Why You Should Work While in College

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The following is a contribution from Kevin Watts of Graduating From Debt. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules,  please consult our guidelines and contact us.

The concept of maintaining a paying job while in college is not an entirely new concept. In fact, many generations of students have gone through this rite of passage, and made it to the other side with a better grasp of the importance of hard work. Today’s educational landscape allows for even more flexible options for those looking to work while completing their studies.

Many degree programs allow for you to work at your own pace or your own space. For those who are still on the fence as to whether or not it’s a good idea to take up work while in college, it is necessary to know the potential benefits of such arrangements in order to make an informed decision.

Financial Independence


While most parents do their best to provide for their children, especially when it comes to their education, not everyone can afford to shoulder all the expenses that come with a college education. Many studies have shown that even upper middle class families often run into problems such as funds shortage when sending more than one child to college at the same time.

Since the expenditures can run upwards of thousands of dollars per year, it only makes sense to get a part time job to cover at least some of it. Most college students realize that they simply cannot depend on their parents’ money to get through four years of college, which often prompts them to get one or more jobs.

Allows for a Well-Rounded College Experience


Having a job also allows for miscellaneous spending, (i.e. drinking and dining out with friends, watching movies, and other things that have to do with entertainment and leisure). As many youngsters find out almost as soon as they step onto a college campus, higher education is not all about books, projects, and exams.

In order to have a well-rounded college experience, one has to be able to mingle with peers outside the confines of classrooms, which often requires spending money.

It is often said that most millionaires were C students in college. Since most parents can only afford to send money for school-related expenses, it is up to the students to find a way to finance their extracurricular activities.

Lowers Student Debt


Many adults become saddled with enormous debt from student loans because they never bothered to get proper jobs in the course of four years. It is important to realize the fact that you will have to start paying back student loans as soon as you graduate and find gainful employment.

While it is highly unlikely to completely avoid student loans, you can very well save a lot of money in the future by finding a college job instead of depending solely on borrowed funds.

Students who neglect to work in college often regret such misguided decisions because they suffer through high interest rates on student loans that hamper their finances. Even a part time job busing tables or working at a local coffee shop would yield sufficient cash to get you through college without having to borrow too much money.

This is also not to mention the fact that by working they are better equipped to be able to avoid the temptation of spending on credit cards as the job will also allow them to have spending money too.

There are many other reasons why you should work while in school, but the three mentioned above already make for a convincing case. It is always good to be self-sufficient, regardless of your present financial situation and future employment outlook.


Did you work while in college? How did you benefit from working while in school?


Editor’s note: Kevin brings up some solid points about working while in college. Higher education can cost a lot of money, but working can certainly help defray some of those costs, while also helping prepare the student for life once they enter the “real” world.

My name is Kevin Watts and I am the creator of Graduating from Debt. I was like millions of recent college graduates in heavy debt with very little hope. With the right attitude and discipline I took control of my financial picture and now I can say proudly that I am debt-free.


Photo courtesy of: 401(k)2013

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

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  • Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says:

    I worked a part time job in college and it was great to earn some extra money. It really helped me to learn how to prioritize and allocate my time between studying and working.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I think even having a part time job early in your life makes you accountable and in my opinion makes you mature faster. I certainly matured a lot a quicker after I had the first few jobs I had.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I worked all throughout college, as did my wife, and I think it was a valuable thing to do. In fact, I don’t see how you’d get by WITHOUT working unless your parents are very wealthy and willing to bankroll you all four+ years.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Yep I agree with you. Sadly this is the case now. I think having at least a part time job during college is essential.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Great post. I worked throughout my tech school days – it was always a given in our family that we needed to work if we wanted money, as there just wasn’t much to go around. These days, more parents seem to want to make it so their kids don’t have to work, and that’s not good, in my opinion. Working and having to pay some of your own expenses during college gives you a whole new appreciation for the blessing of being able to attend school.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I think a lot of parents end up cuddling their kids way to much these days. I fear for the sheltered lives a lot of these kids live.

