitely look at your situation on a case by case basis and if you have the time you should. That is how I see it.

PETE: I had a chance last week to sit down with the CEO of Finish Line, the huge footwear store. 11,000 employees nationwide. In college, he put himself through college working in New York City at City College and it’s there working retail he actually kind of fell in love with that job and fell in love with that profession. So to your point, Alex, it’s not always just about putting yourself through college and the expenses that come with it. But it’s what you may learn whether it be an internship or just finding an industry that interests you. So what we’re gonna do this week we’re just gonna kind of focus on how to make your job impact your financial life to the max in the maximum way. So let’s start here. Number one, it’s really important to understand how much your job needs to make you. You know what I mean? You just can’t go in and be like, we’ll see what happens, and then. You need to establish kind of a budget that way, and I think that starts with the budget we talked about last week. What was the number we came up with of what we think the average on campus college student can live on.

ALEX: So we came up with about $500 for living expenses. So, things like food, transportation, things like that. So when you get your job or if you do decide to work on campus, whether you have the $500 or not, you need to base you expenses and how much you’re making, you need to correlate them together.

PETE: Now there’s a study out recently that talked about how much you should work based on the credit hours you’re dealing with. So let’s cover that. I think that to be responsible, we should probably match up some sort of statistics, and what’s recommended is if you working 40 hours per week. That’s a lot. That’s almost too much. And you should only take three to five credit hours if you’re doing that, but let’s be honest, you need to take more credit hours than that.

ALEX: You have to take 12 to be a full-time student.

PETE: And so if that’s the case, the recommended amount of credit hours for 12 to 18 credit hours, the recommended amount of work in less than 20 hours a week.

ALEX: Which sounds perfect. It sounds like you can still make some good money to either break even, make a little cash depending on your spending habits but that’s a solid amount where you can still have a social life on top.

PETE: There was a recent study that suggested that up to 10 to 15 hours of on-campus work will increase academic performance. Now, that’s counter-intuitive, right? Because you’re thinking I’ve only got so much of my brain. Some of it’s gotta go to work. Some of it’s gotta go to my social life, and some of it’s gotta go to school. But what we’re saying is, we’ve split 10 to 15 of those brain hours off into work it will help a school.

ALEX: Which I completely agree with. Because a lot of people work better when they are under a structured environment. So if they know that this time they are not at work, they need to be doing homework, they’ll be more focused on getting that done so they could have time later to hang out and be social.

PETE: I think a lot of this has to do with balance. There are times in our lives when we’re just focused. Think about high school for a second, high school athletes a lot of time have this problem like it really into your sport or whatever it is. It’s all that matters to you. And everything kinda gets wonky, I think it’s a technical term. Do you ever go with wonky?

ALEX: Wonky, not often but all that you have that one.

PETE: Thanks, well you get wonky, and I think a lot of times in college if you start to prepare yourself for working life post graduation. That balance becomes imperative to success across the board. A lot of times, you’ll see people graduate from college and their career will be going really well but they’ll get really out of shape. Because they’re not used to have imbalance and when I say that, I’m saying that’s what happened to me. I played college football. I got out of school, athletics was a part of my life. Then I focused solely on my career and got real chubby, and my wife didn’t like it. So we fixed that balance. You know what I mean? I think the balance starts in school with being able to deal with work school, and your social life. So how important do you think it is to have just one job or couple jobs, or things that just create income. What is the best thing for you?

ALEX: Personally I think that if you can have a job, if you have the time then you should by all means do it. You need to understand that you might have to make sacrifices. And whether be your social life or maybe school clubs that you get involved with, professional organizations. You need to realize that there will be a trade-off there, but then look in the big picture and see what will be best for you in the future. If you can make this money now, will that set you up better for later so you can have more opportunities? Or can you kind of cut back on your spending, and not need a job as much and get involved more at school? So you just really have to look at your situation.

PETE: I think one of the big traps with jobs during college is people use the term spending money. That I work for spending money. I think that’s really dangerous and to be honest with you even outside of college, if you have a second gig or you are working overtime and it’s just for spending money, that’s a terrible idea. Like the money you make has to have a purpose and as we established last episode here on podcast you can’t do that. You really have to match it up. What are some more alternative forms of income, the jobs that people can look at that aren’t delivering sandwiches not that they’re, not delicious. But, what are some other things that people can do?

ALEX: And these alternative ways of work have gotten more prevalent as the years have gone by things have got more digital. So, a lot of the things you’ll see around are freelance work. Promotional work for brands, there are concert series that come to campus that hire brand ambassadors. You go around, hand out flyers, social media, things like that. You can always look online for those opportunities, they’ll place posters all over the place. Look at the classifieds and the newspapers things like that. There always other opportunities that may not be strictly shift based work that you can work around your schedule a little better.

PETE: You know, one of my favorite alternative form of college income is? This sounds like I’m setting up a joke, but I’m not. [LAUGH] Is to contact a former internship, contact your former employer from over the summer, and see if there are projects that carry over that they can just bring in a few hundred bucks extra a month. You build a relationship at that job over the summer or over the break. Why not go back to that? It’ll help build your resume and it’ll help certainly give you the skills you need over time. So anything else about jobs you wanna add?

ALEX: I just wanna that that is really important. Where if you can keep making those connections and do things that may be resume worthy or to help build skills, that could help you in your professional career or whatever you wanna get in to, then that’s a really important thing to consider also.

PETE: You’re really smart, we should talk about that. The skill building aspect of this is really important too. I mean, anytime you build a resume, it’s not just about throwing in experience on there, it’s about getting your particular skill. Your resume is a set of skills that you take to a future employer and say these are my skills not these are my experiences.

ALEX: Yeah, and that’s an even better thing whereas if you could just be working somewhere where you won’t learn anything but you’re getting money. If you can be learning things not even to put on your resume just to learn and build skills and make money at the same time then you’re twice as well off.

PETE: You’re really smart, I’m glad you’re here. All right till next week here on How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents, not that you don’t love them but that’s the name of the show. Student loans. So they’ve been talking about doing it for years. Student loans and student loan refund checks. That one’s like kissing your sister, the student loan refund check. I’ve never kissed your sister.

ALEX: I would hope not.

PETE: All right, very good.

ALEX: I would really hope not.

PETE: So thanks for listening. As always, if you wanna catch other podcasts and learn more about your financial life as a college student, go to This has been How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents on the IU MoneySmarts Radio Network.