How to balance a job and study at university
Balancing a job and uni can be tough, but it's also something that will make you way more employable when you graduate. Here's how to get the formula right!
Credit: Gabriel Rojas Hruska – Flickr
Cost of living continues to rise for students in the UK. And since grants have been scrapped, loans don't stretch far enough and not all students can (or want to!) rely on their parents for any financial support, taking on part-time work whilst studying for a degree is the norm these days.
Our National Student Money Survey this year revealed that three quarters of students in the UK are working a part-time job to supplement their student loan, and 27% said not having enough money to make ends meet was negatively impacting their grades at uni.
But the prospect of juggling a part-time job with university can be daunting to some, particularly as many courses and universities advise against it. But in our current climate, devoting every spare hour to the library just isn't possible for most students, so the best we can do is work out how to ace the balancing act.
The aim of this guide is to help you work out how you can take on part-time work to pay the bills, whilst still gunning for that top class uni grade – you can do this!
How to balance work with uni
First work out if you actually need a job
We're sure you've probably passed this stage by now if you're reading this article, but regardless it's still really worth asking yourself – in the grander scheme of things, do I really need a job?
For the majority of us, the answer to this will be a resounding ‘yes!' particularly seeing as maintenance loans barely even cover rent these days, never mind living costs.
However, for some more fortunate students, getting a part-time job might be more hassle than it's worth – specially if you're course involves a heavy workload.
The key is to first work out a monthly budget (and we've got a great guide on how to do that right here): Have a close look at all your incomings and outgoings, and establish exactly how much you're short by each month, if at all.
You might find that you need less cash to get by than you first thought, in which case working out a more simple way to make a few bucks online each month might make more sense, as it involves less commitment.
How many hours you choose to work each week depends on how much you feel you're ready to take on and how much free time your course permits.
Whilst some universities don't permit students to work during term time, others recommend limiting work hours to 10 per week, but some students find working 15-20 hours is easily doable on their uni timetable.
The important thing is to take some time to consider how much time you're able to put in before making any commitments – it's a lot harder to go back once you've given your word, so take your time with this.
Ask yourself – are you willing to work weekends? Do you only want to work mid-week, and which days can't you do due to uni commitments?
Also, how long do shifts at your workplace tend to be? If they tend to be short, this can actually have a more negative impact on your studies than you might think: Doing four x 4-hour shifts a week will take up more of your time than 2 x 8-hour shifts once you consider travel etc.
Have a good think about what you're ready and able to do and discuss this with your boss as soon as you can.
Know your calendar
Being seriously organised with your calendar is the key to making sure there are no nasty surprises (aka deadlines).
Make sure you know all the important dates coming up in your course (and social!) calendar, such as assignment deadlines and exam dates, so that you can easily see your busy periods and plan accordingly.
Finding a job with regular shifts can help in this instance, as it's easier to manage your time when you’re working the same days and times each week. However, the down side of this is that, depending on your employer, having more regular set shifts can also mean it's harder to take time off when you need it.
If you can highlight important deadline periods in advance, you can ask to take time off or swap shifts with other people. These things are much less painful if you give those involved some fair warning.
Use your time productively
One of the best things about taking on part-time work during university is that it puts you in a situation where you're pretty much forced into becoming super productive with your time.
As paradoxical as it sounds, often you'll find that the less time you have, the more you get done.
The psychology of knowing you only have a couple of hours before your shift starts to make some serious headway with an essay will force you to really focus and use those couple of hours wisely rather than scrolling through Instagram for the millionth time that day or thinking about your weekend plans.
Becoming a productivity pro isn't the easiest art to master, but you won't believe the impact it will have on your work/uni/life balance once you make a few changes to how you use your time. And luckily for you, we've got a whole guide on how to ace it!
Try not to miss class
Obviously this is easier said than done if you're in a difficult financial situation and need to work as much as you can to make cash.
However, making sure you go to your classes will not only make you feel less like you're spending £9,000 a year for no reason, but it'll help you keep your finger on the pulse a bit more with your course.
You might think you'll do better if you catch up on lecture slides online and study in your own time when you're not at work, but this can really alienate you from your course and classmates. Unfortunately, it's also true that the more classes you miss the less likely you are to be on the good side of your tutors, and as a result they're likely to be more critical when marking your work.
Use your summer wisely
Nailing a summer job is always a great idea. It will keep you out of trouble, save you from sheer boredom over the summer months and will, most importantly, give you the chance to squirrel away some savings for term-time.
This might sound a bit ambitious, but as you'll be able to really pack the hours in over summer and potentially not have any rent to pay if you're back lodging with the rents, you should be able to save up a fair few bob over the long uni summer break.
You also might want to use your summer to get some career experience by taking on an internship, but it's worth knowing that paid positions are unfortunately still rare. At this point, you'd be worth asking yourself what your particular situation needs more: cash in your pocket to help you through term or relevant experience that will come in handy after you graduate.
Everyone's individual situations are different, so take the time to work out what makes most sense to you.
Pencil in some ‘me' time
With all these shifts you're doing and deadlines you're working towards, it can be easy to forget to take a bit of down time. However, we can't stress how important it is to make some time out to keep yourself sane!
Working yourself to the bone will have a negative effect on your studies in the long run, so please give yourself the occasional break. Spending time out with friends is crucial, and why not even use some of that cash you've been working so hard on to take yourself out for dinner or buy yourself something nice as a virtual pat on the back? You've earned it!
If you're struggling, speak up!
And finally, the easiest way to really upset that work/uni balance is by letting things get on top of you if you're struggling.
Juggling a job when your studying for a degree is no walk in the park, and your employers and tutors should try to respect that.
Try to avoid things getting to the stressy stage by remembering to talk to the people who matter as soon as possible – the minute you notice any problems with your timetable, or if you're struggling with the workload, tell someone.
The worst that can happen is that it doesn't improve your situation (although we're sure it will), but it will almost never make things worse.
You should never take on more than you think you can handle, but if you're looking for a bit of inspiration, this student owns and runs an alpaca farm in her spare time and is a time-management master!