  • Matt Becker says:

    All great points. I would add to the “well-rounded” point that having a job also teaches you how to balance different responsibilities and priorities. It gets you out of just the college environment, which I think can be very insulated, and into a little bit more of a real-world experience.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Yea having a job gives a you a better more well rounded college experience. It can also save you money

  • Edward Antrobus says:

    I worked part-time on campus during the semester (the school limited full time students to 15 hours per week) and then full time during summer breaks. Income from the summer job always seemed to be playing catch up with my tuition bills and the part-time work, well, I’m pretty sure I wasted the greater portion of that money.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I wasted all my money from my jobs in college also. Every time I worked and I applied for financial aid the following year my aid money would get smaller and smaller until I was forced to borrow money my last two years to finish school!

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life says:

    I didn’t work during the school semester, but instead had co-op jobs that paid well above minimum wage, along with temp work over Christmas break and reading week. Those jobs helped me save a decent chunk of cash to put towards living expenses while I was at school, but I still wish I’d gotten a job, even a few hours a week, while I was at school. Every little bit helps!

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Yea you are right every bit helps. I had a few opportunities to do a co-op job I am sure it was a great experience.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I worked whenever my schedule allowed. You really couldn’t during optometry school in the final years as we were in an actual clinic 40+ hours per week, but the jobs I did have certainly helped with expenses. I wish I’d been a better saver then.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I think the majority of us wished we were better saving while in college. School plus clinical work, sounds you had two full time jobs already!

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    I worked full time at two different jobs during college. The very idea of NOT working never was even an option. My (much younger) sister-in-law is graduating this weekend from graduate school and has never held a full time job, ever. I think she is in for a rude awakening in August when her first job starts.

    Better to make all your mistakes at jobs like McDonald’s, where in the scope of your work life, it doesn’t really matter, than to make important mistakes at your first “real” job.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    I worked throughout college full-time. It enabled me to pay most of my tuition upfront, and have independence. I wouldn’t change it. Sure, I was busy (80+ hours out of the house working/school/homework) and didn’t have a social lief but it was great.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      It looks like you made the right decision and came out ahead. I wished I had the same thing but you live and learn.

  • @debtblag says:

    I worked full-time my last semester of grad school (while still going to school full time). I got decent grades but definitely did not get as much out of school as I should have.

    The job was in my field and was the sort of thing I was looking to do after school, so I pretty much had to take it, but I would advise a student against working so hard at anything other than school that it affects their studies.

    That said, a part-time job is a great idea. Lots of on-campus jobs offered a very good salary for tasks as simple as scanning ID cards. And when you work part-time, it’s pretty much all going into your pocket since you won’t make enough to get taxed much (on top of the tax benefits of being a student).

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Sounds like you had a great experience working your field. It can definitely help you decide your future when you finish school.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but I found my undergrad curriculum (Chemical Engineering) too demanding to allow time for work. My senior year I did find a 15-hour per week job with completely flexible schedule that worked for me. I made experimental samples for a grad student, but I could do the work whenever I wanted, on my own, in the student’s lab. Wish I had a job like that now…

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I always heard the chemical engineering was the toughest of all engineering majors. I did civil which was in the middle. At least chemical engineers have on average the highest starting salaries.

  • Jacob@CashCowCouple says:

    Great post. I think it’s almost necessary to get some work in college. The best option is to find a good paid internship within your area of study to help build the resume and the bank account. I don’t think I would have gone to college if I had to pay with student loans.

  • Jacob@CashCowCouple says:

    Another option for grad students is to work as a teaching or research assistant. It usually pays for almost all of the education and then a stipend each month for 15 or 20 hours per week of work. Sweet gig and what I’m doing for my PhD

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I never went to grad school but I know a lot of my friends did end up as TA or research assistants when they went to grad school.

  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    I think that the amount of work in college should be inversely proportional to the difficulty and employability of your major.

    If you’re majoring in history (great subject, just not going to get you a job) you had better do everything in your power to build up lots of work experience so that you can do something else after college other than living in your parent’s basement.

    If you’re majoring in engineering, you’ve probably got a good chance at a high five figures starting job post graduation. Focus on your grades. If you can, get a summer internship to build work experience when you’re not taking classes. But wiping down equipment in the university gym is probably not the best use of your time.

    This system doesn’t take into account debt load, parental help, scholarships etc. But it does encourage you to focus on why you’re in college in the first place – to get a job.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Great comment. I think you hit the nail right on the head. If you do end up with a major that doesn’t pay well after graduating you can use your time working and gaining experience that way when you graduate you become more employable.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    Definitely agree that working while in college is a positive. I only worked around 10 hours a week in undergrad, but it gave me spending money, taught be time management and responsibility. Many of my friends just asked mommy and daddy for spending money. In grad school, I worked full time and went to school part time. My full time salary helped me pay some of the tuition so I didn’t need as much student loans. I was also able to save money, start investing in 401K/IRAs and gained work experience. Many of my fellow classmates took extra student loans to pay for their daily spending and are in much larger debt after graduating.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Sounds like you were ahead of every one else! I wished I had started saving and investing in college but I did not have the wisdom I have now.

  • krantcents says:

    I only worked during the summers to earn spending money, but the experience was invaluable! The lessons of saving for a goal and placing myself on a budget is still helping me in life. See, it is not all about dollars and cents!

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      I worked full time in the summer time too and the experience I got totally changed my choice in career. I found that my chosen major wasn’t for me and I headed in totally new direction.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    I think working in college is key. It enables you to earn some money to pay off debt or buy things that you need without relying on someone else. It also teaches you discipline. You have to be careful to not work too much and affect your education because that would defeat the purpose.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      You are right about discipline. It also teaches you accountability. In reality you don’t really have to show up for classes but you do have to show up to work to keep your job.

  • Chris @ Stumble Forward says:

    Working during college is a great way to build work ethic and pay down student loans but it’s also a great way to gain experience in your field so when you do graduate you will not only have a degree but the job experience to go with it, which is the one thing most employers look at.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      Yes experience in your chosen field is key. I know, for me after working two summers in construction I decided to try something completely unrelated once I graduated. I couldn’t be more happy with the choice.

  • Sicorra says:

    I think it is very important for students to work while they are in college. The best type of work would be something that is related to what they are studying so that they have good experience to put on their resume, but if that isn’t possible, then any type of work that helps pay the bills would do.
    During my years in college I worked part-time while going to school and full-time during the summer months.

  • Cat says:

    I did a co-op program, which to me was a great option. I didn’t work during the school year – but I did six work terms. Took a year longer to graduate, but I graduated with no debt and great experience!

  • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

    That seems to make sense. I would like to see data to back that up but it makes sense. Usually people that work during college are more focused and driven to succeed than people who go to college for a “college experience.”

  • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

    Looking back now I think maybe doing a co-op would have the wiser thing to do. But I did enjoy college when I was there and met a lot of great people.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I worked the whole time I was in college. But I had to. And when I was in college, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t work. We all were working and studying.

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      You must have been around some very serious students haha. That’s actually a good thing 🙂

  • pauline says:

    I did work while in college, and graduated with no debt and a small nest egg. I would recommend it to everyone except very competitive degrees where you need the best GPA you can possibly get, and working could lower your grades.

  • anna says:

    I was an RA which was really helpful in receiving free room and board for a couple of years. However, I also got myself in consumer debt, so I still had debt overall. :/

    • Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says:

      You live and learn I always say. I also graduated with a lot of consumer debt but I finally managed to pay that off.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    I agree that it’s important to college students to work, certainly not to the point their grades suffer, but they can minimally work during the summer and over breaks. It’s good for them to get the experience and since most of the types of jobs they can get are generally minimum wage positions (McDonalds, etc) – it can also be motivating for them to take school seriously – so that doesn’t become their full-time job. 🙂

  • Nick @ says:

    I worked full-time for my entire school career. I am extremely happy that I did because I graduated with a degree and a resume. I believe it is one of the reasons why I was able to land a job during my last semester. It was hard, but it was totally worth it.

  • Pretired Nick says:

    I worked throughout college. It made all the difference once I got out and had no debt. I missed out on some fun and some learning, but on balance I’m glad I did it.

  • debtperception says:

    I worked part-time throughout college. It pretty much just paid for food, transportation and medical expenses. I still wound up with a crapload of student loan debt because I was suckered into a for-profit school.

  • Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says:

    Couldn’t agree more. As long as it doesn’t take away from academic studies, it definitely makes you value your time in school more.

  • Janice @ Whiz Silver says:

    I worked full time throughout my 3-year degree course. Man, it was surely tiring and hectic. But it feels good to be paying down your own debt. What’s better was the certificate that’s awarded to me 2 years ago for the hard work put in.

  • Derek @ says:

    Great post! I think it’s very important to work while in college to better round out your character. I worked at the university book-store and it was a very enlightening experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

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